In a wide-ranging interview, Paul Garlick, Commercial Director at Mobilane UK, discusses his career, the challenges and opportunities within the sector and so much more…
Greenscape Mag (GM): Could you tell us a bit about Mobilane, the company’s offering and the types of projects your products are utilised on…
Paul Garlick (PG): Mobilane has over 35 international agents and nine offices around the world, growing, supplying and delivering green roofs, living walls, living screens and green systems for the built environment – outdoors and in. Innovators in the ready-made instant landscaping sector since 2001 following the introduction of the original Mobilane instant green screen, our offering now covers, quite literally, every building facade, flat space and screening opportunity in our schools, offices, homes, hotels, car parks and landscapes.
The MobiRoof green roof system is simplicity itself. It lends itself to any flat or slightly inclined roof surface; its sedum-planted cassettes click together, creating an extensive roof, instantly and quickly. Some of our recent installations can be seen in projects across the UK and Europe, demonstrating the MobiRoof’s versatility on everything from domestic use to a multi-storey car park; from a series of urban bus shelters to cycle storage facilities at a busy hospital; from a green roof construction on an apartment block and care home to a hotel walkway at the heart of a city centre.
GM: What was your path into construction and to your current position?
PG: My path into the world of construction materials was a direct one. From branch management at Ambius to joining Mobilane UK in 2014, my background is in the commercial sales of exterior and interior green products. I help build a strong network and lasting partnerships, helping clients around the UK to understand the benefits and maximise natural landscapes in their facilities, buildings and external works.
In my seven years at Mobilane UK, I have been fortunate enough to engage with, manage and promote our professional offering to a broadening client base with the ongoing support of our technical, product development and marketing teams. This has kept us as industry spearheads, not only in growing, supplying and distributing premium quality green systems, but ensuring new products are developed to meet the creative, sustainability and specification demands of those who shape the face of the built environment. I am now Commercial Director for Mobilane UK.
GM: How is the sector performing and do you anticipate growth in this area?
PG: The interest in green roofs has never been stronger. The difference now is that these projects are becoming a firm reality; there is a genuine commitment to sustainability in construction and building design, supported by qualified research into the long-term benefits and positive contributions green walls, screens and roofs can have to our air quality, biodiversity, our health, well-being and social connectivity.
We can only see growth in this sector. Spatial design is no longer limited to natural planting on the ground: podium landscapes, green roofs, roof gardens and vertical landscapes are not just fulfilling green criteria, they have landscape potential in their own right. We have experienced exponential sales growth in these products across Europe in the last five years, with the UK’s momentum gaining pace in the last two years and looking very encouraging.
GM: With this in mind, what more should the government be doing to incentivise green roofs in towns and cities?
PG: Integrating the necessity for green elements should be involved at the earliest planning stages, ensuring as many flat surfaces have a green consideration to create biodiversity and maximise thermal insulation and rainwater capture benefits. Financial and management plans should also make sure the green roof becomes a reality in the build, as well as its ongoing upkeep.
In green-pioneering countries on the continent, like the Netherlands, local authorities have long-established, well-managed and well-utilised funding for projects such as the bus shelter green roofs we have supplied there, as well as Belgium and Sweden. These are exemplary funding streams.
GM: Mobilane recently joined GRO, what prompted this and what are some of the key issues that need to be addressed?
PG: The sector’s momentum is quickening. It is multi-faceted, reaching across roofing, sealing, landscaping, building, design, contracting and architectural industries. The headway that GRO has already made into establishing strong standards and a Green Roof Code for all those involved in the UK green roofing industry is phenomenal – but this can only be facilitated through collaboration. As green roof leaders, we play just a part in a much greater picture, and membership of GRO puts us at the absolute nerve centre of future professional development in this realm.
The key elements here are collaboration and communication.
GM: What are some of the more common mistakes designers and installers make when it comes to green roof projects?
PG: Mistakes are most common when the designer or installer has not considered the correct system for the correct roof application.
A close eye should always be paid to how a roof finish will be applied, as a cassette-based system may lend itself better than a wildflower or brown roof finish.
GM: What are some of the myths that exist around green roofs? Is there one that particularly annoys you?
PG: We always make it clear that whilst a green roof might be low maintenance, it is not “no maintenance”. No green roof is a “put down and walk away” solution and its maintenance plan should be an integral part of each project.
GM: If there was one roof that you could green anywhere in the UK, which one would it be?
PG: It would have to be somewhere iconic – perhaps Wembley or Buckingham Palace? What would really show a commitment to “greening the UK” would be to see the Houses of Parliament bestowed with the benefits of a green roof – imagine the cooling effects of the plants on all that rising hot air!
GM: Can you tell us about some of the more interesting projects your products have been used on?
PG: In the past 12 months we have been working with an installation partner and local authorities across the London boroughs and Home Counties supplying MobiRoof green roof systems for cycle storage solutions. This follows some of our other headline-hitting successes across Europe. In a city-wide project across Utrecht, The Netherlands, bus shelters were fitted with our green roof cassette systems. Creating biodiverse green roofs atop of these shelters, the green roofs not only helped reduce rainwater run-off, but their foliage helps capture particulate matter, improving the air quality – and creates a real talking point, too! This has been replicated in similar schemes across Belgium, Sweden and Germany.
The finishing touches to another installation on a Van der Valk Hotel included a green roof along its entrance walkway. With the insulation, water buffer and energy saving credentials of the MobiRoof working in tandem with the building’s extensive solar panel installation, the building became 30% more energy efficient than the current building regulations demanded.
At 1300 square metres, the recent MobiRoof installation on top of a multi-storey car park (see above) in Germany was completed in just three days, chosen for its speed of assembly and instant impact.
GM: What’s the biggest issue affecting the supply chain currently?
PG: Across the supply chain there have been ongoing impacts on raw material availability, with supply and demand getting further apart and affecting all elements of green roofing from everything from soil to cuttings. At Mobilane we grow our own products, so we have both the control and flexibility to ensure continuity in availability.
GM: If you had one piece of advice about working and progressing within the construction sector, what would it be?
PG: The most important advice I would offer is: never stop learning, training and innovating. If we have learnt anything as professionals over these most strange times, it is to keep an open mind, to remain adaptable, versatile, flexible and willing to change – and if that means retraining, then so be it. The same applies to introducing new products and adding new functionality – it should be never-ending.
GM: What have you learned about your business over the last year whilst operating during the pandemic?
PG: The world has a new perspective on nature, sustainability and the importance of seeing and enjoying plants in their outdoor and indoor spaces.
I would have to say that within the business, we have tried to maintain an even keel throughout the pandemic. Whilst face-to-face meetings have been shelved, we have still maintained regular communication with our installation partners, our end users and all key members of the supply chain. From a development perspective, we have a healthy number of brand-new products in the pipeline and nearing launch, and we have continued to promote and engage with our existing and potential customers throughout.
The demand for training and technical support has never been greater and we have actually conducted more CPD sessions online, more efficiently and with a much smaller carbon footprint than we would have otherwise had travel not been impeded.
Mobilane have learnt to adapt and change direction quickly, embracing new distribution channels and engaging with proactive, high-end commercial online platforms.
GM: After what’s been a particularly challenging year with regards to the pandemic and Brexit, are there reasons to be positive?
PG: There are always reasons to be positive in the realms of the green roof sector and in the green and landscaping sectors in general. By our very nature, we are growing and encouraging the planting in every outdoor space as well as interior home and workspaces. Architects are imagining on every plane and maximising the natural potential of every square centimetre of available space; living walls, live dividers for workstations, distancing and privacy – green screens combatting air pollution around playgrounds, parks and roadsides; living artwork and interior walls creating healthier backdrops to our busy lives, soothing our mental stresses, improving our concentration, easing our anxieties – and looking beautiful into the bargain.
I am both inspired and encouraged by our colleagues, our partners, our clients, our associates and those who design and define this sector. An overwhelming commitment to – and realisation of – placemaking projects in the public realm means that collectively we are reimagining and reinventing public spaces. Green elements are connecting people with their surroundings and making sure that the potential of every building, park, waterfront, car park, shopping mall, campus and commercial arena evolves with people, health, well-being and the environment at its core.
GM: What can we expect from Mobilane going forward?
PG: We are at the early stages of some very exciting green roof projects in the UK this year. Alongside our plans for MobiRoof, we have been working with a number of our installation partners on green screening projects across the UK as their value both aesthetically and environmentally continues to increase.
As a global leader not only in green roofs but green facades, screening and interior living walls, Mobilane have a number of instant new green products ready to market that will continue to build on our recent successes in the natural greening of our workspaces, home offices, public, educational and living arenas.