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“The main issue affecting the supply chain is the lack of trained operatives to install green roofs”

by Matt Downs

In a wide-ranging talk with Keith Hills, Managing Director of Eco Green Roofs, we discuss his path into the green roof industry, projects he’s been involved with, his perspective on how the sector is performing, the challenges and opportunities on the horizon, and why our reconnection with nature is good news for the industry…

Keith Hills, Managing Director of Eco Green Roofs.

What was your path into construction and to your current position?
Initially, before entering the construction industry, I worked as a volatility market maker options and futures trader within the stock market for 12 years. After successfully supporting investment strategies for investors, I was dealt an opportunity within the green roof market. I have always been conscious of my impact on the environment and wanted to do something different.

Understanding the environmental benefits green roofs can offer in mitigating urbanised flooding, alongside air purification and reducing urban heat island effect, to name a few, I made the decision of leaving the commercially driven financial sector behind for a more environmentally focused opportunity. It has been the best career move I could have made. 

That move has resulted in the creation of Eco Green Roofs Ltd (EGR), which continues to grow, year on year. Starting with a green roof offering, there has been further integration of sustainable solutions to our offering, including blue roofs, solar, biosolar and recreational podiums/roof gardens. I have been the Managing Director of the business since its creation in 2010.

Tell us a bit about Eco Green Roofs, the company’s offering and the types of projects you get involved with…
Biodiversity has played a huge part in the direction EGR has taken as a business. We offer a comprehensive biodiverse roof offering to suit requirements – whether a client want, planning requirement, or the recommendation of an ecological report – to meet the environmental needs for each individual project. With mandatory requirements likely on the horizon from the Government, it was, and is, important both environmentally and with the potential compliance to regulation, that we offer a service from design and install to aftercare and maintenance. 

From this, and resulting from further governmental commitments made, we have created a biosolar offering, featuring all the benefits of a green and biodiverse roof, with the inclusion of PV panels, thereby cutting emissions and potentially contributing to zero carbon in new developments. 

Therefore, EGR provides a complete design and collaborative project partnership through to after-care, including maintenance solutions for green envelope systems, including green and biodiverse roofs, biosolar & PV, blue roofs, recreational podium/roof garden inclusive of hard and soft landscaping.

EGR has completed many prestigious projects across the country including Battersea Power Station, Pears Building as part of UCL – built to research Covid-19, Leicester FC and the Stratford Olympic Park development.

With regards to green roofing, how is the sector performing and do you anticipate growth in this area considering the government’s climate change targets?
Due to the ongoing lobbying around the environmental benefits gained from green roofs, the sector continues to perform well, with green roofs being a mainstream option for creating healthy and sustainable communities. 

On April 20th this year, the UK government set the world’s most ambitious climate change target into law; to reduce emissions by 78% by 2035 compared to 1990 levels. 

Green roofs in particular contribute to atmospheric carbon dioxide reduction through their beneficial impact of energy consumption of buildings and sequestration of carbon in plants and substrates.

A study by Bianchini and Hewage indicated that the annual air pollution reduction from a green roof will offset the emissions associated with its production after 13 to 32 years.

“Research confirms green open space aids people’s mental and physical health, of which green roofs/podiums can offer a solution, especially in urbanised areas”

With this in mind, what more should the government be doing to incentivise green roofs in towns and cities throughout the UK?
Now, more than ever designers/specifiers will seek support in creating green envelope buildings, to help contribute to a reduction in carbon emissions, of which green roofs and other sustainable roof solutions will play an integral part.

The Government is looking at how it can place a price on carbon, as part of a ‘green recovery’ from the coronavirus pandemic. 

The Zero Carbon Campaign by Opinium has estimated that a carbon tax could raise £27bn a year by 2030 and could work by replacing or simplifying existing green levies on the industry. 

From an educational point of view, more could be done from thought-leaders within government, particularly community driven strategies, in educating decision makers in the benefits gained from incorporating green roofs, from an environmental standpoint including water attenuation, air quality and biodiversity, and people’s health and wellbeing. Research confirms green open space aids people’s mental and physical health, of which green roofs/podiums can offer a solution, especially in urbanised areas where green open spaces are limited. 

“Installing a living roof isn’t the full picture, and maintenance needs to be considered to ensure the living roof delivers its full life cycle potential of both commercial and environmental benefits”

World Green Roof Day took place on 6th June – how did Eco Green Roofs get involved with the day and how important is it to keep raising the profile of green roofs, as well as focusing on the importance of best practice when it comes to installations?
EGR continues to provoke thought and interest around green envelope systems, and the World Green Roof Day offers businesses, including EGR, an opportunity to demonstrate completed projects and discuss the importance of including green credentials within build design to mitigate the climate change challenges we face. 

EGR showcased the recently completed 100 Liverpool Street project, with stringent sustainable credentials to meet BREEAM & WELL criteria, as well as information on the benefits of living roofs with regards to mitigating flooding in urbanised areas. 

At EGR we know that installing a living roof isn’t the full picture, and maintenance needs to be considered to ensure the living roof delivers its full life cycle potential of both commercial and environmental benefits. Another post offered our expertise and support in maintenance, inclusive of roofs we did not install to ensure they thrive for years to come. 

You recently Chaired your first GRO Technical Meeting, what are some of the key issues you’re looking to tackle in this role?
The Building Safety Bill, with its purpose of putting in place new and enhanced regulatory regimes for building safety, inclusive of enhancing fire safety, will come to fruition, and fire continues to be pivotal in our discussions at GRO, looking at each aspect including design, supply, install and maintenance thereafter.

EGR has recently undergone fire testing of its green and biodiverse roof systems inclusive of a waterproofing build-up scenario, offering Broof(t4) classification in line with Building Regulations, and continues to endeavour to ensure safe, sustainable solutions are specified for the built environment. 

We are also looking at NBS clause/s for sustainable roof solutions inclusive of green roofs to ensure that NBS specifications are suitable for the changing technologies of systems and products for those specifying. 

The third key issue being discussed at GRO is the hierarchy risks when designing green roofs, to help better inform those developing/creating specifications. 

What are some of the more common mistakes designers and installers make when it comes to green roof projects?
From a design point of view, not utilising a roof area to its maximum potential, in particular the inclusion of biodiverse enhancements. This is where a roof can incorporate components such as log and sand piles, animal boxes and ephemeral pools to support biodiversity net gain (BNG). 

A key consideration in installing a green roof is maintenance, this is not always factored into the design of a building, such as water outlets for irrigation systems. This is where it is important that designers look to the expertise of those that design, supply and install green roofs at early design stage. 

Installation wise, it is not necessarily a mistake, but often logistical challenges are faced when it comes to installing green roofs, in particular when materials need to be lifted to roof level. It is of paramount importance that teams are sequencing with other trades to ensure use of cranes and other machinery to safely deliver the green roof system components on to the roof, whilst meeting strict programme deadlines.   

What are some of the myths that exist around green roofs? Is there one that particularly annoys you?
A particular bugbear of mine is the myth that green roofs do not need maintenance. To ensure they deliver their invested value, it is of paramount importance maintenance is carried out. Extensive green roofs, particularly sedum roofs, are a low-maintenance solution, but we recommend four annual visits to carry out maintenance. In regard to semi-intensive and intensive roofs including wildflower and biodiverse, more maintenance is required, including irrigation to ensure the species flourish. 

If there was one roof that you could green anywhere in the UK, which one would it be?
Emirates Stadium – Being an Arsenal fan I really wanted them to take this on. I visited the stadium, provided a quotation but they said they didn’t have the budget and ended up buying Granit Xhaka a week later…!

The Chimes project, Westminster.

Tell us about a green roof project you’re particularly proud to have been involved with…
Tough one, from a prestige project point of view, Battersea Power Station. That being said, from an environmentally friendly feat, Chimes in Westminster was a fantastic project: not only did we install sedum roofs offering air purification, water attenuation (sedums have high water capacity) and natural habitats, these roofs could be overlooked by residents from the landscaped podium area with planters and evergreen shrubbery, supporting health and wellbeing with access to nature/greening in Westminster – Central London. The project also included a blue roof system, to further support the mitigation of urbanised flooding by attenuating water, reducing the impact on the old London drainage system, and further greenery within the communal courtyard. This project should be considered a benchmark in which other projects in our inner cities should look to as a hybrid solution. 

The project has been shortlisted for: Inside Housing Development Awards – Shortlist 2021; Housing Design Awards – Shortlist 2021; New London Awards Wellbeing – Finalist 2017; Housing Design Awards – Shortlist 2016.

“It is not only the green roof industry, the roofing sector as a whole faces challenges with an ever-growing skills gap and shortage”

What’s the biggest issue affecting the supply chain currently?
The main issue affecting the supply chain is the lack of trained operatives to install the green roofs and other sustainable roof level system components, therefore impacting all those involved within the supply chain. 

It is not only the green roof industry, the roofing sector as a whole faces challenges with an ever-growing skills gap and shortage. An NFRC survey, produced on its behalf by Glenigan, has shown that labour shortages was the second highest area of concern for roofing and cladding contractors in 2021.

If you had one piece of advice about working and progressing within the construction sector, what would it be?
Training, training and more training. Providing training highlights a company’s commitment to innovation, communicating key industry messages and upskilling its current workforce. It allows them to future proof their business by investing in their essential assets – their team. 

All businesses should provide internal training, to ensure they utilise the qualifications being delivered by relevant industry bodies, and certainly gain funding support from the CITB for those registered. 

On an individual basis, ensure when choosing a company to progress/upskill that the company has established accreditations and associations, I’d say this includes, but is not limited to, CHAS, SMAS, NFRC, CITB, Constructionline, ISO, NAPIT, RECC and LANTRA. This will ensure the way they practice has gone through independent verification and align themselves to construction bodies that are created to ensure safe and compliant installs. 

“You miss the more personable approach when solely reliant on digital communications” 

What have you learned about your business over the last year whilst operating during the pandemic?
Utilising digitalisation has never been more prevalent, from external usage with cloud-based specification platforms, where work can be accessed and achieved by working from home or on site, to internal communications. 

That being said, we did feel and miss the face to face interactions, from event attendance, CPD delivery, through to client catch-ups; you miss the more personable approach when solely reliant on digital communications. 

EGR now offers a hybrid of digital and face to face communications, to ensure we can meet what is needed and preferred by our clients and partners. 

“Green and biodiverse roofs will continue to thrive through the reconnection to nature”

After what’s been a particularly challenging year with regards to the pandemic – alongside challenges for businesses with regards to Brexit, such as supply of materials – are there reasons to be positive within the green roof sector and the wider construction industry going forward?
Lockdown, for many of us, has facilitated a stronger connection with nature, due to not working in offices, venturing outside on work breaks and more time in evenings through the removal of commuting. 

Eco Green Roofs helped transform a 1960’s block of maisonettes in Middle Walk “into an oasis of greenery”.

In May 2020, 36% of people responding to the People and Nature Survey by Natural England said they were spending more time outside during the pandemic than before. This rose to 46% in July 2020. 

Research carried out by Naturescot demonstrated the increase of those reacquainting themselves with nature, with many reporting that after spending time outdoors they felt that they had gained health and wellbeing benefits. 

It’s never been more important for not only the environment but also us as people to ensure there is no devastating loss to biodiversity, to ensure our natural world thrives alongside us, for us to enjoy. 

Green and biodiverse roofs will continue to thrive through the reconnection to nature, Government mandates for biodiversity, net zero carbon targets and reducing the impact of climate change. 

With regard to the construction industry, many companies have thrived in the pandemic, due to funding placed via the Government to support stability in the UK’s economy. The construction industry has demonstrated resilience alongside being compliant to safe practices, it will continue to grow and shape, though with a heavier focus to sustainability as part of a green recovery from the pandemic. 

What can we expect from ECO Green Roofs going forward? Any new developments on the horizon
EGR continues to lobby at Government level, with the completion of some positive meetings so far on green infrastructure. 

We will continue to promote the importance of getting a specialist green roof/sustainable roof partner involved at an early design stage so as much value can be added and attained for the end client/building owner, and the build is delivered efficiently and safely. 

EGR continues to be an advocate of training, with all installation team members being LANTRA trained and working with other partners that have also carried out extensive training, to offer holistic compliant sustainable roof system solutions. With the everchanging landscape of construction, there are always developments on the horizon and we look forward to sharing more when the time is right.

www.ecogreenroofs.co.uk

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