‘Dear, the roof needs weeding’ – A green follow-up from The National Summit

One floor down from the main conference events of The National Summit at the Marriott Renaissance Center was the Innovation Expo. Here companies such as Microsoft, Deloitte, Dell, Ford and Dow had exhibits that touted everything from Windows 7 to the latest “green” cars.

And then there was Urban Enviroscapes.


Co-founder of Urban Enviroscapes Andy Camp and partner Ariel Block in their exhibit space at The National Summit.

Co-founder Andy Camp and Ariel Block, a partner in the organization, were there with a standard-sized exhibit space, four-color brochures, bright smiles on their faces -“ and many hours to go before they finished their degrees at the University of Illinois.

Their product? Green roofs. That’s “green” as in plants. William Clay Ford, Jr., co-Chair of The National Summit, would know very well about those-”there’s green roof on the Ford Rouge factory. The Kresge Foundation has one, and they’re “sprouting” up on office and municipal buildings all over Chicago’s Loop. Urban Enviroscapes now makes it possible for you to have one on your commercial building -“ and, soon, your home.

Why have a garden on your roof? “Simple,” says Camp, “you can lower your energy costs, improve the environment and create aesthetically-pleasing urban rooftops that are on the front lines of the green revolution.”

An Urban Enviroscapes basic module with its cover on and a final plant segment being added along with its growth medium.

Camp and co-founder James Young came up with the idea for their product and pitched it in the International Case Competition sponsored by C40 Cities, an international organization comprised of the leading cities in the world and focused on climate change. C40 Cities’ partner is the William Jefferson Clinton Foundation. Competing against groups of students from around the globe, Camp and his UI teammates won the contest. “We received widespread acclaim and support in starting the company,” Camp explains.

It didn’t hurt that Camp was still in school. He found “enormous (free) resources on campus. With experts in business, design and agriculture all around us, we consulted professors often for insight.” Camp and Young also drew on local resources for prototyping. “The plastic, soil and plants are all purchased in bulk from companies around Illinois. There are literally hundreds of options,” he says.

Traditional sod roofs have been in use for centuries in Europe.

The original product of Urban Enviroscapes is a lightweight tray that holds standard plant nursery pots of varieties of sedum, a low- or no-maintenance plant that is often used for green roofing systems. Green roofs have been around for centuries in rural locales to protect and insulate a home’s interior. Today they’re becoming popular as a way to control and often reuse rainwater in addition to reducing energy costs for commercial buildings. Accomplishing this, however, usually requires extensive engineering and custom installations. Camp’s product is modular and can be installed by college students -“ as it will be at two buildings on the University of Illinois campus -“ or by easily-trained traditional roofing installers.

Camp’s company has two additional variants of the original product under development, both with increasing amounts of rainwater retention and management. Both will also increase the per-square-foot weight of the roof.

Installing a green roof can be a relatively simple proposition -“ a waterproof underlayment and Camp’s initial product, for instance -“ or much more elaborate projects that involve greatly strengthening the roof structure in order to permit the installation of sod or even trees. The more greenery, the greater the environmental -“ and economic -“ benefit.

Chicago’s City Hall’s green roof not only sets an environmental example but it lowers cooling and heating costs for the building.

One reason Chicago and other cities are promoting green roofs on their existing and new commercial building is that they reduce the “heat island” effect in downtowns. The green roof on Chicago’s City Hall, for instance, can be anywhere from 25-80 degrees cooler in summer than surrounding structures.

The green benefits don’t stop in summer, however. Studies have shown that a green roof can be as much as 25 percent more effective in insulation value no matter what the season. The vegetation for the roof is chosen to be adaptable to the climate -“ which, in Chicago, can range from the high-90s in summer to extended periods below freezing in winter.

Yet another benefit of green roofs, according to one university study, is that the life of the roof can often be extended by two to three times, helping mitigate the initial costs of installation. Eventually, Camp says, he plans to add a residential capability to his current commercial product line.

So, how did Urban Enviroscapes land exhibit space in the rarified atmosphere of The National Summit? It was “mainly due to seizing networking opportunities wherever they may be,” says Camp. “I happened to be in Michigan on a school project late one night at a friend’s house. His uncle was an officer of the Detroit Economic Club [conveners of the Summit] and he asked about my company,” Camp explains. “He then connected me to everyone at the Summit, which led to landing a free space to showcase the company.”