Paris roofs are going green

The French parliament recently passed a new law requiring all new commercial buildings to have plants or solar panels on their roofs. 

This news will resonate with Australian property owners where green roofs are still their infancy. Issues around this topic will be covered in a strong line up at The Fifth Estate’s Urban Greening 2022 summit on 28 July, in collaboration with the Australian Institute of Landscape Architects, UTS and Living Future Institute. 

While the proposal initiated by French environmental activists was for roofs to be completely covered by greenery, the government decided that to ease costs to businesses, roofs must be partially covered (to at least 30 per cent) with greenery instead of fully covered.

However, this is still a huge step toward more sustainable cities and infrastructure, the main benefits being to improve air and water quality as well as to increase greenhouse gas sequestration and combat pollution. Green roofs are also longer-lasting: the lifespan of green roofs is two to three times longer than traditional roofing materials.

Plants on roofs are known to reduce urban heat effect by providing shade, reducing the temperature of roof surfaces, and removing heat from the air. 

The Green Building Council of Australia’s (GBCA) Living Wall and Green Roof Plants for Australia report by the Australian Government Rural Industries Research and Development Corporation in 2012 found that green roofs and living walls in the built environment “offer significant environmental, economic and social benefits” – so why are there so few green roof buildings in Australia? 

There is some progress in Australia, with some green roofs in Sydney and Melbourne having the Green Our Rooftop project as a key part of the Green Our City Strategic Action Plan towards more green infrastructure. There are no mandates on green roofs.

In the City of Melbourne there are currently about 40 green roofs covering five hectares, which compared to other cities is not much. Toronto has around 500 green roofs and Munich has 300 hectares of green roofs. 

1 Treasury Place
The $2.5 million green roof plan at 1 Treasury Place is a partnership between the University of Melbourne, the Department of Environment Land Water and Planning and the City of Melbourne.

France’s rejection of outdated traditional roofs and embracing of green roofs in the Climate and Resilience Act demonstrates the powerful transformation that can occur when government’s embrace ecology in all aspects of society: in urban planning, public services, consumption patterns, education, and travel.

The GBCA report states: “Green roofs and living walls in the built environment offer very significant triple bottom line benefits. These benefits include ameliorating urban heat island effects, reducing energy demands and attendant CO2 emissions (such as from airconditioning) as well as improving the wellbeing and productivity of citizens, and providing habitat for micro- and macro-organisms. 

“Although novel in Australia, green roofs and living walls are becoming increasingly widespread throughout Europe, Asia and North America.”

France’s rejection of outdated traditional roofs and embracing of green roofs in the Climate and Resilience Act demonstrates the powerful transformation that can occur when government’s embrace ecology in all aspects of society: in urban planning, public services, consumption patterns, education, and travel.

Paris has also opted to ban cars in the city centre from 2024 to encourage use of public transport, bicycles and foot traffic.

Exceptions to the rule include public vehicles, residents who live in the included precincts, delivery drivers, and those accessing services such as shopping centres. 

The move is expected to remove 50 per cent of cars off the road – which Bloomberg estimates amounts to 100,000 cars per day. The city also added more than 160 kilometres of bike lanes during the pandemic.

Some countries in Europe (including Belgium, the Netherlands, and the UK) have begun offering tax incentives that essentially pay citizens to cycle to work instead of using a car.

The region of the car ban to be implemented in 2024.

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  1. In his seminal work “Towards a modern Architecture” Le Corbusier proposed green roofs on buildings to replace the lost green footprint of the superimposed new building.
    French wisdom from a century ago.
    In our car centric cities we should be mandating urban farms above the vast open carparks of our shopping centres, as well as the buildings themselves.
    And while we are at it why not cover our railway lines with urban farms as well.
    George Monbiot tells us that at 1.5 degrees global warming our food bowls become dust bowls. And given that we are certainly on track to overshoot that, we aren’t we planning to move our food production to our roof tops ?
    French wisdom right now…..

  2. A few observations from Southern California, where things are moving in the opposite direction.
    First, the utility companies are moving now to remove government programs to spur new homeowner solar, and to remove ‘net metering’. There is a race on now for new retrofit construction to be grandfathered under the rules.
    Second, although white or light colored roofs are more reflective of the heat in So Cal, people are moving to painting their roofs black to be more fashionable. Come the next rain (which we badly need), the roofs will look like Rudy Guiliani on a bad hair day.

    1. My heart goes out to the people in America who are still sane. Pls keep fighting…

  3. We, in greater Melbourne and Victoria, have also been pacesetters mimicking the likes of New York, San Francisco, and California, to name a few, on green roof and solar panel implementation on new buildings.

    24 Councils in Victoria are doing and want the same regarding green roofs and solar. New ‘laws’ (planning scheme changes) to assist the 24 councils to request new development to implement green roofs and solar and other features have been drafted, are publicly available, and are ready to go!

    The decision to enable the ‘legislative’ (planning scheme) changes however rests with the Planning Minister (previously the Hon Richard Wynne, now the Hon Lizzie Blandthorn) to give the changes the ‘green light’/ go-ahead. This will enable the collective group of 24 councils to proceed with a planning scheme amendment which involves broader community engagement and review of the new ‘legislative’ (planning scheme) changes before they are officially enacted.

    A single, Executive decision-maker (the Planning Minister) is largely at the helm now, to give councils the ‘green light’ to proceed with the planning scheme amendment process, before the broader community, and for Melbourne and Victoria to also lead by example, alongside other global cities as pacesetters.

    1. Fantastic news!!! Speed up the green light Melbourne. Check out the comment from California on this article to see what is happening elsewhere on this fragile planet of ours and be inspired to fight harder.

  4. The funny thing is we are doing exactly the same too across greater Melbourne and the broader State in Victoria.

    24 Councils are collectively on board to support planning scheme (‘legal’) changes that will enable councils to request new development to include solar and green roofs (just like Paris, California State, New York and other cities across the globe!). The councils have come up with metrics and standards for new development to follow as a part of such changes to ‘laws’ (planning scheme changes).

    The issue however is that our Victorian Planning Minister (previously Richard Wynne and now Lisa Lizzie Blandthorn) needs to authorise [give the green light] to councils to go ahead and make the changes in law – which the 24 councils are ready to do – documentation (including the ‘law’ [planning scheme amendment]) has been drafted and is publicly available!

    The problem is that it all rests with the single Planning Minister to give that ‘green light’… whether to be a leader (like other global cities) or stay where we are, with little guidance or direction for new development, resulting in our cities and communities (including innovation) to fall drastically behind on this front.

    1. Yep Melbourne’s draft C376 policy that includes ‘green factor’ for green roofs is arguably even stronger than the new 30% green roof coverage or PV on roofs plan out of Paris. If this gets implemented here then we will be globally leading.

      The car exclusion zone is what we need too, driving through the city shouldn’t be an option for people travelling from one side of greater Melbourne to the other.