Did you ever have a school assignment that involved growing a seedling, nurturing its progress and watching it bloom? Did you ever do that on the roof of your school building?
Currently, a bill in Congress could make this a reality for our country’s learners. Not only that, it would help mitigate climate change, create jobs and grow our economy for generations to come.
The Public School Green Rooftop Program (HR 1863), sponsored by U.S. Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez, D-NY, would establish a grant program for installing and maintaining green roof systems on public elementary and secondary school buildings. Though still underused, green roofs are catching on across the nation as their benefits — and societal necessity — become more and more clear.
A green roof is a layer of vegetation planted in engineered growing media over a drainage layer and root-repellent and waterproofing system on a roof. They not only improve a building’s aesthetics and energy performance, they support plant growth while providing a multitude of community benefits.
Green roofs are job creators. HR 1863 would create 29,000 total direct, indirect, and induced job-years over a 50-year period. About 5,570 of those direct jobs would be in construction and maintenance, and more than 23,000 indirect and induced job-years would be created as a result.
Beyond their economic value, green roofs offer educational value, creating invaluable opportunities for students in STEM, as well as access to physical activity outdoors. The data behind the educational, emotional and physiological benefits for young people is clear. Children who grow a vegetable themselves are more likely to eat it, and time outdoors boosts physical and mental health.
An anonymous survey of 160 first- through fifth-grade students completed in June 2021 indicates the emotional, social and educational benefits that kids and communities experience from green roofs. When asked how they feel on the green roof, students and teachers alike used words like “happy,” “calm,” “peaceful” and “relaxed,” and noted the profound value of access to green space.
Buildings benefit as well. A green roof increases the life span of a roof (from 17 years to 40-plus years) while reducing energy costs and increasing the life span of heating, ventilation and air conditioning systems. They also lead to reduced long-term building operational costs, which reduces the cost to the taxpayers.
Green roofs improve communities. They improve air quality, storm water management and water quality, and reduce heat “islands.” They improve property value and stabilize neighborhoods while reducing greenhouse gas emissions and carbon sequestration.
They provide habitat for birds, bees and other pollinators. Schools can even harvest produce grown on green roofs and use it in cafeterias or send fresh food home with students — uniting families in the community through nourishing fruits and vegetables.
On top of all that (no pun intended), these roofs are considered effective in the reduction of atmospheric CO2 because of their ability to reduce energy consumption by buildings and sequestering carbon in plants and substrates. This is no small benefit — the heat dome that hit the Pacific Northwest in late June made it clear that we need as much help as possible. Green roofs would be a tool in that effort.
This kind of legislation should be a no-brainer. Be on the lookout for my bill to bring more green roofs to Washington state. In the meantime, it’s time for the rest of the country to catch up. Our congressional delegation should be leading the fight with HR 1863, so we can improve every community across the country.