Green Roofs: A Sustainable Design

Green roofs aren’t particularly a new innovation; however, a resurgence in sustainable-focused living has helped increase the popularity of these “living roofs” in major cities across the US. Green roofs are roofs partially or completely covered with vegetation such as native grasses and flowering plants like lavender. Customers are finding the modern green roof beneficial, both environmentally and financially, and as the demand for green roofs increases companies like Greensulate are coming to the forefront in green roof production.

What started out as a 10-person company has seen a 400 percent growth in business in 2010 in the wake of the green roof trend. As a result, Greensulate has been named by Businessweek “one of America’s Most Promising Startups.” Greensulate specializes in constructing green roofs. Very simply put a green roof is a living extension of an existing or newly constructed roof. It incorporates a water proofing membrane and root barrier, a green roof system, a drainage system, and a lightweight growing medium and plants. Each green roof Greensulate makes is unique, reflecting its owner’s needs, the particulars of the roof, and the geographic location of the building. There are three types of green roofs: extensive, intensive and hybrid. Extensive has a growing medium less than 6 inches while intensive has a growing medium greater than 6 inches. Hybrid green roofs, on the other hand, contain elements of both. The choice between extensive or intensive depends on access, budget, maintenance, visibility, and load bearing capacity. However, most green roofs are commonly composed of a waterproof barrier, insulation, drainage/root barrier, substrate and vegetation as seen in the diagram below.



Green roofs serve several purposes for a building. Green roofs are amazing in their ability to clean and cool the air, beautify urban space and keep storm water out of sewers and waterways. This living architecture cleans the surrounding air, consuming carbon dioxide and emitting oxygen in the process. Green roofs reduce the volume of storm water runoff by absorbing and retaining water that would otherwise flood the storm sewer system resulting in sewage spills and overflows. This ability to absorb and retain water also helps filter heavy metals out of rainwater. Green roofs have also been known to provide insulation for the building, create a habitat for wildlife, and help lower urban air temperatures. It is apparent that the environmental benefits of a green roof are numerous.


While a green roof greatly improves the aesthetics of the immediate area, green roofs can also reward a building owner with long term financial benefits. Based on Gallup polls and current real estate statistics, green roofs add proven value to the building. They can also reduce energy costs and extended the life of the roof by more than 50%. A green roof is often the key component of an autonomous building.


However, as beneficial as the green roof is to both the environment and the building owner’s wallet, it is not without disadvantages. The main disadvantage of a green roof is the higher initial cost of the building structure, waterproofing systems and root barriers. The additional mass of the soil substrate and retained water can require additional structural support. Depending on what kind of green roof it is, the maintenance costs could be higher, but some types of green roofs have little or no ongoing costs. Some kinds of green roofs also place higher demands on the waterproofing system of the structure both because water is retained on the roof and due to the possibility of roots penetrating the waterproof membrane.

While it may seem undesirable to pay such a large upfront cost for a green roof, the long term benefits outweigh the initial cost. Over time a green roof both saves the building owner money and helps the environment. When it comes down to finding new ways to incorporate sustainable design into every day life consider the green roof.

Changing Society Through ICTs

Technology always transforms society. In fact, information and communication technologies (ICTs) have drastically impacted the attitudes, expectations and behaviors of individuals, organizations and communities. One fine example of an ICT responsible for social transformation is the Apple iPad. In fact, the iPad has drastically changed the way students learn in places like Northwest Kansas Technical College.


Apple iPad

Northwest Kansas Technical College has found the Apple iPad useful in their hands-on learning approach. Northwest Kansas Tech is a two-year school located in the farming community of Goodland in northwest Kansas. This school develops highly skilled workers for the technical industries important for the nation’s infrastructure by training its students on the same technology they will use in the workplace. Recently, the introduction of the iPad and select apps has opened up many new learning opportunities for the students. Even though hands-on training in technical education typically means putting hands on machines rather than digital devices, there were numerous benefits for the iPad in Northwest Kansas Tech. In fact, the school’s overall licensure exam passing rates have improved since the iPad was introduced in the classroom. The pass rate in developmental classes has increased to well over 75%, and the pass rates for board exams among respiratory therapy students has risen to 87%. These rates are the highest the school has ever recorded. Also due to the implementation, Northwest Kansas Tech is now graduating 90% of its students and placing about 90% of them in jobs all thanks to the iPad education.


iPad used in diesel technology

Dr. Guy E. Mills, president of Northwest Kansas Technical College, says “The learning potential with iPad is just endless.” He is right; the iPad education has helped reinforce  hands-on learning. Greg Unger, diesel technology instructor at the Northwest Kansas Technical College says, “iPad and AirPlay allow us to demonstrate a procedure just once, record it, and play it on the big screen for all the students to view and discuss. Another instructor, has used iPad to highlight lessons in a collaborative textbook app that respiratory therapy students can access in the classroom or from remote labs and clinical sites. Cosmetology students also use an iPad app that lets them comprehensively track and manage clients. Overall, the iPad inspires creativity and hands-on learning with features not available in any other educational tool. Powerful apps from the App Store like iTunes U and iBooks let students engage with content in interactive ways, find information in an instant, and access an entire library wherever they go.


Video mirroring on iPad

iPads are being integrated into classrooms everywhere, not just at Northwest Kansas Technical school. Apple CEO Tim Cook said, “The adoption rate of iPad in education is something I’d never seen from any technology product in history.” However, it is not unsurprising that the iPad has become popular in the classroom. Apple textbooks provide engaging layouts, interactive images, 3D graphic and more. iPad apps are expanding the learning experience both inside and outside the classroom with educational apps from interactive lessons to study aids to productivity tools. iTunes U for the iPad makes it easy to customize courses for iPad and create an immersive learning experience for students. The iPad makes it easy to teach an entire class thanks to video mirroring, which easily shows web pages, photos, videos, and more on the big screen. Overall, iPads have drastically changed the traditional classroom education by providing a hands-on learning experience for students that instructs and entertains at the same time.

“The customer is always right”

How do designers develop final products that satisfy the users’ wishes? Products that do exactly what the consumer wants without wasting time doing what it wants? Products like these just don’t magically happen. The answer is by identifying consumer needs. In fact, user-centered design requires focusing on the product’s potential users from the very beginning and checking-in with them each step of the way to make sure these users like and are comfortable with the final design. When it comes to designing a successful product, “the customer is always right.”

The process for identifying consumer needs begins with defining the market. This involves defining the target audience, identifying competitors and determining the core user needs and wishes that must be fulfilled for the product to succeed. Then raw data must be gathered through interview, focus groups, and observation. This gives the designer an understanding of the users’ goals and tasks, the strategies they use to perform the tasks, the tools they currently use, any problems they experience, and the changes they would like to see in their tasks and tools. Next, the raw data can be interpreted and categorized into need statements, which explicitly express the features consumers want in the product. After need statements have been established, designers can organize the users’ needs. Typical methods include asking users to list and prioritize tasks and observing users accomplishing their tasks. Also, asking users to complete their tasks using competitors’ products and assessing their overall satisfaction with each one helps organize consumer needs. After this step, it is necessary to establish the importance of each need expressed by the consumer. A common method involves asking the users to list the strengths and weakness of the products used in order of importance. Surveys are also useful in this procedure. After that, the designer can reflect on the results from the process and formulate designs based on the consumer input. However, the process does not end here. It is necessary to continually improve the product by periodically soliciting user feedback on the evolving design.

Ideo's design thinking approach

IDEO’s design thinking approach

One design firm that has perfected user-centered design is IDEO. IDEO takes a human-centered, design-based approach to helping organizations innovate and grow that they have termed design thinking. “Design thinking is a human-centered approach to innovation that draws from the designer’s toolkit to integrate the needs of people, the possibilities of technology, and the requirements for business success,” said Tim Brown the CEO and president of IDEO. This design thinking approach brings together what is desirable from a human point of view with what is technologically feasible and economically viable. IDEO creates innovative products, services, spaces, and experiences for companies such as Procter & Gamble, Pepsi-Cola, and Samsung and helps companies build cultures based on innovation. IDEO’s renowned process of innovation have given rise to the Apple mouse, the first laptop computer, the Polaroid I-Zone instant camera, the Palm V, the soft-handled Gripper toothbrush for Oral-B, and hundreds of others.

Tria Skin Rejuvenating Laser

Tria Skin Rejuvenating Laser

One fine example of IDEO’s design thinking is a product called the Tria Skin Rejuvenating Laser for Tria Beauty, which is a hand-held device that combines professional anti-aging laser technology with an elegant design for at-home skin care. Tria Beauty teamed up with IDEO to launch this new anti-aging device for use in daily beauty regimens. It was designed for women of all skin types who desired professional anti-aging benefits. During the research phase, the IDEO team sought to understand how potential customers thought about their skin and signs of aging, what they were doing about it, and what they thought about the existing options. This research led to the concept for the overall design: a device that expressed the professional power of the laser in a controlled, delightfully beautiful form, while also fitting effortlessly on bathroom counters and dresser tops and into nightly anti-aging skin care routines. Purchasers praised its ease of use, achieved by a sophisticated human-centered design interface. The laser is just one example of IDEO’s design thinking that incorporated consumer needs into the design. Overall, it can be seen that user-centered design is a method that identifies customer needs in order to create a final product that satisfies the users’ wishes.