Tag Archives: green roofs

Ecological Urbanism book

There’s nothing like prefacing an article with a colossal question; a question that is both difficult to pose and incredibly difficult to answer. In most cases, we run our businesses for profit, climbing financial and social ladders, providing employment, contributing taxes and being beneficial to society through the creation of wealth. Many business owner/operators will see these objectives satisfied as a job well done. However, the great danger of  sealing our businesses off from the wider environment by ignoring our downstream impacts is a legacy that future generations will not take kindly.

Let’s illustrate the point. I work a short hop, skip and a jump from a stretch of industrial coast land  The wheels of industry have turned here; engines shuttled raw materials to and from a nearby steelworks. Busy roads plough goods in and out. Industrial units have filled the space along these transport arteries. Green space has all but disappeared and what little remains is nothing short of scrub.  Business and urban planning is of course, cyclical and in time, we’ll want to bulldoze the detritus and house people here. The area is central and close to the work spaces of the CBD, fitting in with more enlightened thinking. However the choices of the past mean that an incredible amount of work will be required to make this area habitable. The ground is contaminated. Biodiversity has been squeezed. It is a blot on the landscape and a problem to be tackled by a future generation. As businesses, how can we spot and avoid potentially similar error of judgements now and in the future?

Recently I ordered a copy of ‘Ecological Urbanism’ a weighty doorstop of a book that didn’t so much get posted through our door, but rather smashed its way through it. Produced by the Harvard University of school of Design, the book is effectively a huge amalgamation of essays, infographics and images that depict the need for us to consider the whole picture when we paint our own part of the canvas. Despite the book tackling some large and serious issues, depressing it is not. The articles are written imaginatively and thoughtfully, rather than pedalling doom and gloom, with collaboration and optimism the order of the day. It is also abundantly clear, that for forward thinking organisations prepared to embrace the notion of responsibility, there is an incredibly rich seam of sustainable commerce to be embraced. The book therefore, is doing its job; providing education and inspiration.

Elwell supersafe - a sustainable solution for storage problems.

In our case, it is looking to see how our product can improve the built environment. Cycle storage is fine in and of itself, but if our storage systems are also positioned optimally, utilise renewables to power their services, offer rooftop environments that mitigate flash flooding, soften the landscape and increase biodiversity, then we have enhanced our environment for financial, environmental and moral gain (win/win/win). In your case, it may mean utilising more local services, or moving to sustainable sources of raw materials, or offering consultancy to the community as part of a programme; it can take many, many forms. But however it looks, objectively critiquing CSR and the company role in society is likely to make not only good common sense – in a densely populated, resource tight world – but also excellent business sense in the long run. It is better to be recognised as part of the catalyst for change, than part of the obstacles to improvement.

If you’re not sure where to start with this, try Life cycle assessment of your product/service and take it from there. Look at what you currently do. Look at what you could do. Look at what you’d like to do. Use imagination, wit and intelligence. Explore. Investigate. Tap into academia. But above all else, think of the future you’d like to see and resolve to contribute toward it. My staunch advice? Swot up. The benefits of smartly designed products speak for themselves. Read long and prosper.

With thanks to Simon O’Rafferty, recently Senior Research Officer at the Eco-design centre for the initial loan of the book. I’ve since bought a copy. This article also appears on the website Sustainable business toolkit. Lower image: Elwell supersafe and Sheffield stands.

White roof

I was particularly taken with an article on the website Taxi. Showcasing the work of Brooklyn-based photographer Navid Baraty, a sequence of aerial images depict New York City’s intersections and roads as a set of abstract images. As Taxi point out;

The photographs also reveal the order in the chaos that is New York City, as the neat grid streets and buildings are clearly reflected in these shots.

High view

This is very clearly the case. ‘Order’ – literally – seems to be the order of the day. Lines of Yellow cabs scurry like worker ants, whilst buildings stand rectangular, impassive and permanent  However one of the key things that struck me was how little greenery is evident. Of course, we know this. We all know this. NYC – or rather Manhatten, our mental image of NYC – is a city and not any old city; Its THE city incarnate, an area of commerce, energy and high population density. Yet all that roof space affords incredible – and often missed – opportunity; green roofs to soften the impact of all that grey and to improve the chances for flourishing biodiversity. Green roofs are indeed increasingly being employed in urban spaces and NYC is neither without green roof space nor greenery (I know this well. I saw much of NY during the marathon in 1998 – very painful….). But I would argue that application of green roofs needn’t be grand in scale and the preserve of the roof top garden. After all, a green roof can be employed over the smallest of constructions. Every time a bus shelter, cycle storage compound, small building and even telephone box(!) is erected without one, represents a wasted opportunity to enhance our living spaces; particularly at ground level. Subtle changes in our living environment can make tremendous difference to well being.

Rant over. I’m off my soapbox now. Let’s concentrate instead on the images; a terrific and fascinating body of work by Navid Baraty.


Very high view



Yellow cabs


Night time

Images also available to view on the Taxi website.

The flora from our initial tests.

As you may have gathered, we like neat answers to complex problems – particularly if a bike is involved. This part of the world (UK) is not getting any drier (at certain times of the year at least) and flash flooding is a real problem. Last week I cycled home through Llandaff North and water was running down the main road in a torrent, pushing up manhole covers and threatening to extend the water above the hubs on my Birdy. No-way Jose; I used my local knowledge to ride through the back streets (I used to live on the wonderfully named Pommergelli Road, just around the corner).  Anyway…..the point being that violent, sudden deluges overburden water management systems (drain pipes and sewers to you and me) resulting in problems. One contribution towards solving these is green roofs. So to give a further twist to the sustainability of bike shelters and racking systems, we’ve developed a bike shelter with a green roof. Containing soil, a membrane and appropriate flora, It’ll soak up rain, flower in season and soften the urban landscape. Towns and cities look so much prettier when dotted with little green oases; especially when there are bikes parked beneath them. All being well, we’ll be showcasing the turf and photographs of the protoype at the London bike show.