A little green roof can do a lot of good, and FedEx is about to find out how much good an enormous 175,000 square foot green roof can do. The company recently opened a new package sorting center at Chicago's O'Hare International Airport, and it is sporting a green roof the size of three football fields, according to a FedEx pess release.
The combination of football imagery with sustainability will come as little surprise to sports fans, who may already be familiar with the elaborate new solar power showcase at the Washington Redskins' FedEx Stadium. FedEx has also staked out a leadership position in electric vehicles and other clean fleet technology in partnership with the U.S. Department of Energy, so if the new green roof at O'Hare is successful, it could be used as the model for many more installations across the country.
A Surprise Benefit of Green Roofs for FedEx
FedEx has high expectations for its green roof. The company cites general findings that green roofs can result in a direct savings to the building in two ways: they reduce annual heating and cooling costs by about 35 percent, and they can also last up to 50 years, more than double the average lifespan of a conventional roof. Green roofs can also help reduce infrastructure costs by helping to reduce stormwater runoff, and they can provide a public health benefit by helping to reduce local air pollution. In a new twist, the company also expects the roof to help reduce airport noise, which could provide an additional public health benefit.
Green Roofs and Extra Value
Green roofs enable property owners to extract additional value from the footprint of their buildings, at a minimal cost. That is especially true of low-maintenance green roofs like the one at O'Hare. With some extra tweaking, green roofs can also add value in many other ways, depending on the building's function. Restaurants, for example, can use them to grow hyper-local produce for the table, and building owners can partner with schools to promote green roofs as learning tools.
Green Roofs and Stormwater
The stormwater management benefit could turn out to be the most important immediate impact of a large-scale green roof. In contrast to drainage systems that basically collect and transfer stormwater from place to place, green roofs trap storm water in soil and vegetation. The moisture eventually evaporates, so the excess stormwater never enters the stormwater infrastructure. For systems that include pumps and other energy-intensive operations, this could result in significant fuel savings, in addition to reducing the risk of flooding.
Green Roofs in Context
FedEx's green roof is actually just on element in a full scale modernization project for O'Hare. The primary goal of the project overall is to reduce delays by ditching the facility's outdated intersecting runways, but it also includes sustainability features such as LEED facilities, on-site construction material recycling, clean vehicles, and energy efficient lighting. It even includes a new apiary, which doubles as a career training opportunity for persons with criminal records. Like FedEx's green roof, the apiary extracts value from acreage that would otherwise go unused; it is sited in a land conservation area that cannot be developed.
Photo Credit: Green Roof at O'Hare Airport courtesy FedEx.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.