Serious about Green Roofs Part IV: Four things we need

Wendy House Green Roof

Also read: 

Part III: Examples of green roofs in South Africa

Part II: International best practices

Part I: Can green roofs create sustainable livelihoods?


The theory and case studies examined in Part 1, 2 and 3 of the “serious about green roofs” series uncovered important key lessons for South Africa’s green roof industry. All we need now is some expert advice on the matter. The last part in the series will focus on just that. I chatted with green roof specialists in each of the cities studied. They had some very interesting opinions about the potential for a green roof industry in South Africa.



The national specialists argued that as the cost of green roofs were the highest before an industry was established, and that this was the current case in South Africa, they didn’t “see the rationality of a developer wanting to do a green roof unless there is some type of compensation for them”. Therefore it is very important for the necessary policies and incentives to encourage green roof project uptake. They stressed that all of these types of policies or incentives could work as long as there were guidelines available to follow with regards to the construction and maintenance of green roofs. One elaborated by saying that “there definitely has to be standards so that people don’t do green roofs wrong. Because when you do it wrong then it is going to give green roofs a bad name”. He went on to say that “the biggest curse in the industry” was when people “try and re-invent the wheel” which was a completely unnecessary waste of time.  



One very important argument was referred to by both the national and international specialists. It entailed the fact that the South African climate had immense potential with regards to its plant pallet being perfect for the creation of green roofs. “South Africa has a vegetation that could be very very informative to the whole green roof market. It is not exporting that vegetation, but it is understanding how that vegetation can grow in a green roof context”. Another respondent elaborated that “because the plant diversity of South Africa is so amazing, South Africa would probably develop some astounding green roofs with amazing plants which no one else in the world could possibly have”. One of the national specialists confirmed that “we are just blessed with a plant pallet no other country in the world can compete when it comes to our plants on rooftops”.

SA Green Roof


Even the cities with the more advance green roof industries still had issues around the correct support. Issues in this regard included the implementation and regulation of maintenance, coexistence of green roofs with other roof based technologies as well as challenges to ensure that green roofs stayed an important concept and living experience for the younger generations. A national specialist admitted that even though the City supported the green roof research projects they were busy conducting not all of the departments were showing interest in the data they were obtaining. Here a specialist argued that the current situation in South Africa was at a critical stage “because if a particularly inferior system managed to get a foothold, then you would have a problem because you would have a ten year period of realising it is probably not a very good idea”. He went on to say that “we have so many other pressing issues in South Africa as a whole that the environment and green roofs and these performance standards and technical regulation procedures are just a pipedream for now”.

Green Roof NYC


When it came to the performance and technology policies most of the national specialists were doubtful. One stated that “we are very far away in South Africa around stormwater management fees”. However, he also stressed that it was important to “make sure that the best possibilities for South Africa are thought about at the beginning” by allowing collaboration and negotiation with the stakeholders that will be affected before policies and strategies where formulated. An effective way in which to achieve this might be to start with direct financial incentives before requiring green roofs through policy in order to give the stakeholders a chance to get used to the idea. Similarly the specialists also thought it very important for the City to lead by example by implementing green roofs on their own buildings first. A specialist elaborated by stating that the City could be seen as the primary developers and should thus set the desired benchmarks.   The specialists stressed the importance of starting green roof implementation in a city with the use of direct financial incentives in order to overcome the social and political difficulties when started with immediate policies. Once these initiatives where in place, regulatory policies could require green roofs without, or at least with less, political arguments. Furthermore, as the City would probably not have unlimited funds for continued incentives, the funds available for the direct financial incentives of green roof projects should decrease throughout the years until no direct incentives were offered. At this time the green roof industry should be stable and developers and building owners would have accepted the technology as a required and permanent aspect. Even though important, indirect financial incentives in South Africa were still very far from implementation.

Dog House Green Roof

At this stage it seems like South African cities, including Cape Town, are very far away from feverishly pursuing the large scale implementation of green roofs. However, this series has proven that there are definitely some silver linings. Durban seems to be on the right track so far. Other cities in South Africa should follow this example. If Cape Town could get the support from the City to start a green roof pilot project we could identify the green roof construction and maintenance requirements specific to Cape Town. Once we have started gathering this information we could determine which of Cape Town’s needs could potentially be addressed through green roofs. Will it be to protect our famous ‘fynbos’? Or could we provide spaces for food production? Even the motive of stormwater management could work. Through the newly established motive we would then be able to decide with which policies and incentives we would want to start promoting our new green roof industry. The important thing to remember is the four lessons that we have learnt – Research. Motive. Support. Variety. If we keep these in mind we will be well on our way to a greener skyline.


Main Source: Booysen, K. 2013. Aspects that encourage the successful integration of Green Roofs in cities: Policy Issues and Green Roof Specialist Perceptions, Dissertation submitted in partial fulfilment of the requirements of the Degree in Master of Philosophy in Urban Infrastructure Management and Design, Department of Engineering and Built Environment, University of Cape Town.




About Karla Booysen

Passionate town planner looking to make a difference. Currently working for a development company in Durbanville, Cape Town. Love walking on the beach and experiencing the little things.