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The solution could be up on the roof

Scientists are quick to separate today’s weather from the issue of climate change, but weather patterns and environmental changes – from more severe thunderstorms in this area to the wildfires still burning out West – can’t be ignored. With that in mind, an Elmira-based company is looking to help reduce the environmental impacts.

Enviro-Stewards recently finished construction of a blue roof on their Union Street building. The rain water collected on the roof is being used every day to keep their living wall nourished and flourishing. As well, the water is used for the likes of flushing toilets.

Company president Bruce Taylor says it will cut their city water usage in half in one year’s time.

“The blue roof is an adaptation of green roofs. Green roofs are basically plants on your roof – the challenge with that is that it’s relatively expensive and heavy. We’re trying to demonstrate an affordable, smart, blue roof so we’re using our existing roof liner to actually store the water. We have leak detectors on the liner to make sure it’s not leaking. We have a structural assessment, so the amount of water is less than the snow load, and we don’t store it (water) in the wintertime so it’s less – we’re just using the winter snow load in the summer,” Taylor explained of the project.

“The primary benefit is storm water, because due to climate change, we’re getting a lot of flooding, a lot of storms. The number-one insurance claim in Canada is actually flooding – all the storm drains were designed for 100-year storms at the time, which is different to the 100-year storms we get now. When a storm drain gets overloaded, it backs up, it floods and there’s crazy damage. However, if we can store the first two inches of rainfall on the roof, then it’s not going down the drain during the storm.

“Secondary benefits are cooling – we measured a neighbour and their roof was 42 Celsius; ours was, under the water, 29. So you can cut the amount of heat coming in by say half just by storing water on the roof. Third benefit is water reuse: were flushing all our toilets with it,” said Taylor

With more and more companies looking for ways to reduce their carbon footprint, the idea should become popular as it is sustainable long term, he added. In Waterloo Region, a blue roof could help reduce construction from new storm drain systems being installed.

“The key is to try and get it affordable, which we’ve tried to do. It’s about 10 times less than what other people are offering for a blue roof,” he said of the Enviro-Stewards option.

“Often the rainwater is better than city water – you want to find a good home for that water once you harvest it,” said Taylor. “The blue roof is literally storing the water on top of the roof as opposed to what just came in. So if we go up, there’s going to be water on the roof, which keeps the roof cooler, which reduces our air conditioning – it gives us more water storage.”

Normally Enviro-Stewards works with factories to reduce their water usage or help them reduce food waste, this new project, the Blue Roof, is part of their development work in creating sustainable solutions for companies.

When their landlord decided to redo the building’s roof, Enviro-Stewards took it upon themselves to get the blue roof installed, wanting small sensors put in so they could track the temperature and if there were any leaks. The company says it costs $1 to $2 per square foot to install blue roof functionality.

“Our main impact is at our customer’s facility – we helped Maple Leaf become the first large food company in the world to become carbon neutral. We did that by going to 35 factories, showing them how to reduce water, energy, product loss – that generated more than enough savings to pay for the offsets for the rest of the footprint. We need to also prove that we’re walking the walk ourselves, so in our own case we’ve cut our energy 78 per cent per employee through stuff like the living wall, the lights, the windows. This is an extension of that – it’s a way to further reduce energy use and further reduce water consumption,” said Taylor.

“If you take a look at a Google map of the Waterloo Region you’re going to see a lot of flat roofs. Every city in the region passed a commitment to reduce 50 per cent, by 2030, of their greenhouse gas emissions. So how are they going to do that?”

Since 2014 Enviro-Stewards and their partners have been working in countries such as Sudan and Uganda to provide clean-water solutions by creating an all-natural water filter that can be setup with ease. They’ve also helped numerous companies such as Campbell’s and Tim Hortons find solutions for food waste by reducing the amount of water used.

Bruce Taylor (right) and Enviro-Stewards employee Daniel Krohn-Anthony up on the blue roof. [Justine Fraser]

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