Study finds green roofs improve concentration

Study finds green roofs improve concentration:

A new study from Melbourne University has found that environmentally-friendly green roofs are not only good for the environment, they also improve employee concentration.

In the study, published in the Journal of Environmental Psychology, 150 students were asked to press a key as a series of numbers repeatedly flashed in front of them on a computer screen, unless the number was three. Midway through the task half the group was given a 40-second break during which they looked at a flowering meadow green roof and the others looked at a bare concrete roof. The participants who looked at the green roof made fewer errors and had better concentration in the second half of the task.

Dr Kate Lee, Head Researcher, said, “We know that green roofs are great for the environment, but now we can say that they boost attention too. Imagine the impact that has for thousands of employees working in nearby offices. This study showed us that looking at an image of nature for less than a minute was all it took to help people perform better on our task.”

The study deliberately used a 40-second “micro-break” to mirror the mini breaks which happen spontaneously throughout the day. “It’s something that a lot of us do naturally when we’re stressed or mentally fatigued. There’s a reason you look out the window and seek nature, it can help you concentrate on your work and to maintain performance across the workday.

“This study has implications for workplace well-being and adds extra impetus to continue greening our cities. City planners around the world are switching on to these benefits of green roofs and we hope the future of our cities will be a very green one.”

More and more rooftop gardens are appearing in Melbourne and Sydney, including The City of Melbourne offices on Little Collins Street and the M Central apartment building in Pyrmont, Sydney.

image credit . sookie

University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute

University of Queensland’s Global Change Institute building sets new standard for cutting-edge, sustainable building technology


Stormwater Harvesting and Re-use in Urban Areas

By Richard J. Magill

One of the more important issues that green infrastructure professionals are discussing these days is responsible and effective re-use of stormwater in urban areas. Given the effects of global climate change (temperature inc2rease, rising oceans, extreme weather outbreaks- not the least of which includes devastating drought conditions), we are consequently experiencing profound increases in pollution of drinking water supplies, diminishing recreational-water opportunities, and the widespread degradation of our natural waterways and oceans, among other negative implications. Municipal, state, and federal programs in some parts of the world seem to be responding by promoting legislation that requires urban development projects to include measures to proactively manage and re-use this scarce resource. The proactive approach is particularly apparent in Western Europe, the United States, Canada, Australia, and New Zealand. Other parts of the world are just becoming aware of the possibilities and opportunities associated with wise re-use of this often neglected source of water.

For the purposes of this article, stormwater is defined as runoff collected from roof and ground surfaces, including roadways, driveways, parking lots, plazas, and other impervious areas. Rainwater is defined as runoff from roof surfaces or collection by other devices which don’t allow the rain to come in contact with imperious surfaces which collect pollutants.

The scale of stormwater harvesting and reuse systems can range from small residential systems to very large commercial systems. In the US, outdoor water uses represent 58 percent of the domestic daily water uses, while for hotels and office buildings, outdoor uses represent 10 to 38 percent of the daily water uses, respectively.

Stormwater Harvesting and Re-use in Urban AreasAccording to the U.S. EPA, when harvested rainwater is re-used, it generally is best suited for irrigation and non-potable uses, such as water closets, urinals and air conditioning systems (HVAC), as these uses require a lesser amount of on-site treatment than potable uses. Due to the lower cost of treatment, one of the most common re-use applications of stormwater and rainwater is for irrigation of urban green spaces. Some of the uses include irrigation of athletic fields, golf courses, parks, landscaping, community gardens, and even public water features. The green infrastructure techniques utilized to collect stormwater include bio-swales (rain gardens), enhanced tree pits, and permeable pavements. The following goals are central to the principles of stormwater harvesting and re-use systems:

  • reduction of stormwater pollutant loads and flows to surface waters, helping achieve local stormwater management requirements;
  • reduction in the size of other, more traditional stormwater management practices used to achieve local stormwater control requirements;
  • reduction of the demand on potable water sources; and
  • reduction of stress on the existing water supply and associated delivery infrastructure.

Well-planned, designed, and implemented stormwater harvesting and re-use systems can also be used to obtain valuable Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) and other sustainable design credits related to stormwater quantity and quality, and water efficiency. LEED certification is recognized as a cost-effective (especially long-term) and environmentally-responsible practice, and is often embraced by the development community as a necessary initial cost of doing business, in the United States at least.

Concerns Related to Stormwater Harvesting and Re-use

Although stormwater harvesting and re-use systems appear are viable alternatives to help achieve required stormwater management standards, as well as reducing the demand on the potable water supply, they are not without significant concerns.

Those concerns include:

  • Potable water supply cross-contamination;
  • Direct human exposure to pathogens;
  • Exposure to pathogens in food crops;
  • Risk of toxic spills (within the stormwater re-use catchment area, and potential for re-use of contaminated water);
  • Concerns with mosquito breeding; and
  • Contaminated pond sediments.
Additionally, there are often not locally well-defined operation and maintenance procedures for rainwater and stormwater harvesting and re-use programs. These operation and maintenance programs help ensure stormwater re-use systems are functioning as designed and are meeting the required water quality standards to protect the public health.

Potential Obstacles to Progressive Stormwater Management Systems

In many areas of the world, rainwater and stormwater harvesting is largely unaddressed by regulations and codes. Many of the requirements that do exist were originally developed for the re-use of reclaimed water (treated wastewater) rather than stormwater. The confusion about the different types of water to be re-used (reclaimed, rainwater, stormwater, etc.) and the lack of legislative guidance for this topic has resulted in differing use and treatment guidelines and standards among federal, state and local governments. Because of the lack of guidance for rainwater and stormwater re-use, these sources of re-used water are often regulated at the same level as reclaimed water, which is typically more clearly defined by past management practices. Although the general guidance for the re-use of rainwater and stormwater is similar to reclaimed and grey-water, it can differ dramatically due to lower levels of initial contamination and the potential end-uses. Often, the treatment requirements ultimately come down to the risk of exposure to pathogens.

The perceived cost of improving stormwater management systems, relative to the actual long-term costs, is also an obstacle that needs to be overcome. The level of treatment required by each locality can influence the number of harvesting and re-use systems that are actually implemented. Simplifying the treatment requirements when public health is not at risk can lower the project cost for those entities intending to install stormwater harvesting and re-use systems and may encourage broader adoption of these improved practices.

What Can Green Infrastructure Professionals Do to Further the Cause?

Stormwater Harvesting and Re-use in Urban Areas

While some governments may resist the codification of more progressive stormwater and re-use practices and regulations, green industry professionals can be leaders in the education and promotion of ideas that advance the stormwater management systems of developed and un-developed countries alike. The most effective means that landscape architects and designers, urban arborists and foresters, structural and civil engineers, and urban and regional planners can use to further the cause is knowledge. If we as professionals continue to pursue innovative, and environmentally and financially responsible practices, and educate citizens, supervisors, and elected officials on these newer management techniques, there can be substantial gains made against the negative effects of inefficient and outdated stormwater management systems in urbanized areas of our planet.

Interested to learn more? Get our FREE eBook Global Development of Waterfront Spaces.

A Water Sensitive Urban Environment

A Water Sensitive Urban Environment:

Water Sensitive Urban Design (WSUD) is also known as Low Impact Development (LID) in the United States, and Sustainable Urban Drainage Systems (SUDS) in the United Kingdom.

It all refers to the land planning and engineering design approach that integrates the urban water cycle, including stormwater, groundwater, and wastewater management and water supply, into urban design. This is done to minimise the environmental degradation as well as improve the look of the area.

Why use WSUD? According to the guidelines released by the South Eastern Councils in Melbourne Victoria, WSUD has been identified as a “means to control flows and filter stormwater to remove pollutants”.

Stormwater is the water that runs off urban surfaces after heavy rainfall. The report said it has been identified as the key cause of pollution and declining health of waterways.

“With increased urban development, the proportion of impervious surfaces in our catchments increases. This increases the velocity and amount of water running into our waterways, creating problems of erosion and flooding and changing natural flow regimes, with associated ecological damage. It also washes more pollutants into our streams, further impacting river health.”

Victoria councils, like other councils in Australia, have recognised the importance of sustainable water management such as WSUD. The release of various guidelines enables organisations to have a first point of reference for their projects.

The design “integrates urban water cycle management with urban planning and design, with the aim of mimicking natural systems to minimise negative impacts on the natural water cycle and receiving waterways and bays”.

Some of the key principles of WSUD as stated in the Urban Stormwater: Best Practice Environmental Management Guidelines (BPEMG) include:

  • Protect and enhance natural water systems within urban environments.
  • Integrate stormwater treatment into the landscape, maximizing the visual and recreational amenity of developments.
  • Improve the quality of water draining from urban developments into receiving environments.
  • Reduce runoff and peak flows from urban developments by increasing local detention times and minimising impervious areas.
  • Minimise drainage infrastructure costs of development due to reduced runoff and peak flows.

Australian states started to release WSUD guidelines based on the federal government’s foundational research in the 1990s. Western Australia first released theirs in 1994 followed by other states like Victoria, New South Wales, Queensland and so on.

The Citygreen® products are designed to ensure it supports the effort for a sustainable water management. The Stratavell’s™ octagonal modules leave over 94 percent of its total volume for root growth and storm water harvesting. Find out more about the products here.

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