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GROW INSPIRED: ADDING NATURE BACK TO CITIES ONE ROOF AT A TIME

Our #GrowInspired series features our innovative and creative garden partners. Whether they’re working with two acres or 200 square feet, we are constantly in awe of their hard work and kick-ass gardens. These are some of our favorite growers and gardeners who inspire us to get out and play in the dirt.

Mark Winterer is the co-founder and owner of Recover Green Roofs, a design firm based in Boston that specializes in the design, installation, and maintenance of green roofs. They have created green roofs on some pretty famous buildings in the Boston area, including Fenway Park, the Prudential Center, Amherst College, and many more. 

Mark is an environmentalist at his core and has lived and breathed green roofs since 2009. He sat down with us to talk about the evolution of Recover Green Roofs, what green roofs can do to help the environment (spoiler alert: a lot), and some of the best plants for green roofs. It was a delight chatting with Mark and we know you’ll enjoy our interview as well. 

How Mark Got Into Landscaping and Green Roofs

I first got into the gardening and landscaping world through my mom. Growing up my mom was a gardener and I was always surrounded by gardens growing up, so that’s where I first learned about horticulture. But I came back to it after I graduated from business school and probably because I'm an environmentalist. As an environmentalist, I wanted to do something in the environmental industry that would help make a positive impact.I was looking to try to get into renewable energies when I was recruited by my business partner, who had a background in gray water treatment and using plants to filter water. He had the idea of installing green roofs. I was right out of business school looking for work … so I did a business analysis and identified that the Boston, MA market was highly undeveloped with incredible room for growth opportunity. 

I saw green roofs as being versatile and having so many applications that I really thought it was a dream for an entrepreneur to find a market like it with so much growth potential. That was in 2009 and I’ve never looked back! 

Photo courtesy of Recover Green Roofs

The Evolution Of Recover Green Roofs 

When we first started in 2009, it was just my business partner Brendan and me. We did it all: we sold the projects, we found it, we designed it, we built it, we did the install, and we did the maintenance. Our initial interests were in the construction of it; we're both builders and both of us grew up in our moms’ gardens so we both had a green thumb. But when we started it was such a young and developing technology that there were no designs for it, so we had to figure out how to design it in order to price it and then the build it. Then, the maintenance is a very critical but integral part of the system performance. A green roof will die and will not perform if it's not maintained properly. So we bid off the build construction part of it, but in-house we did the design and the maintenance of the green roofs, which is a definite holistic approach. 

Photo courtesy of Recover Green Roofs

Since then, we’ve grown organically and hired people as we could afford. We’re now 31 employees and it’s a completely different production; I’m not longer doing it all, I’ve hired people to do it all and I’ve really focused on making sure information is transferred and that we’re communicating well as a company. At business school I was never Interested in HR and never understood it, and now I really think it’s the most important part of business. I’ve really had to learn about HR since we started hiring people and that’s really more what my role is now: recruiting, retaining, training. I work on scaling our business so more people can come work for us and we can build more green roofs.  

Photo courtesy of Recover Green Roofs

What Is A Green Roof? What Are Its Benefits?

The “green” in green roof refers to the good stuff — plants. And what a green roof does is it provides all the benefits that plants typically provide. The name of our company is called ‘recover’ because we’re recovering the earth that was there before the building was put there. And that earth — that nature — brought a lot of benefits. It brought stormwater drainage, it brought oxygen creation, it absorbed CO2, it filtered and cooled the air. And the green roof does all of that, but it’s more than these environmental benefits. You create these beautiful, magical spaces. Plants have healing powers and we are reintroducing them into a city environment. There are a lot of unhappy people in cities because they’re stressful for a lot of reasons; so I think bringing plants back into these spaces is a great antidote to that because it brings healing and happiness where we’re lacking right now. 

Photo courtesy of Recover Green Roofs

There’s a laundry list of benefits of green roofs: rooftop farms, urban agriculture, increased outdoor green space. Just getting people outside into the fresh air. The list goes on: it preserves and protects the building’s waterproof membrane, which increases its longevity. So it will last 2-3 times longer than traditional waterproof membranes. 

A green roof increases property value, it’s also a sound insulator and it cools the building down. Buildings sweat just like humans, so if you have a building that has high air-conditioning costs, you can see significant energy savings with a green roof. 

Mark’s Go-To Plants For Green Roofs 

The standard work-horse of a green roof is a sedum. Now there are hundreds of species of sedum, but we like the ones that you see naturally occurring in the mountains where they're subject to weather extremes, whether it’s harsh winters, hot sun, or very dry and arid. They have shallow roots which work great for shallow-soiled roofs that are exposed — it’s not your native climate down on the ground, which is protected by the thermal mass of ground soil. There are some other shallow-rooted plants that perform similarly to sedum, such as allium. There’s a synergy with allium and sedum because allium will grow taller and provide some shade. Sedum do love sun, but it can get really, really hot up on a roof, too hot to be hospitable even for a sedum. So, having those allium up there to provide shade helps the sedum a lot. This plant combination is a traditional, standard green roof, which was developed in Germany. Germany developed the modern standard for green roof technology. It works in Germany, but they have a different climate than we do here and American companies, innovators, and soil scientists are developing new standards. 

Photo courtesy of Recover Green Roofs

We are moving away from that sedum/allium green roof towards more of a meadow mix, which has a mixture of annuals and perennials that regenerate each season. Each generation seeds the next and you have successive seasons of plants. One season will look a little bit different than the next and it's regenerative and ideally closes the loop — it feeds itself. We’ve been using plants like White Clover, Sunflowers, Echinacea, and Rudbeckia. What’s nice about White Clover is it’s a beautiful plant, very drought-tolerant, and is a nitrogen fixer. But on a green roof it grows like a weed, which helps because instead of having to fight those weeds we can embrace them. Pollinators also really like the meadow mix as well. The meadow mix is also a bigger biomass, it creates more oxygen and is better at releasing water back into the air, which makes these plants better at storm-water management than a sedum. 

We also use daikon radishes in this meadow mix because they have such a big mass in the growing media. The radishes break down in the winter and feed the next season of plants. 

These are just a handful of the plants in the meadow mix — there are quite a few that we use. They are all complementary plants that benefit and feed each other. 

 

Photo courtesy of Recover Green Roofs

Mark’s Favorite Green Roof Projects 

Obviously as a Red Sox fan, building Fenway Farms is definitely one of my favorites. It was a lot of fun because I designed it — that was my baby — and then I built it; I was the project manager and site super. It took a long time to design and when it was ready to build, we had seventy volunteers over five days to help build the garden. We had to assemble these milk crate planters on one side of the park at grade level and then with a pallet-jack, pull them all the way to the other side of the park and up to an elevator, then they were bucket brigaded out onto the roof to their final resting spots. So it was awesome to coordinate that and put all the pieces together and get the whole chain of human power to come together and work together and build something awesome. It gets so much visibility; so many people see it at the park. It’s really our most famous green roof and we developed the system in-house using existing technologies that were insufficient. We came up with a better system that grew bigger, healthier,  happier, vegetables that required less water and nutrients. The Fenway Farm Roof had much less waste and was a very simple and efficient design. So that’s definitely one of my favorites. 

Photo courtesy of Recover Green Roofs

There’s so many cool projects out there and actually, now, it's so much fun to see our team building projects and they're better than I am. It's awesome to see them do really beautiful work. 

Mark’s Favorite Part Of His Job

Working with our team. They're awesome and seeing them really do great work and communicating effectively without me is amazing to see. 

Exciting Things In Recover Green Roof’s Future

Everything is so exciting. There's been some recent favorable zoning that has been passed in the Cambridge/Somerville Mass. area that is incentivizing homeowners to put green roofs on their buildings. And we're starting to see a lot of these small little residential projects with flat roofs. I would love to really capitalize on that market, these little nooks and crannies all around the city. It’s so much fun to take a flat roof and really transform it. We do a lot of bigger projects but I always love the projects where we can get in and out. We can go there and build the green woof in one day and it looks amazing. 

You can learn more about the awesome work that Mark and Recover Green Roofs does on their website or Instagram. 


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