Metro Health Hospital Foundation in Grand Rapids, Mich., has hired Sustainable Research Group (SRG) to conduct a three-year study of the green roof system and engineered bioswales in the parking lot at its new hospital in Wyoming, Mich.

Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming, Mich., is using sustainable research activities to monitor the performance of its garden roof. Photo courtesy of Alice St. Clair, Metro Health Marketing.

Metro Health Hospital Foundation in Grand Rapids, Mich., has hired Sustainable Research Group (SRG) to conduct a three-year study of the green roof system and engineered bioswales in the parking lot at its new hospital in Wyoming, Mich.

“We’re excited about the project,” says Bill Stough, CEO for SRG of Grand Rapids. “We think this study should provide real knowledge in the industry.”

SRG’s senior scientist, Dr. Clinton Boyd, designed a monitoring system for the green roof and for samples of stormwater at Metro Health Hospital before and after it enters parking lot rain gardens.

“The samples will be tested for pollutants to determine how effective the bioswales are at removing pollutants from the runoff from parking lots,” Boyd said.

After a rainstorm, rainbow hues of oils and materials typically run down into storm drains. “One of the unique things this hospital is doing is creating a 60-acre campus with the whole campus designed to meet green criteria,” Stough says. “They are at the vanguard of the way businesses are beginning to operate.”

The green roof system is not the only environmental technology employed at the hospital; the project incorporates structures that house physical therapy, pharmacy and medical equipment. “They are calling it a ‘Medical Village,’ a subdivision of its own,” Stough says. “Each new building on the campus must meet the criteria established from the U.S. Green Building Council. They have the LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) criteria. The minimum level of achievement on the campus is Silver. There’s Silver, Gold and Platinum, but there’s only a few that reach Gold and Platinum. Silver is a pretty stringent criteria.”

Ultimately, the green roof system provides a different kind of surrounding for patients at the hospital. “Patients are seeing green spaces instead of hard surfaces,” Stough says. “They’ve designed it where 70 percent of the hospital rooms are able to see a green roof.”

The Study

SRG will measure the amount of stormwater released from the roof and a separate study will determine whether pollutants from the runoff from parking lots are lessened by the installation of bioswales.

“The main part of the project is roughly a 48,000-square-foot green roof,” Boyd says, noting the hospital’s green roof system will be monitored for storm runoff. “This is a fairly sophisticated system that the contractor (the hospital’s Facilities Department) has developed for climate control.”

Dr. Boyd says SRG has a “control area” they are monitoring at the hospital that will eventually be compared to other planted areas.

“Metro Hospital constructed bio-swells in the parking lot to mimic a miniature wetlands,” Stough says. “It is designed to accept runoff and absorb the runoff in a controlled manner. The difference is we have worked with architects and engineers to monitor the runoff.”

Dr. Boyd had previous experience in monitoring green roof systems and has worked with the Wyoming hospital in the past.

“Dr. Boyd’s role is to assess the scientific data and environmental performance of the project,” says Stough, noting that the hospital installed additional digital data management systems and a weather station to help measure the amount of rain that hits the roof.

In related work Stough says SRG is performing some cutting-edge work on safer materials and sustainability standards for products working with the Business and Institutional Office Furniture Association (BIFMA).

“We’re looking at chemicals and finding out how the use of materials, energy, human and ecosystem health and social responsibility of products affect our lives,” Stough says. “Our whole goal is to help develop a safer manner to design new products. There are solutions available for a safer and healthier future, he notes, but says designers and manufacturers of products must know how to specify safer chemicals in their material selections. “Our hope is by early 2008, BIFMA will have an industry-wide standard for sustainable products.”

SRG is also applying for a federal grant to install stormwater business-related practices at the hospital. “They wanted some hard measurable numbers,” he says. “We helped develop a performance monitoring component, identified the parameters, quality control - that’s all being done in the first phase.”

“The second phase we start the analysis,” Stough continues. “We’ll spend the next two-and-a-half years looking at data and generating reports. We will have a plan to share this information as widely as possible: publish it in the media and scientific journals.”

Sustainable Research

There are hundreds of definitions of sustainability and sustainable development, but the best known is the one first coined by the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment and Development. It suggests that development is sustainable where it “meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

Traditional thinking is that economic growth and development comes at the expense of environmental quality, but traditional thinking is not always true, Stough says.

“Thanks to the principles embodied in the practice of sustainable development, a new and positive relationship is possible between business and the environment,” Stough says. “It’s a way to look at what is historically an environmental problem and make it into a business solution.”

At Metro Health Hospital, they are using these kinds of sustainable research activities, which are not typical for hospitals. “It’s not only saying, ‘we’re going to be a healthy hospital,’ but ‘we’re going to walk the talk, too.’”

Stough says the goal of SRG’s work with the hospital is to make the facility as green as possible.

“Just by adding the bioswales in parking lots, in the long run this adds credibility to the hospital, which will help them reduce their environmental footprint, which is our belief too,” Stough says. “Green investments can turn into long-term, positive assets.”

Monitoring Phase of Project

Project manager John Ebers is the Sustainable Business Officer at Metro Health Hospital. He said the project is currently in the monitoring phase. “We are monitoring stormwater that runs off the roof, and in the spring we will capture more runoff,” Ebers said. “We are comparing three different watersheds on a vegetated roof. Basically, two watersheds on the control roof are compared to the green roof.”

Ebers said the monitoring would help better understand how stormwater flows off of a green roof and provide an idea how much water the roof retains. “We won’t be able to do it exactly, but want a better understanding how they compare,” Ebers said. “Beyond that, we want to understand if rooms underneath the green roof call for more heating or cooling.”

The Michigan Department of Environmental Quality provided a $400,000 grant for both the vegetated roof, as well as the monitoring project. “They helped fund the monitoring components of the roof,” Ebers said. “It is designed to handle 100 percent of storm water. On top of that we have three areas that are bio-retention soils that are deep-rooted vegetation that act as a filtration medium - the first flush of every storm event you want to capture.”

Architect Nate Gillette, AIA, right, and project manager John Ebers, left, help install a green roof at Metro Health Hospital in Wyoming, Mich. Photo courtesy of Alice St. Clair, Metro Health Marketing.

The Roof Architect

Nate Gillette, AIA, of Bazzani Associates of Grand Rapids, is the lead architect of the roof design for the Metro Health Hospital project. Gillette said the project began in June 2006 and will conclude in 2009.

“The planning process had 108,000 plants on that roof, and we planted it in about eight hours with a crew of 55 people,” Bazzani said. “From the plant grower to the company and volunteers from the hospital, it went quick, a neat install - fast and quick. It took about two-and-a-half weeks for installation of drainage board and soil that set the stage for install.”

Bazzani said there were three major components to the project: a root barrier (a piece of 20-40 mil protective membrane); American Wick Drainage Board; and a non-woven geo-textile mat (which slows down storm water). “And four inches of engineered growth medium is the final planting stage,” Bazzani said. “A pretty simple system.”

Bazzani has designed three green roofs, including the one on his own office in Grand Rapids.

The Metro Health Hospital roof is an extensive 4-inch system comprised of a couple pieces, Bazzani said. “Drain system is American Wick. They do a lot of green roofing components. They do soils, stabilization. The design evolved around that piece.”

Still, the directive from the hospital was to design a roof that was beautiful in all four seasons. “It’s a 48,000-square-foot roof (the second-largest green roof in Michigan, behind only the Ford Rouge Plant),” Bazzani said. “We wanted to do some waves of color, instead of a constant tone: a little dynamic.”

The key to Bazzani’s plant selection was having five different varieties of sedum and alliums. “We wanted some vibrant reds in the summer and blooming yellow and greens, and vibrant red in winter,” Bazzani said. “We found a couple species that has a wintertime red.”

“Overall, this was a pretty interesting project,” Bazzani continued. “The hospital is pretty proud of that roof. They were particular. One of the key thoughts was ‘the hospital is a very sustainable building.’ They built this brand-new hospital then changed their entire concept. It’s not just a green building. If patients can look at something beautiful, some studies show it can reduce healing times and reduce length of patient stays in a hospital.”

First and foremost, Bazzani said, the project is a storm water management tool, “along with all the other benefits of the system.”

“Insects, bees and birds - creating habitat where there was none before,” he said. “The prolonged roof life. There is evidence that it prolongs the life of the roof. We don’t know how long. We’re extending roof life to an unknown period of time: 50, 60 years, we don’t know. But this multi-function tool will help us better understand.”

Future of Green Roofs

Stough points out that green roof systems have been used in Europe for decades. “The whole idea of green roofs have been used in Europe for a while,” Stough says. “Germany is considered the leaders, but it’s starting to break into the United States. Every year, more examples of green roofs being installed come to light. For contractors and developers, it’s new to them. They hear stories of perceived benefits, but not much hard data is published for them in the U.S. The research tends to be tied up in European literature. SRG’s charge is to come up with he best state-of-art performance system we can come up with to find answers to questions regarding its environmental performance.”

Stough says Metro Health Hospital recognized “that as partners on the project we have a lot of similar green beliefs.”

“Metro Health is taking that belief and aligning themselves with a sustainable development approach to business,” he said. “By figuring out how to reduce the environmental footprint of its campus, Metro has propelled itself as the foremost leader in this area.”