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Van Noy: Sowing seeds of sustainability

Van Noy: Sowing seeds of sustainability

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Sometimes when I travel out of the region, people ask me how I can live in a place so behind the times, backwater, old-fashioned. I beg to differ, in most cases. Our region is decidedly forward-thinking. We have wired towns and cities. We have one of the most active local foods movements in the state. We have eclectic restaurants. (Not that we couldn’t use more.) We have world-class outdoor offerings and well-used local trails. We have activated individuals and citizen groups.

I’m not just talking about Blacksburg here. You will find pockets of what makes this area special in every corner of every county. An often overlooked space, but one that is gaining strong critical mass is the quaint and seemingly conventional area known as Riner.

There’s a lot more here than meets the eye. Riner has one of the first local wineries in Montgomery County at Attimo Winery. It has a family farm that is thriving with a blend of tourism and educational programming in Sinkland Farms. The Brush Creek Buffalo Store has been promoting an alternative to beef since 1995. Designers of the recent and massive school complex expansion were insightful enough to employ adaptive reuse of a historical structure (as opposed to just tearing it down).

Another example relates to the fast moving sustainability industry. Riverbend Nursery operates a green roof stock farm on Childress Road in Riner. The company opened the 40-acre facility in 2012, and has been developing it over the past three years.

Riverbend Nursery has been an affiliated LiveRoof grower since 2006. (Granted, Riverbend is officially in Floyd, but the focus here is on the Riner location. Plus, we all know that Floyd is one of the most happening spots on the planet.) Company CEO Jim Snyder offered this comment on their green roof product line: “Our decision to become an affiliated grower in 2006 has proven to be a wise choice — both in terms of the revenue and diversity added to our business profile, and the ability to provide a total product solution to augment the sustainable building initiative.”

By next year, according to Kelly Connoley-Phillips, LiveRoof project manager and internal marketing support, the majority of green roof operations at Riverbend will be transitioned to this site, known as the Childress Farm.

To date, Riverbend has provided materials for approximately 643,000 square feet of green roof across the country. Much of its product goes to projects in large metropolitan centers within 500 miles of the company’s home base. The distance is important because green roofs help with Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification on numerous levels and proximity to providers is an important criterion in this process. LEED is the green building rating system developed by the U.S. Green Building Council.

According to Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, the largest North American industry organization, green roofs offer numerous benefits. The most common relates to stormwater management. GRHC claims that green roofs retain 70 to 90 percent of precipitation, which reduces and delays runoff, lowering impact on storm systems.

Elizabeth Grant, associate professor at the Virginia Tech School of Architecture and Design, completed a study of this premise in 2012. The Virginia Tech research team compared three different depths of, interestingly, the LiveRoof system along with a control roof (no vegetation). The study period ran from Aug. 17, 2011, to Oct. 30, 2012. During this time, 159 “storm events” occurred. Findings confirmed significant retention, with the green roofs reducing runoff by more than 98 percent for light storms and as much as 80 percent for medium storms.

Stormwater relief is a key benefit cited by Dwayne D’Ardenne, a division manager with the Roanoke Department of Public Works. D’Ardenne was on the team that studied and recommended a green roof for the Noel C. Taylor Municipal Building in downtown Roanoke. According to D’Ardenne, the highly visible LiveRoof space absorbs 1,000 gallons per inch of rain. “That translates to 42,000 gallons a year that the green roof is absorbing instead of going into the storm system,” he said.

Roanoke introduced a stormwater utility fee in 2014. A thorough guide to credits that help property owners offset these costs can be found at the city’s website. Green roofs are among the many options listed.

Other benefits of green roofs include energy efficiency, increased roof life and reduction of the urban heat island effect.

The recently constructed Montgomery County Courthouse in Christiansburg has a green roof. Registered Architect Bill White of Thompson & Litton, the designers of record, mentioned the stormwater benefits as well as the LEED value of the LiveRoof application. The sedum-covered area is located on a second-story terrace where employees can enjoy the space, and this factor — creating a pleasant space for building users — bears significant importance for this project.

Aesthetics are likewise cited by industry sources and LiveRoof marketing materials, which brings me to a visit to the Childress Farn. Connoley-Phillips led our tour and provided a great feel for the purpose and numerous ancillary benefits. LiveRoof is a patented, trademarked hybrid system and offers numerous advantages over other methods through all stages, from the modular units through the techniques applied by certified installers.

At the Childress site, we looked at a future school rooftop and watched the irrigation system in action.

“We call this our Bellagio,” Connoley-Phillips joked when the sprinklers went to work, referring to the famous dancing fountains found at this Las Vegas hotel.

Maintenance protocols summarize how much watering is required for the LiveRoof systems. They don’t seem terribly rigorous and can be readily achieved, especially in more temperate climates.

The stock beds were my favorite part. We saw rows and rows of sedum varieties ranging in color from dark green to reddish to yellow. Connoley-Phillips explained that projects are sometimes specified by architects or she will come up with a design, if needed. From there, she creates a harvest report that identifies composition and amount, designated in pounds of vegetation.

The cuttings harvest is then spread out over modules filled with a growing medium or soil, again all part of a tested LiveRoof system. “You sprinkle them like pizza toppings,” Connoley-Phillips said. Sedums, or succulents as they are sometimes called, readily grow roots from clippings. They have pores that open at night and close during the day, which makes them more drought resistant.

She also pointed out the benefits of the plants to others as pollinators like butterflies and bees flitted among the stock beds. And that’s exactly how these sustainable measures seem to work. The things we do every single day, the measures we take (or the harms we inflict) all have a ripple effect because we are all connected in more elaborate and organic ways than through our devices and the Internet.

As White, who has been a LEED Accredited Professional since 2004, noted: “The more you pave, the more you send downstream.” He was talking about stormwater runoff and how green roofs counter the impact, but he could just as easily been talking about the big picture behind sustainability. Riner may be a small place and the Riverbend Childress Farm may be even smaller, but it’s part of a large and important global movement.

To learn more about the LiveRoof system, visit

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