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Green Roof Inspiration, Innovation, and Education with Molly Meyer

Green Roof Inspiration, Innovation, and Education with Molly Meyer

When it comes to green infrastructure practice, there isn’t much Molly Meyer, GRP, LEED GA hasn’t done. A quick scan of her resume leaves no doubt as to why she succeeds as the CEO and Founder of Omni Ecosystems, a company specialized in bringing life to built environments. Meyer is particularly well trained in the realm of green roof design becoming an accredited Green Roof Professional in 2009, and through Omni, has brought innovative products to a flourishing green roof market. As an increasing amount of cities around North America begin to recognize green roof benefits trough legislation and incentives, Meyer’s skills and vision are remarkably well-timed.
As an innovator, a businesswoman, a student, and much more, Meyer’s design profile is one to watch for progressive professionals with environmental well-being in mind. Here, Meyer talks about her background, professional practice, and Chicago’s Rooftop Wheat Prairie and the factors that influenced one of the city’s most celebrated green roof projects to date.

Where did you draw inspiration for the Rooftop Wheat Prairie’s innovative design concept?

“Illinois’ ecological history, particularly its native prairie and wheat fields, inspired the Rooftop Wheat Prairie’s design concept. The ecosystem was designed, not just for one point in time, or one seasonal high-point, but with a complete vision for its ecological succession. Fast-growing annuals were sown to establish the soil quickly, soon slower-growing, more complex biennial and perennial species emerged, and finally a robust and resilient native prairie filled the roof. We worked closely with Studio Gang Architects, the client, to choose native grasses, cover crops, perennials and trees. Beyond cosmetic considerations–as a group of ecologists and scientists–we were also energized by the idea of growing a wheat field in a 5-inch-deep Omni Green Roof. The implications of growing a wheat field in the weight of an extensive green roof were really exciting and inspiring to us.”

Rooftop Wheat Prairie, Awards of Excellence 2017, Image Courtesy of Omni Ecosystems & Hannah Hoggatt Photography

What do you feel is the most standout feature of the Rooftop Wheat Prairie?

“The quantity and quality of the grain produced is undeniably remarkable, but what I personally love about this project is its resiliency. Resilient landscapes are adaptable, functional and, on a broader level, they directly address ecological vulnerabilities. By every metric, the Rooftop Wheat Prairie is an exercise in resiliency. The wheat harvest itself was a significant disruption to the existing ecosystem, with a crew of about 10 people hand cutting the wheat with scissors. Within days, the prairie was rebounding, and after another month, evidence of the harvest was not visible. In a larger sense, the wheat prairie restores a vital stretch of landscape to the built environment. Along with the typical green roof benefits it provides, the Rooftop Wheat Prairie reclaims the cultural, social, and financial value once inherit to the natural landscape. Our team at Omni Ecosystems strives to achieve this kind of resiliency with every project, but it’s particularly well exemplified with the Rooftop Wheat Prairie.”

You have a very impressive background both in terms of academic studies and apprenticeship. How does the Green Roof Professional (GRP) accreditation stand out among your other training?

“Thank you! My undergraduate and graduate coursework at Stanford made for a great foundation in systems thinking, and my time as an apprentice and as a Robert Bosch Fellow in Germany made for important field experience and technical green roof knowledge. These experiences were foundational for my qualification as a green roofer, and my GRP accreditation was the glue that bonded these together. GRP accreditation was a milestone achievement, marking a professional commitment to green roof knowledge and to our industry. GRP training offers emerging professionals a differentiating credential among their peers, demonstrating commitment to the profession and to on-going learning and self-improvement. Being a GRP is an important statement both to one’s own professional development and to one’s support of the growing green roof industry.”

What do you think is the most important aspect of green roofing?

“Many components are critical to a green roof’s success, but the keystone aspect of every Omni Green Roof is the growing media. Growing media is the primary defining factor for a green roof’s stormwater retention, system weight, biodiversity, plant health, and ecosystem resiliency. Omni’s Director of Research & Development Michael Repkin spent years refining Omni Infinity growing media to develop an ultra-lightweight solution supporting broad biodiversity. The Rooftop Wheat Prairie is realized because of many factors, paramount among them: the Omni Infinity growing media.”

Omni Ecosystem’s continued success and achievements are bolstered by Meyer’s training, skills, and passion, allowing them to flourish into an award winning design practice, and enhancing the historic Chicago skyline with amber waves of grain. Green roofing is a key component to improving the sustainability of our urban environments and the success of these projects are ensured by drawing on the skills and experiences of Green Roof Professionals, such as Molly Meyer. Meyer’s Green Roof Professional designation is a multidisciplinary accreditation administered by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which offers training courses to all professional levels both in person and online covering topics of design, installation, and maintenance of green roofs. To learn more about this and other Green Roofs for Healthy Cities training programs, visit greenroofs.org/education.

Lead Image: Rooftop Wheat Prairie Awards of Excellence 2017, Image Courtesy of Omni Ecosystems & Hannah Hoggatt Photography.

Tessa Soltendieck is the Professional Education Coordinator at Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, a non-profit organization advocating for the social, environmental, and economic benefits of green infrastructure.

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