Living with Nature

Ginkgo Sustainability Inc.

3. Good Health and Well-Being 11. Sustainable Cities and Communities 13. Climate Action 15. Life on Land

Overview

Ginkgo’s living roofs are covered in pesticide-free and herbicide-free vegetation that are supplied from distributors and are planted on top of waterproof membrane. This acts as an insulation and cools the roof surface. By acting as a cooling system, the green roof helps reduce the urban heat island effect. The vegetation also provides protection from UV rays which allows the roof membrane to last longer making the building eco-friendly and sustainable. As a result, this helps clients achieve LEED credits for their buildings. The company is hired mainly by roofing contractors and sometimes directly by building owners to provide the best green technology solutions.

Author

Rajdeep Gakhal

Rajdeep Gakhal

School

York University- Schulich School of Business

York University- Schulich School of Business

Professor

Charles Cho

Charles Cho

Innovation

The vegetation is selected by landscape architects. Ginkgo Sustainability relies on horticultural experts and their suppliers for choosing the best and correct plants for their roof and wall projects. The plants chosen for each project improves air quality, provides habitats for various wildlife such as insects and birds, and increases biodiversity. These environmental benefits of green roofs help take action against climate change and protect life on land, which are Sustainability Development Goals 13 and 15 respectively.

One major purpose for green roofs in Toronto is to help with stormwater management. The City has pipes that collect stormwater and prevent flooding of water into lakes. All older cities in North America have a combined sewer system that also collects stormwater and create the possibility of flooding. The City struggled to reduce flooding without making bigger pipes. Green roofs help mitigate this issue as they retain 50% of water on rooftops which then evaporates. This significant component of Ginkgo’s innovation helps address Sustainability Development Goal 11 of establishing sustainable cities and communities.

Ginkgo Sustainability’s goal is to make biophilic improvements to the environment. The company uses biophilic design to create model living where people connect with nature through their living roofs and walls. They want to make Toronto and other cities more livable by meeting the increased infrastructure development with increased nature integration through living roofs and living indoor and exterior walls. The company’s research found that studies show that employees experience increased “productivity and feelings of well being with integration or presence of plants in their workspace” (Christian Mahlstedt, Ginkgo Sustainability President). The idea is to bring nature where there normally lacking such as the workplace. Bringing nature indoors also has the benefit of improved indoor air quality and regulate building temperature. This aligns the company with Sustainable Development Goal 3 which promotes good health and well-being of people.

Living with Nature

Inspiration

The environment was always an important part of Christian Mahlstedt’s life, the founder and President of Ginkgo Sustainability. From his days camping as a teen and living in the countryside growing up, to the values his parents shared in terms of caring for the environment, it was embedded in every aspect. Christian is a philosophy graduate but struggled to find a job in his related field. He sent out resumes to numerous companies, even those unrelated to his degree. One resume landed with a roofing contractor who luckily hired him because this is where his path towards a green roof contractor began. Christian became the Operators Manager a couple of days later and apprenticed alongside the roofing contractor for three years. After three years he tried to move on to something else, but it did not work out for him. Christian knew that whatever he did next would be in the sustainability field. So, he took his roof construction experience and brought it into the sustainability sector. Being passionate about making a difference and with the City of Toronto’s newly established Green Roof Bylaw in 2010, Christian Mahlstedt founded Ginkgo Sustainability. He wanted to make Toronto more livable through what started out as just green roofs and today has become living roofs and living indoor and exterior walls and this innovation is only growing.

Overall impact

Ginkgo Sustainability is the largest green roofing organization in Ontario. The company’s “customer focus approach has been brilliant for building their business” (Christian Mahlstedt, Ginkgo Sustainability President) bringing it to the successful point it is at today. As the company grows and increases its connections, it has a greater foundation to create a substantial impact on the environment and economy. Currently, Ginkgo has covered up to 50 acres of land in vegetation through their green roofs only in the city of Toronto. On a grand scale this number is low, even in Ginkgo Sustainability’s opinion, however, they are working towards increasing value throughout the Greater Toronto Area. Christian Mahlstedt believes that advanced green roofs are coming which will drive the market. He explains that there this business has scope for growth in the industry as the world needs to work towards more sustainable ways of living. Especially with climate change, action will need to be taken. Ginkgo Sustainability has been at the forefront of innovation and trends in the industry and will continue to keep up changes in order to provide the best possible green technology solutions. For example, there are plans for Toronto to replicate the Bosco Verticale which is a building who’s exterior is covered in trees in Milan, Italy.

There is a significant impact to energy cost savings, aiding the city's stormwater management, reducing the urban heat island effect, improving air quality, providing habitats for wildlife and increasing biodiversity through Ginkgo’s products and services. However, there are limited measurement tools that can assess the magnitude of Ginkgo’s impact. Ginkgo Sustainability and the City of Toronto are currently working to close that gap. In the near future, there will metrics used to measure detention in green roofs, reduction of heat island effect and improvements in stormwater management. Currently, Ginkgo can measure energy cost savings for its clients and the City of Toronto can measure bee and wasp populations impacted by green roofs.

Business benefit

One of the factors that sets Ginkgo Sustainability apart from its competitors is its customer focus approach and their value of relationships within the industry. Unlike many of its competitors, Ginkgo provides maintenance and warranty services that last even after the green roof or living wall have been installed. They resell and renew warranty to continuously maintain vegetation for greatest positive impact for clients and the environment. By providing these services and building strong relationships, the company has been able to land major clients like Yorkdale, Sherway Gardens, and the TTC. Ginkgo’s connections and reach allows the company to increase its impact and to do good at a larger scale.

The President credits the strong relationships with clients to the team dynamic of Ginkgo Sustainability. The values of the team focus on fostering trust and caring about the people rather than the mighty dollar. He also states that the biggest tangible impact he has seen is interest and opportunities in the sustainability field that have flourished in the last couple of years. For example, Ginkgo started off with only him and now employs 40 people varying in construction and environmental backgrounds and experience. The company is able to retain most of its employees because of the unique projects and the positive impact they have on the environment. Most employees have been there since the inception of Ginkgo and employees that do leave continue to work in the sustainability field.

Social and environmental benefit

There are many benefits of living roofs and walls not only for the environment but also for people working in the buildings and living in these communities. Ginkgo Sustainability uses biophilic design to connect people to nature. Employees experience increased productivity and feel calmer in their workplace when exposed to nature through Ginkgo’s indoor living walls. Living walls improve indoor air quality and regulate building temperature, creating a healthier environment for people inside buildings. Christian explained an example of studies showing hospital patients experiencing less complications and quicker recovery time when they were exposed to view of nature rather than a view of a brick wall. There is trend in the healthcare industry and in most workplaces to create a better environment for employees and clients. One way to accomplish that is to integrate nature within their buildings.

Ginkgo’s living roofs provide insulation which reduces cooling loads. This means that the green roof cools the surface above the roof instead of heating due to evapotranspiration. Evapotranspiration is when surface water turns to water vapour and the plans give off moisture as they consumer CO2. By keeping the roof surface cool, Ginkgo’s living roofs reduce cooling costs by up to 90% for their clients. Their green roofs can also reduce heating costs by 5 to 10% in the winter. The cooling benefits of green roofs also reduce the urban heat island effect which is when urban areas have warmer temperatures than rural areas. Furthermore, the vegetation that Ginkgo uses is not sprayed with pesticides or herbicides establishing safe habitats for wildlife such as insects and birds. Living roofs also improve the air quality which is significantly needed as air pollution is only increasing.

Ginkgo is helping create safer communities by helping cities with stormwater management. Living roofs retain 50% of water on the rooftop which then evaporates. This takes the load of city pipes and prevents flooding of stormwater into nearby lakes. With this purpose, green roofs provide a higher return on investment. For example, if a building has a green roof, they can use underground space for parking infrastructure instead of constructing a stormwater system.

Interview

Christian Mahlstedt, President

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Ginkgo Sustainability Inc.

Ginkgo Sustainability Inc.

Etobicoke, Ontario, CA

Business Website: http://www.ginkgosustainability.com/

Year Founded: 2010

Number of Employees: 11 to 50

Ginkgo Sustainability Inc. is “Ontario’s largest and most experienced green roofing contractor” [1]. The company’s living roofs and living walls integrate nature into infrastructure to ultimately recover green space lost to development. They provide consulting, design, installation and maintenance services in order to accomplish sustainable buildings resulting in environmental and economic benefits for their clients, the City of Toronto and surrounding communities.

[1] http://www.ginkgosustainability.com/living-roofs/