The birthplace of the skyscraper has something new to be proud of: the green roof. Chicago is home to over 200 green roofs, covering 2.5 million square feet, more than any other U.S. city. They sit atop Mayor Daley’s City Hall, Target, the Apple store, and a McDonalds. But they’re not just for large institutions anymore. Thanks to the City of Chicago’s Green Roof Grant Program, they’re literally sprouting up everywhere.

Last year, the city program awarded $5000 grants to twenty particularly promising residential and small commercial projects, including True Nature Foods, an old automotive shop turned health food store and neighborhood destination for all things eco-friendly. A food co-op, recycling center, and so much more, the corner store supports local farms, contributes to charities, and aims to “put the control of food sources in the hands of the people.”

The project, designed and proposed by a collaboration between local firms Urban Habitat Chicago and Echo Studio, includes not just a green roof, but vegetated thermal mass benches to moderate temperature, solar curtains for regulating sunlight, custom-made solar heaters for collection of radiant energy, and exterior raised planters.

The green roof atop Chicago’s Apple store

What’s truly special about True Nature Foods’ 3000 square-foot green roof, though, is its business application. Of course green roofs are excellent solutions for saving energy, regulating temperature, and bringing back some of the fauna displaced by city development. But for True Nature, the roof will serve an additional purpose: the local (what can be more local than the roof over your head?) production of vegetables and herbs. To complement the supply from their current local vendors and farms, the store’s in-house (or “on-house,” rather) production strategy turns a co-op food market into an über-locally-based, vertically-integrated business.

Here’s a case in which a green roof is not only an environmental solution, but allows a business to further its mission statement. And this is an often overlooked yet central part of sustainable development- acknowledging the environmental benefits of sustainable efforts, and applying them in ways that are genuinely valuable and relevant to one’s beliefs, business context, and yes, finances. In other words, applying green and sustainable techniques in ways that are, well, sustainable.

True Nature Foods is one of many projects that shows this type of dedication to the individualized potential of sustainable efforts. The City of Chicago’s Grant Program has selected twenty projects, others include a firehouse, bank, and numerous single-family homes, that epitomize the values of urban sustainability, and will surely serve as examples for other projects and cities. Now that’s the kind of government involvement we like to see. Here’s to the Windy City!

Chicago City Hall has one of the most photographed green roofs around.


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  1. Green Roofing September 29, 2010 at 8:16 am

    I am a fan of Green roofing technology. Great to see you guys helping to promote and inform about it.

  2. gideon January 14, 2010 at 3:54 pm

    The best water savings in irrigation is achieved by matching the water discharge rate to the plant uptake rate. Drain below the root zone is therefore prevented and the water/air balance in the soil is better for the plant. The method was developed in Israel and called “Micro-Drip Irrigation” and “Gravity Drip Irrigation” enables a discharge as low as one glass of water (250CC) per hour.
    Rain-Tal Ltd specializes in Low Volume and Micro-Drip Irrigation methods. For more details:

  3. The City Of Green Shoul... April 1, 2008 at 10:19 am

    […] week in the Chicago Reader,) he has been a champion for environmentalism. The Windy City has more green roofs than any other metropolis in the nation. Daley insisted that City Hall (the actual structure) lead […]

  4. The Green Roofs of Tampa March 6, 2008 at 3:17 pm

    […] Chicago is probably the most well-known city in the US to adopt green roofs. […]

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  7. Dogs Need More Green Ro... September 30, 2007 at 2:54 am

    […] Some other Green Roof Photos. […]

  8. “Inhabitat”... August 21, 2007 at 12:20 am

    […] A post from August 1, 2006 addresses the CHICAGO GREEN ROOF PROGRAM: […]

  9. Col June 13, 2007 at 2:23 am

    It would be nice to see more food crops being grown of roofs. Growing food next to the point of consumption helps reduce food miles and brings really fresh produce to consumers.

  10. Joe Brimeyer IB ROOF SY... May 7, 2007 at 12:29 pm

    I provide the PVC membrane that goes under the soil for garden roofs

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  11. Brian Larter » Bl... January 2, 2007 at 7:42 pm

    […] Inhabitat is by far one of the best blogs I have been reading this past year. Its main focus is on design with a strong emphasis on ecological design and that of course is right up my ally. For the new year they have posted the top ten stories in Ecological design of the year 2006. I definitely suggest if you have the time to go over and read in depth their lovely post. 1. AN INCONVENIENT TRUTH 2. HURRICANE KATRINA’S AFTERMATH 3. DESIGN LIKE YOU GIVE A DAMN 4. THE RISE OF SOCIALLY-CONSCIOUS MANUFACTURING 5. ADVANCES IN SOLAR POWER 6. GREEN ROOFS 7. LIVING HOMES 8. LEED FOR HOMES 9. GREEN TOWERS 10. TRADE SHOWS GO GREEN […]

  12. Inhabitat » TOP 1... December 31, 2006 at 5:18 pm

    […] 6. GREEN ROOFS 2006 saw a surge of interest in green roofs, and this couldn’t have come at a better time. Athough the planet seems to be warming, green surfaces can help mitigate this with O2 production, solar radiation absoption, and climate control. Fortunately, it’s easier than you might imagine to inject a little life onto the surfaces of your buildings. New modular systems like Green Grid Roofs can be installed and maintained with little effort or know-how. […]

  13. Nikki Taylor September 29, 2006 at 2:49 pm

    Good Morning!
    What an amazing accomplishment this is. It is just lovely!

    If you are interested in checking out Growing Domes for year round food and flower production, please check out our website listed above. Geodesic growing domes are the most energy efficient shaped greenhouses and really will, with proper (simple) care remain prolific on a year round basis. They are amazing eco spaces and in the dead of winter provide a place of beauty and peace. They are perfect on flat roof tops as roof gardens!
    All the Best!!
    Nikki Taylor

  14. Peter D'Antonio September 22, 2006 at 7:55 pm


    For occupied people spaces check out the Olsson Family Garden at St Louis Childrens hospital.

  15. Gideon Rosenberg September 21, 2006 at 10:57 am

    Dear Ms. / Sir

    As implied from your involvemrnt in greenroofs programs, we would like to disclose for your consideration
    our unique irrigation methods and devices which exhibits major advantages for roof gardening applications.
    Our company, Ein-Tal International Ltd., expertizes in low volume / water saving irrigation devices and methods. In particular, the very low dischrge of our Micro-Drippers ( 0.05 Galon/hr = 0.2 L/hr ) keeps the right wetting bulbs near the plants and prevents flooded zones. This feature is important for roof gardening, as well as for water savings. You may read more about micro-drip and our related products at our website, a direct link is:

    We are looking forward to your response and will be happy to provide you with additional info and samples.
    The undersigned will attend the Irrigation Aociation exhibition in San-Antonio TX coming on November. This event can be used for a meeting.

    Best regards
    Dr. Gideon Rosenberg
    Joint Managing Director
    Ein-Tal International Ltd.
    Hadera, Israel
    Phone: 972-4-6227211

    Our website:

  16. Laura September 13, 2006 at 11:01 pm

    I think it is fantastic that Chicago is doing this! More cities should offer these type of subsidies.

  17. Nadine August 31, 2006 at 11:09 pm

    I need a new garage, so would love to go ahead and make one with a green roof. Any homeowners out there already build one? Can anyone recommend contractors & landscapers experienced with green roof garages? I’m definately ready to get estimates and start the process.

    I’ve gotten some resources from DOE, but would like to hear about your experiences, suggestions, referrals, etc. Any info really. I keep reading all the same info everywhere online.

    p.s. I live in the southside of Chicago.

  18. Kirstjen August 18, 2006 at 8:39 pm

    Most of these green roofs are not accessible to anyone but the maintenance staff. They are not “parks” or break areas for employees, etc. They are only there for environmental reasons, so there is no purpose in caring “what they look like” but rather only how they function.

  19. Leopold Mak Ender August 4, 2006 at 6:56 pm

    Please continuing, who ever you are working with this nice thing.

  20. dave August 3, 2006 at 3:45 am

    someone pointed out Green Grid Roofs to me: it’s a modular green roof system. i’m not affiliated with the company.

  21. Jaggae August 3, 2006 at 2:55 am

    I live in Singapore…think equatorial rainforests: tall and huge trees and few bushes! Green, green and green. So, this kinda garden looks pretty exotic to me…it only lacks some sitting area. Would be nice to have lunch in such a setting.

  22. Chris G. August 3, 2006 at 12:49 am

    This is a fantastic program. Aside from the interesting use of blank spaces there extra living plants will help just that little bit more with CO2 emissions.

  23. Wayne August 2, 2006 at 4:46 am

    It looks like they are all native plants, like the ones in the simulated prairie at Millennium Park. That may be why they look chaotic to the untrained eye. Individually, the plants are quite lovely when mature, but this is what much of Illinois looked like before corn and soybeans took over.

  24. Carolyn August 1, 2006 at 7:09 pm

    This looks beautiful from my view. NOT ‘chaotic’ at all. I like the variety of textures and colors.

    As far as if it is able to be appreciated, I would say that as we move to a more vertical city (and suburbs!), these roofs are very visable for apartment dwellers and office workers alike! Hopefully the systems will get more and more affordable as more interest gets generated.

  25. Eyebrows McGee August 1, 2006 at 4:34 pm


    There is a weight issue that limits what plants can be used atop Chicago skyscrapers and warehouse-type buildings. Most were not built with green roofs in mind, so the retrofitting has to be very weight-conscious. Moreover, these flat roofs that lend themselves so well to green roofs also have to be able to bear the weight of the snow in a heavy winter blizzard. (Also tornado-weather stress, which takes down a lot of flat roofs in the Chicago area.) Future buildings built with a green roof in mind may have more leeway in what to plant, but current retrofitted buildings are very weight-restricted.

    Most of them are totally invisible from the street level, and most are inaccessible to everyone but the maintenance guy, so what they look like doesn’t matter a whole lot.

  26. Ben August 1, 2006 at 4:27 pm

    What’s chaotic? The rainforest approach means fewer pests, if pests would even be attracted to these shrubs. You should try planting your garden this way.

  27. ck August 1, 2006 at 10:08 am

    Could be nicer plants… suppose there’s issues over taller trees and the wind factor… but it’s chaotic like this. I’d suggest calling Allan Tichmarsh – he’s quite good at this sort of thing. Still at least something’s being done, good on you.

    PS Allan brings his own trowel. He doesnt drop trowel.

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