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The Roof, the Roof, the Roof is in Bloom

A Philadelphia firm is turning tar paper and concrete into vast urban meadows.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Charlie Miller, the founder of Roofscapes Inc., spent much of his recent career as a civil engineer specializing in storm-water management. Turns out much of the dangerous runoff that erodes streambeds and carries a stew of contaminants into water supplies is caused by traditional roof construction, which, by design, sheds water as quickly as it catches it.

"I was talking about this problem with a friend who had recently written a best-practices manual for developers," says Miller, 58. "He told me there was a fully developed green roof industry in Germany for water management. I dropped everything, thinking 'this is the wave of the future.'" In 1997, Miller and a Swiss company that makes the underlying roof material, usually a water-distributing fabric, collaborated to install a green roof on Chicago's City Hall.

As cities develop ever-stronger storm-water mitigation ordinances (a trend that only really kicked in last year), more commercial buildings are required to have green tops. Once hired, Roofscapes contracts with one of its 25 certified landscaping companies to install a "meadow" with Roofscapes' guidance and warranty backing it up. The green roof absorbs and slows runoff. As a bonus, most green roofs score as high as Energy Star white-surface roofs, keeping buildings cool in summer and warm in winter.

To date, Roofscapes has installed 124 roofs, including a 230,000-square-foot roof (the second largest in the U.S.) on the Howard Hughes medical building in Dulles, Virginia. Even in the recession, Miller has yet to see a downturn; this year's sales are projected at $800,000. "The market in Germany is 1,000 times larger than it is in the U.S.," he says. "That kind of economy of scale is just on the horizon."

Keep an eye on:

Architectural Energy Corp.: Energy audits and building plans by AEC help builders design super efficient, large-scale offices and retail spaces.

Architerra Inc.: This architecture firm's staff is fully LEED certified and specializes in designing projects for colleges and universities.

Bonded Logic Inc.: Made from recycled denim, Bonded Logic's UltraTouch Natural Cotton Fiber insulation is a great insulator and blocks out sound far better than the standard fiberglass.

Calthorpe Associates: Led by one of the most distinguished urban designers in the country, Calthorpe has a 20-year record of balancing environmental and financial concerns with community input.

CTG Energetics: An industry leader at pooling expertise in energy modeling and eco-friendly design, CTG helps builders construct sustainable homes and offices.

Three Point Properties: This real-estate developer is applying a triple bottom line (environmental, social and financial agendas) to its innovative developments and restorations.

Triton Logging Inc.: Nearly 100 billion board-feet of timber is submerged, unrecoverable, in the world's reservoirs. Triton is poised to reap the harvest with its groundbreaking Sawfish, a submersible remote-controlled tree cutter.

Vintage Lumber: This company reclaims up to 50,000 square feet of remilled tongue and groove wood floors each week-prized commodities in the green building business.

YRG Sustainability: One of the most experienced green building consultancies, YRG Sustainability offers expertise on ecology, construction, architecture and public policy for companies constructing LEED-certified buildings.

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