Omni Ecosystems is Growing Green Roofs

Meghan French Dunbar July 4, 2015
Omni Ecosystems’ mission is to infuse the urban experience with nature by making living infrastructure – green roofs and green walls – a sound financial investment for building owners. Living infrastructure provides numerous benefits; green roofs mitigate stormwater runoff, reduce urban heat islands, improve air quality, decrease building energy use, increase the lifetime of roofing membranes, decrease noise pollution, increase biological diversity, and create and connect habitats. Additionally, green roofs that are used for food production improve the availability of local food and create jobs. Interior living walls improve air quality by increasing humidity and removing volatile organic compounds such as formaldehyde. Studies have also shown that having more plants in our daily lives improves productivity and happiness. We spoke with Molly Meyer, Founder and CEO of Omni Ecosystems, about how her company’s breakthrough technology can accelerate the adoption of living infrastructure in more buildings and communities.

Can you tell us the story of starting this company?

Molly Meyer: I started the company in 2009, and Michael Repkin and I joined forces shortly after that. Mike and I were each working in parallel on complementary green roofing efforts. Mike had been developing an ultra-lightweight growing medium that could be used for food production, while I had been designing, building, and maintaining green roofs in Germany, where the green roof market was far ahead of the American market at the time. When Mike and I met, we saw a friction point at the limitations of the existing green roof options and the interests of building owners, and we saw an opportunity to fit Mike’s developments in growing media with the best practices in green roof technology that I had learned in Germany. We utilize lightweight soil and farming to make living infrastructure both good ecological stewardship and a sound financial investment for building owners.

How are Omni Ecosystems’ living walls and green roofs different from other models?

MM: For green roofs, we created a new green roof technology that is less than half the weight of products supplied by other vendors (therefore requiring fewer structural upgrades) with many times the plant options (like lawn grasses, food crops, and wildflowers). The Omni Green Roof can grow food in as little as 15 pounds per square foot (psf) saturated weight, whereas typical green roof systems require 30 psf to grow sedum and 65 to 80 psf to grow food. While every roof that is considered for a green roof requires a structural assessment by a licensed structural engineer, the Omni Green Roof is capable of being added to more existing buildings than other systems are. In addition to being lighter weight and providing more plant options, it grows very quickly and has superior stormwater and energy performance to that of other systems. Across the board, our green roof delivers more – more plant options, more reliability, more environmental benefit – at less weight.

Our interior living wall system is unique due to the ease of installation and maintenance. In 2013, we installed the Omni living wall system at Salone Nico in Paul Kahan’s restaurant in the Thompson Hotel in Chicago’s Gold Coast neighborhood. These plants have become the centerpiece of the restaurant – aside from the famous food, of course! Whereas most living wall products require constant plant replacement – as much as 100 percent every six months – our system has required less than six percent in the 18 months since installation.

Who have been your primary customers so far?

MM: Our primary customers are commercial and institutional building owners. We work closely with architects, landscape architects, and contractors to design and install the green roof and green wall systems that we’ve invented. We occasionally do work for residential homeowners as well.

What’s next for Omni Ecosystems?

MM: We are particularly excited about our strategic partnership with The Roof Crop, which leases and operates Omni’s rooftop farms. Building owners meet their green roof obligations for sustainable development in the City of Chicago, receive rent from The Roof Crop as the “roof tenant,” and have a reliably maintained green roof. The net effect is a green roof that pays for itself and is truly maintenance-free for the building owner. Additionally, the building owner is supporting a new industry, providing jobs in Chicago, improving the environmental impact of their buildings, and increasing the availability of sustainable, local foods. Just this week, Omni completed installation of The Roof Crop’s first leased rooftop farm, which is located in Chicago’s West Loop neighborhood.

Social Entrepreneurship / Stakeholder Capitalism
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