Living roof helps sustainability

The Ford River Rouge complex is a massive industrial facility that is recognized as a manufacturing icon. The Dearborn Truck Plant, a building within the Rouge complex, has created a new legacy for having one of largest living roofs in the world. The 10.4-acre garden continues to thrive more than a decade after completion and has become the image of living sustainable manufacturing.

Roger Gaudette, the director of Planning, Estimating and Engineering for Ford Motor Land, was one of the original members working on reviving the Rouge. Gaudette said it all goes back to Bill Ford Jr., the executive chairman of Ford Motor Co., whose ambition was to rejuvenate the aging complex for the 21stt century. Ford’s goal easily mirrored the innovation of his great grandfather Henry Ford, who originally had the Rouge plant built.

“We felt an obligation to our city, employees, and shareholders to prove that the plant can be turned around to be a 21st century icon of sustainable manufacturing,” Gaudette said.

Gaudette said the living roof provides a storm water absorption system that collects and filters natural rainwater that improves water quality, and allows the water to be naturally cleansed. This is done with vegetated swales, natural treatment wetlands and porous pavement with underground storage basins.

The roof also provides natural insulation and is more energy efficient, which reduces heating and cooling costs. This also helps avoid the urban heat effect normally caused by tarred and paved surfaces. In order to achieve this, the roof is filled with sedum, commonly referred to as a stonecrop, a perennial flower that is drought resistant. The roof is a natural habitat for birds, butterflies and insects, as well as beekeeping, something Gaudette has done himself.

According to Gaudette, the living roof membrane is protected from ultraviolet radiation, expansion from hot days, and contraction from cold nights. This reduces the amount of money spent in repair and replacement costs; compared to an average roof that uses tar, a living roof is expected to last twice as long. Gaudette said the living roof easily contributes to a better work atmosphere and that he feels there is bright future for sustainability.

“I thought it was a once a lifetime project,” Gaudette said. “That was not the case. We were at the forefront when this happened and it has allowed us to bring the sustainability front a little bit further.”

He added that the living roof was a project of leadership not ownership.

People can view Dearborn Truck Plant’s living roof at the Rouge Visitor Center, which is part of the Ford Rouge Factory Tour at the Henry Ford Museum.


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