What do all good sustainable roofing systems have in common?

We know that the roof is a major factor contributing to the performance of the building, but what makes up all sustainable roofing systems? In order for a roofing system to be considered sustainable, we think it should perform well in five major categories: materials, installation, lifespan, performance, and demolition. Every roofing system performs differently in each of these categories, but by looking at each factor for each roofing system, you can determine an overall “score” for each system. This is how you then determine which system is the most environmentally friendly.


The materials of a roofing system can have a great impact on the sustainable of a building. If the material is a poor insulator, that will impact the energy efficiency of the building. If the material has a short lifespan or erodes quickly, it will impact the lifespan of the roof and put more material in the landfills faster. There are many different sustainable roofing materials available and we encourage you to read up on each of them so you develop a good baseline knowledge.


Sustainable Roofing Systems


Modified Bitumen Roofing System Application

When the roofing system you are considering is installed, does it damage the environment around the building? Can it harm local citizens if they breathe in chemical waste or get to close to the construction site? During the installation process, it is important to consider what is impacted near the building. Sustainable roofing systems aren’t achieved just by putting the best insulator up on the roof, they’re achieved by installing an entire roofing system that is easy on the environment.


There are many roofing systems out there that are “here today, gone tomorrow” in the sense that they don’t last for a very long time compared to most other roofing systems. If possible, a roofing system that has a long lifespan is better because it keeps large amounts of roofing materials out of the landfills. A long lifespan doesn’t make a roofing system sustainable, but in order to be a sustainable roofing system, the roof must have a long life. Check out this post for a guide on common roofing system lifespans.

Consider it this way, if the roof lasts for 100 years but is a horrible insulator, lets off a toxic gas during installation, and can only be removed by tearing down the entire building, it is not a great roofing system. You cannot look at each factor individually; it’s an entire roofing system.  Just because a roofing system looks good from one category doesn’t mean it’s a good roofing system.


One of the most significant factors to consider when analyzing sustainable roofing systems is its performance during its life. The roof must be a great insulator, so as to save on energy costs. The roof must be environmentally friendly, preferably reflective to fight the urban heat island effect. The roof must also perform its expected duties of keeping the elements where they belong: outside the building.

It is very obvious yet is still often overlooked; the roof must perform during its life to be sustainable, not just at installation or removal. While we want installation and removal to be sustainable and environmentally friendly, we cannot forget that this is still a roof and its purpose is to keep the inside of the building free from the elements.


Removal is the final piece of the puzzle when analyzing sustainable roofing systems. This aspect goes hand-in-hand with lifespan, in that we must ask how soon the roof will need to be removed. Does it have a long life expectancy? If the roof must be torn off and replaced every 10 years, it is going to be putting a significant amount of roof waste into local landfills, which we don’t want.

Roofing systems with long expected lives, the ability to take repairs rather than replacement, or the ability to be coated with a spray-applied coating are great as they have longer lives and do not put roof waste into landfills as frequently.


As you consider various sustainable roofing systems for your building, be sure to analyze each alternative on these five factors. While there are other important factors to consider, these five are very important and are a great starting point in your research.