• Vancouver Island University won an award for the green roof at its Cowichan Campus. Click on the image to see more photos. (Photo courtesy of Garyali Architect Inc.)

Going green is paying off for a Canadian university on the west coast.

Vancouver Island University will receive one of the 2013 Green Roof and Wall Awards of Excellence for a green roof at its Cowichan Campus. This is one of several awards given by Green Roofs for Healthy Cities, which recognizes innovative living architecture in North America.

Though the practice of greening rooftops is prevalent in many European countries, Canada is only starting to catch on.

“It’s becoming more commonplace,” says Ric Kelm, executive director of infrastructure and ancillary services at Vancouver Island University. “It’s similar to a computer chip. The more it’s available, the lower the cost. It’s not a novelty anymore.”

The campus's green roof even has a section for students to grow vegetables. (Photo: Randy Sharp)

“It’s definitely a trend,” says Randy Sharp of Sharp & Diamond Landscape Architecture, which worked on the Cowichan Campus roof. He points out that several municipalities, including Richmond, B.C., and Toronto, have by-laws that usually require at least 50 per cent vegetation on roofs that are 5,000 square feet or more.

Even without by-laws, Sharp says a lot of people are voluntarily building green roofs. “A lot of the office buildings in Vancouver have extensive green roofs because they command a higher lease rate.”

Shiv Garyali, whose company Garyali Architect Inc. was the architect for the Cowichan Campus roof, says green rooftops are common in British Columbia and he’s seen them in Toronto. “In other places in Canada, I don’t see much of it.”

Ninety-five per cent of the plants on the Cowichan campus roof are indigenous to the area. (Photo: Randy Sharp)

Few green roofs are like the one on Cowichan campus. Spanning three different levels, it has six types of roofs, including one made of sedium that Sharp describes as like “outdoor green carpeting.” There is a variety of plants, from black hawthorn trees to fescue grasses. There’s also a section known as the “blue roof,” which gathers rainwater and turns a bluish hue in the springtime, when the purple irises and camus lilies on it blossom.

It even has a section for students to grow beans, tomatoes and lettuce.

Ninety-five per cent of the plants on the roof are indigenous to the area. “We’re bringing those native habitats of the Cowichan Valley right onto the building to be part of this living laboratory for students,” Sharp says.

The award will be presented to Vancouver Island University on Oct. 25.