Over the course of the last several years, green technology has become an increasingly common aspect of our daily lives. This is especially true in the construction industry, where everything from energy-efficient windows to eco-friendly roofing options are now popular requests from homeowners looking to keep their utility bills low and their carbon footprints small. However, in France, this movement has transformed from a trend to a civic responsibility: according to a law passed by the French Parliament in mid-March, all new buildings constructed in commercial zones must be partially covered by plants or solar panels.
While most Americans are likely familiar with solar panels, green roofs are much more popular in Europe than in the United States. This eco-friendly tactic involves planting shrubs, trees and other flora on a building’s roof, creating a variety of benefits, including improved building efficiency, reduced storm water volume in local sewer systems, and decreased air pollution. They also help reduce the “heat island effect” in cities, a phenomenon in which urban areas with a million or more residents can become considerably warmer than nearby rural regions.
France isn’t the first to mandate green roofs, as Toronto instituted a similar rule in 2009, but the country is slowly becoming a leading proponent of the technology in Europe. According to Guardian Weekly, France already has ten times more green roofs than Germany, the country that spearheaded the movement. This is likely due to the high air pollution levels throughout the nation, especially in Paris, where the city’s smog rivals notoriously polluted areas like Beijing and New Delhi. The French government is likely hoping to reduce their pollution levels before world leaders meet in Paris for the UN Climate Change Conference in December. The city is also aiming to reduce greenhouse gas emissions 75% by 2050, a goal green roofs can only help.
The push for solar panel installation could also benefit France, a country that already derives around 75% of its energy from nuclear power. Think Progress notes that the nation has fallen behind in terms of its solar energy initiatives, with only five gigawatts of photovoltaics installed as of last summer, equating only one percent of its total energy production. Germany, in contrast, has nearly 40 gigawatts installed.
Originally, the French environmentalist who proposed the bill requested that all new buildings be completely covered by foliage. However, officials worried that this demand would be too extreme for businesses. The new law is therefore a compromise, allowing developers to choose between installing partial green roofing or solar panels. It is hard to imagine such a decision being reached in many other countries, especially the U.S. However, experts say American homeowners and businesses still have access to a variety of eco-friendly roofing options that can help reduce their energy bills and benefit their local ecosystems.
But this isn’t the only environmentally-responsible initiative France has enacted in recent weeks: in late March, Paris authorities also banned half the number of cars on the road to further efforts to improve air quality. This is the third such ban the city has enacted since 1997 to reduce air pollution, with a similar effort established in March 2014.