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What Does It Mean to Have a Sustainable Commercial Roof?

What does choosing a sustainable roof really mean, and why should commercial building owners consider one?

The word “sustainability” gets thrown around a lot these days. People seem more aware than ever of how things — including their own actions — affect the environment, and many are trying to live more sustainable lifestyles. While living sustainably can involve small choices, such as making a point to recycle or taking a bike to work instead of driving, it can also factor in major endeavors. That include choices about building a new roof or replacing an existing one. 

The tricky part of saying you should install a sustainable roof is that it can mean different things to different people. Architect Magazine compares defining the term “sustainable roof” to asking blind men to describe an elephant — you can describe one aspect of them and not capture the entire animal. People say sustainable roofs are both “warm” and “cool.” They are often described in terms of colors, but hues can run the gamut of the rainbow: from white to reflect the sun to black for the solar panels a sustainable roof might be covered in. 

What makes a roof sustainable? 

The definition of a sustainable roof that is widely recognized originated at a roofing workshop at the Oak Ridge National Laboratory nearly 25 years ago: 

“A roofing system that is designed, constructed, maintained, rehabilitated, and demolished with an emphasis throughout its life cycle on using natural resources efficiently and preserving the global environment.”

This definition doesn’t just focus on the material. A truly sustainable roof factors in how the materials were produced and the impact of sourcing on the environment. 

What are the benefits of installing a sustainable roof? 

A sustainable roof impacts the environment in numerous ways:


Sustainable roofs don’t just save energy, they can also produce it. A green roof — one that has vegetation growing on it — can lower the temperature of the building and cut down air-conditioning energy usage. Outfitting a roof with solar panels can sometimes provide all of the energy a building needs. 


Another advantage of a green roof is conserving water. Much of the stormwater that falls on a green roof is sent back into the atmosphere, and most of the rest is absorbed by the vegetation, which can help prevent flooding.


When a sustainable roof has come to the end of its life, most of the material in it should be recyclable. However, either because they can’t be recycled or the process is too difficult, some material — like asphalt shingles — could end up in landfills. To truly reduce your roof’s environmental footprint, try to recycle as much of its material as possible and avoid materials that cannot be recycled.

Sustainable material options

The materials used in your roof have a big impact on its sustainability. Some materials are more recyclable, while others cut down more on energy usage. Here’s how several of the most common roofing materials factor into sustainability. 


Wood may be the most sustainable roofing material for a couple of reasons. 

First, trees harvested for roofing almost always come from sustainable, managed forests that immediately replant new trees. So a wooden roof does not usually contribute to deforestation or cut down old-growth trees.  

Second, it is usually easy to find wood shingles made from recycled or reclaimed wood. Going this route helps further reduce any negative effect on the environment. 


Because metal is so durable and long-lasting, a roof made from it can easily last up to 50 years. Its reflective properties can help keep a building warmer in the winter and cooler in the summer, which reduces energy usage. In addition, most — if not all — of the metal that goes into a roof can be made from recycled materials. And when a metal roof does eventually need to be replaced, 100 percent of it may be recyclable. 


Clay is a very durable natural material. Like metal, it typically has a long lifespan and can be recycled. Clay tiles are designed so air can move under them, which reduces moisture and helps moderate temperature, creating cooler buildings that use less energy for heat. 


Slate is another natural material that is extremely strong and durable, and mostly impervious to water and fire. One of the biggest benefits of slate is its longevity; if properly installed, a slate roof can last for centuries. And when a slate roof is removed, the material can be completely recycled.

4 tips for more sustainable manufacturing

The material itself isn’t the only factor to consider when in sustainable roofing, the manufacturing process also plays a role. Sustainable roofing manufacturers should focus on initiatives to:

  • Minimize water and air pollution
  • Limit the use of harmful chemicals
  • Reduce energy and water consumption
  • Utilize recycled materials

It makes sense for a commercial building owner to consider putting on a sustainable roof. Beyond the many ways it can help the environment, when a roof lasts a very long time and cuts energy usage, that puts money back in the building owner’s pocket. 

If you want to do your part to help the Earth and save money on operating expenses, a sustainable roof may be your best choice.

Peck Brothers Roofing has the expertise to help you decide if a sustainable roof is right for your building. Tell us what you want to achieve, and we can explain what that will mean for your building’s expenses and environmental impact. To get started, call us at 201-791-3235 or send us a message through our online contact form.

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