Funding Green Roof Plant Research in North America

Sourced from the Living Architecture Monitor

This is the second part of an article that appear in the Spring 2019 Commemorative Edition. The first official face-to-face meeting of the GRHC Research Committee took place during 2004 at the Cities Alive conference in Portland, Oregon. At this meeting six long-term objectives were agreed upon: (1) identify research priorities and establish needs, (2) encourage high quality research, (3) encourage regional and international collaborative and multi-disciplinary research, (4) disseminate our knowledge, (5) help locate funding and encourage funding of green roof research projects, and (6) develop an endowment or main source of funding to be awarded to selected projects.

I discussed objectives 1 through 4 in the previous 20 Anniversary issue of the LAM. However, we are still a long way from meeting objectives 5 and 6. In my opinion, the number one reason why there isn’t more research being conducted is due to the lack of funding. We tried to address this issue in 2005 when we invited representatives from numerous federal funding agencies to the conference in Washington, DC. Only one representative from the American Nursery and Landscape Association attended and his visit did not materialize into any immediate funding.

The fact is that funding for green roof research is not readily available. I can’t speak for others, but I know what it costs to run a research program at MSU. I need at least $100,000 annually and I actually need more than that as the university will take 55% of any grant I receive to pay for overhead. All graduate students in our department are on a research assistantship which currently costs me $40,389 per year to pay their stipend, tuition, and health insurance. I also need to secure funding to rent research space where my roof platforms are located, rent space in the Plant Science Greenhouses, purchase any necessary equipment such as sensors and dataloggers, pay for analysis of lab samples, purchase a computer for my office, pay my phone bill, and pay travel expenses to attend conferences such as CitiesAlive.

This may seem extreme as most employers in the private sector provided their employees with the tools and resources they need to perform their job. However, MSU is a land grant research intensive institution, so expectations are such that you raise enough grant funding so that the overhead charged on these grants pays for your use of university facilities as well as a portion of your salary and benefits. In my case, my appointment is 67% general fund (teaching six classes, serving as undergraduate programs coordinator for our department along with other administrative duties, and outreach) and 33% research. For an applied researcher like myself, this can be difficult to secure enough grant funding.

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