France: going green in more ways than one

Under a new law passed in France in early 2015, it’s now mandatory for any building constructed in a commercial zone to have their rooftop partially covered by a sustainable rooftop garden or solar PV panels.1

Written by Carly Jacobs

While the law only applies to commercial buildings at this stage, it may not be long before the environmentally progressive French government extends the law to include domestic dwellings.

The financial benefits of eco-energy are considered a major driver of the new legislation; but the advantages extend well beyond the bottom line.  

Gardens in the sky

Rooftop gardens provide excellent insulation, which in turn reduces the amount of energy used to heat or cool a building. As they cover the roofing space, protecting it from the elements, the gardens can also increase the life expectancy of the roofing materials – meaning less maintenance costs for the building owner.

Financial benefits aside, rooftop gardens can provide a safe habitat for wildlife including birds, insects and lizards, whose living environment may have been compromised by urban development.2

Rooftop gardens also reduce storm water runoff, and an increase in greenery can lessen air pollution and assist with absorption of carbon dioxide. Rooftop gardens can also be used to produce food and are an aesthetically pleasing addition to urban environments. 

Power paneled business

Solar PV paneling is the alternative choice for French commercial building developers, which also comes with a number of benefits. For example, once set up, solar energy requires little maintenance.

The paneling also draws its energy from a completely renewable source, which again, can reduce the ongoing costs for tenants as they’re able to draw power from the solar PV system during the day instead of from the energy grid.

With new technologies in solar energy being developed all the time, the installation of solar PV panels is becoming more affordable, making them an attractive and viable energy option for both residential and commercial consumers. 

In our own backyard

Although green roofs are not mandated in Australia, we’re seeing a few forward thinking businesses make greener construction choices. 

The Grounds of Alexandria, a popular café in Sydney, has installed an extensive rooftop garden.Taking an old industrial building, they’ve transformed it into an innovative environmental space, complete with chickens scratching around in the dust not far from diners. Like all great projects, there were some challenges developing the property to meet their ecological goals, including the need to use a stabilising webbing structure to keep the garden securely planted on its 30 degree angle. The garden boasts 16 different plant species (which also provide produce to the kitchen), and has become a popular hook for attracting local and interstate customers. 

Australia is also seeing increasing interest in roof eco-gardens in the domestic settings. Chris Knierim, a Sydney based builder and designer, challenged himself to construct an environmentally sustainable home.4 In trying to create a home that has a low carbon footprint, Chris included solar powered slab heating, as well as an extensive roof garden and an 8 metre vertical foyer garden as key features of the eco-home. The project has been successful, delivering a stylish and functional home, demonstrating that design doesn’t have to be compromised for the sake of environmental features.

With France setting the trend, as they often do, we’re sure to see more environmentally friendly roofing structures in the very near future.

About the Author

Carly is the founding editor of Smaggle which launched in 2007 back when blogging was weird. She has appeared in The Sydney Morning Herald, The Age, Cosmopolitan and Cleo magazines. Hoop earrings are totally her thing and she almost got run over by Myf Warhurst while out jogging one day.


  1. The Guardian News & Media, France decrees new rooftops must be covered in plants or solar panels, published Friday 20 March 2015.
  2. Green Lifestyle Magazine, The rise of rooftop gardens, Jodie Thompson, published 24 October 2011.
  3. Green roofs Australasia, Roof Garden- The Grounds of Alexandria, Fytogreen Australia, pubished 6 March 2015.
  4. Daily Telegraph, Forest Lodge eco-house featured on Grand Designs Australia official opened by Sydney Lord Mayor, Sarah Sharples, published 28 January 2014.

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