Martin Grohman, executive director for sustainability at GAF, is dedicated to helping his industry become more environmentally responsible.Martin Grohman, executive director for sustainability at GAF, is dedicated to helping his industry become more environmentally responsible.

GraphicA roof is one thing that every building has in common, making the roofing industry one of the great fulcrum points for advancing the sustainability agenda. But that simple fact obscures another of even greater consequence: roofing is the largest single component of a building that is replaced at least once throughout the lifespan of most structures, making it the ultimate opportunity for a green retrofit.

“For all of us who are promoting green building, there is an elephant in the room,” says Martin Grohman, the executive director for sustainability at GAF, “which is that we don’t reach existing buildings very well.” There are roughly 130 million existing homes in the US, while annual housing stats hover around 1 million, explains Grohman, so “by that math, you’re looking at 130 years to turn them all over. But all of those homes are going to need a new roof at some point in their life, so it’s a good opportunity.”

As the largest manufacturer of roofing products in North America, GAF is well-poised to make green roofing happen on a mass scale. Although the general public might associate the term green roofing with a roof that has succulents and grasses growing out of it, Grohman emphasizes that the entire bundle of environmental benefits available through using the right roofing products provides a more apt definition of the term. Choice in roofing material affects the energy use of a building by how well it insulates, how tightly it maintains the thermal envelope, and how much it reflects the heat of the sun. There is also the matter of product life cycle, including the environmental costs associated with producing roofing materials, disposing of them, and the danger that the chemicals used to create them poses to people and the environment—all things green builders must consider every time they decide which materials to specify.

GAF also offers a line of materials for garden roofing, the term that has become more common in the roofing industry for a vegetated roof. “When they can be done within the limits of the economics that make sense for the building, vegetated roofs are a beautiful, beautiful thing,” Grohman says. “It’s a nuanced point, but … a well-designed, well-insulated, reflective roof with a good chemical profile is just as green as a vegetated roof.”

GAF has been researching and developing the standards for sustainable roofing products for well over a decade. The company is widely known in the construction industry for its flagship product, the Timberline line of asphalt shingles, which became the first Energy Star-rated shingle in the industry in 2001. Timberline shingles have a healthy percentage of recycled content, containing up to 30% of blast
furnace slag in the headlap (the covered area of the shingle), depending on grade of the product.

For large commercial buildings, GAF’s TPO roofing (thermoplastic polyolefin roofing) takes the cake for environmental performance. The white reflective surface results in drastically lower cooling costs inside the building and the polypropylene material it’s made from “has a really benign environmental profile as far as plastics go,” according to Grohman. Also quite remarkable is the toxicity of the flame retardant used, or rather its lack of. Magnesium hydroxide, also known as milk of magnesia, is the primary ingredient that helps prevent EverGuard TPO roofing from combusting.

GAF also makes “solar ready” roofing as part of the EverGuard product line. The premise of their approach to the roofing/solar panel interface is partly about having a roofing product that can withstand the increased demands that a photovoltaic installation places on a roofing system. “There are more people on the roof, more penetrations into the roof material that have to be done right,” Grohman says. “You can’t just go up there screwing solar panels to the roof … you have to consider wind and snow loads, egress, and access for firefighters and maintenance personnel.”

GAF’s TPO roofing (thermoplastic polyolefin roofing) takes the cake for environmental performance, as the white reflective surface results in drastically lower cooling costs.GAF’s TPO roofing (thermoplastic polyolefin roofing) takes the cake for environmental performance, as the white reflective surface results in drastically lower cooling costs.

But Grohman believes that even more important for making a happy marriage between roofs and solar panels is GAF’s efforts to partner with solar installers, providing training and technical assistance and nurturing the dialogue between the two industries. Brokering productive partnerships among industry groups is a strategy that the company applies to other sustainability initiatives, as well. They sponsor, a non-profit initiative that promotes landfill diversion in the roofing industry, and have been huge supporters of the health product declaration movement (HPD) ever since becoming the first major roofing manufacturer to sign on with the HPD Collaborative in 2011. GAF now has six HPDs on the books—including one for the Timberline Cool Series shingles—and many others in the works, making it easier for designers of LEED and Living Building Challenge (LBC) projects to specify their products.

“We’re coordinators,” Grohman says, “we have enough reach as a company that we can really help the industry move forward to become more environmentally responsible.”

Grohman is most proud of the company’s efforts with shingle recycling and waste reduction. Thanks to their outreach efforts—as well as the Certified Green Roofer training program they offer (with over 500 contractors trained so far)—GAF has been instrumental in turning the idea of shingle recycling into an economically viable reality. Around the country, more and more roofing contractors are hauling their used shingles to recyclers, where they get made into asphalt, rather than taking them to the landfill. “Everyone through the process generally either saves money or makes money,” he says.On the production side of the equation, four of GAF’s 24 manufacturing plants are have now pursued certification for their landfill diversion percentage. This work is done by either Philadelphia-based Green Circle, or Chicago’s UL Environment, a division of UL (Underwriters Laboratories), and is a comprehensive look at the entire manufacturing facility. Initially, when the company set out to streamline its factories to achieve zero waste, there was no standard to go by, so they in fact worked with UL to develop one, another example in which the company is paving the way to sustainability within the roofing industry. “Our role has been to step in and make those connections,” says Grohman, beaming. “I’ve been really pleased with this process and am so proud of our plants.”