Next Generation of Eco-Warriors Leads the Way

Posted on Oct 9, 2019
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The next generation of Eco-Warriors paid a visit to Good Earth Plant Company.

The next generation of Eco-Warriors paid a visit to Good Earth Plant Company. Photo: Noel Kim

Recently, a group of fifth grade students from a San Diego area private school visited Good Earth Plant Company as part of their after school program, the extra-curricular “Lego Robotics Club.” Kids in the club were tasked with identifying a local problem in their city, and then exploring possible solutions. The students decided to focus on the diminishing tree canopy within the city. This is something we’ve also been concerned about, and have written about here on the Good Earth blog.

According to the team’s adult leader, Noel Kim, the team is competing for the first time in the “First Lego League” (FLL) Robotics Competition. Here’s how Noel describes it.

“Each year, a different challenge is issued for all participating teams and this year the challenge theme was ‘City Shapers.’ Teams were to pick a building or place in their local community, identify a problem and come up with a unique or improved solution.

“Our team identified warehouses in industrial parks that are typically devoid of vegetation. Our solution was to add sustainable, low maintenance plants to warehouse rooftops that have lots of unused area to increase vegetated regions within San Diego to counteract the effects of greenhouse gases and the heat island effect that all cities experience.”

“One of our coaches was doing a search on green roofs and saw the Good Earth Plant Company website.  We then got in touch with Good Earth and Jim graciously agreed to host a Saturday field trip for our team.  Jim confirmed the team’s research on green roofs and expanded upon the benefits that they provide.”

I work a lot of Saturday mornings anyway, so hosting such a smart group of kids interested in improving our planet was an easy “yes!” Little did I know when we booked the day and time I would have a particularly crappy week. Interacting with this team of 11 and 12 year olds would make it all worth it.

I originally intended to modify my regular “adult” presentation I use for our Lunch and Learn to groups of professionals such as architects, developers and Interior Designers. But after a busier than expected week, (see “crappy” above) the kids got the grown-up presentation.

Are you smarter than a fifth grader? These students listened to my presentation for adult professionals and paid more attention than most of my regular Lunch and Learn audiences.

Are you smarter than a fifth grader? These students listened to my presentation for adult professionals and paid more attention than most of my regular Lunch and Learn audiences. Photo: Noel Kim

We started with a discussion of LEED certification, (which they knew about!) and the WELL Building Standard, (which they didn’t know about). Then we talked about biophilia and biophilic design. The kids viewed my many photos of Good Earth Plant Company projects — designing, installing and maintaining living walls and green roofs.

These kids paid attention! They asked great questions. They had answers for the questions I asked them. I was a fifth grade teacher for a day. Are you smarter than a fifth grader? At first I was a little concerned.

Our student visitors enjoyed the chance to tour the Good Earth Plant Company headquarters green roof, the first permitted commercial green roof in San Diego.

Our student visitors enjoyed the chance to tour the Good Earth Plant Company headquarters green roof, the first permitted commercial green roof in San Diego. Photo: Noel Kim

After the talk came the important part of the program: getting outside. I took the kids on a tour of our demonstration garden of living walls and green roofs at our World Corporate Headquarters in Kearny Mesa, the location of the first permitted green roof in San Diego. They even got to see our brand new living moss wall, which is getting greener by the day.

At the end of two hours, these kids were not slowing down. They could have gone on longer. But the adults were starting to fade, and the parents in the group and I decided we covered enough ground to call it a day.

The student project focus on converting warehouse rooftops into green roofs is a smart approach to mitigating the heat island effect in cities. Installation of green roofs will also improve air quality.

The urban heat island effect is a topic we’ve given a lot of thought, including this blog post from 2013. We experience it daily around our headquarters. It’s possible you do, too.

While several organizations focus on increasing the urban forest, the student project concept is to use the vast area already occupied by warehouses. These are usually low buildings with a large expanse of flat roof. The Good Earth Plant Company green roof exists in an area full of these types of smaller industrial warehouses. I can easily imagine looking out and seeing plenty of green roofs around my building, breaking up a sea of asphalt, concrete, and heat.

The advantages of green roofs (like this one I saw earlier in the year in Germany) can reduce the urban heat island effect. Photo: Jim Mumford

While we covered the topics below, the student team needs to learn more about the following:

  • The advantages and disadvantages of green roofs
  • The feasibility of covering an existing warehouse roof with vegetation – structural and cost issues
  • The ideal types of plants to use

These are common questions we deal with for any client who wants to install a green roof on a home or commercial building.

“The field trip presentation was very informative,” said Noel Kim. “Jim is obviously very passionate about his work, setting up what is essentially a living laboratory on site to make sure the plants he uses will actually grow well locally.  Seeing a real green roof on the Good Earth office building was a great experience for the children and the coaches alike.  The presence of native vegetation that had propagated onto the roof from nearby fields without even being planted was a surprise for all of us.”

Noel and the kids passed along a nice thank you for their visit for a first hand learning experience about green roofs. We’re glad you came out, too.

L to R: Son Ted, Ted's girlfriend Maddie, and daughter Allie. Photo: Jim Mumford

L to R: Son Ted, Ted’s girlfriend Maddie, and daughter Allie. They are inheriting the planet in pretty bad shape. Photo: Jim Mumford

As the father of two young adults who will always be kids to me, I worry about the next generation. Anyone witnessing the damage we’re doing to the planet sees the kind of mess we’re leaving to future generations. We also worry about kids growing up in front of screens instead of getting outdoors – the “indoor generation.”

But when I get to interact with future Eco-Warriors like our recent visitors, and see the interest around the world in the climate crisis led by smart teenagers such as 16-year-old Greta Thunberg of Sweden, I have a lot more hope. It gives me energy and a lot of inspiration. Kids, you are officially Eco-Warriors – welcome to Team Earth!

Thank you to Noel Kim and the parent chaperones for giving up their weekend time to make the field trip possible. I can’t wait to see what these smart kids come up with.

The best part of the visit and presentation? It was the most fun I’ve had at work in awhile. Thanks Eco-Warriors!

Read more about the value of trees:

Trees, Teens, and Depression

Trees are Nature’s Superheroes