Measured Benefits: Monitoring the Impacts of the UW Green Wall and Water Harvesting System

Green Seed Fund Project Measured Benefits: Monitoring the Impacts of the UW Green Wall and Water Harvesting System
Total Amount Awarded: $40,478

Final report poster or presentation: View the PDF

Designed and spearheaded by the UW Green Futures Lab (GFL), the UW Biodiversity Green Wall, Edible Green Screen, and Water Harvesting System was completed in the fall of 2012. Located in the southeast corner of Gould Hall on 15th Avenue and NE 40th Street, the award-winning project has been widely publicized and has the potential to provide numerous benefits such as reducing building energy needs, mitigating heat island effects, conserving potable water, reducing stormwater pollution, and increasing urban biodiversity. However, in order to both maximize these benefits and replicate them in future projects, they must be monitored, measured, and analyzed. Initial monitoring of the project in 2012 piloted research protocols to assess the 10’x10’ living panels’ capacity to cool exterior and interior temperatures, support bird and insect use, and contribute plant diversity to the urban environment. This initial monitoring also estimated the potable water savings and stormwater flow reduction from the water harvesting system that captures and stores Gould Hall roof water to irrigate the green wall. This proposal aims to refine and implement these monitoring methods over a longer research period to build from the intellectual and financial capital already invested in this pioneering project and to fully maximize its impact. 

The following article provides images and a description of the project:

Relevance to UW Sustainability Goals:

The objectives of this project are to:

  1. determine potential benefits of the green wall in climate impact mitigation and energy use reduction;
  2. determine potential benefits of the green wall in enhancing urban biodiversity, including plants, insects and birds;
  3. measure the extent of savings the water harvesting system can provide in reducing potable water use for green walls, and for reducing stormwater flows;
  4. discover best practices for designing, planting and maintaining green walls using the hybrid hydroponic/soil pocket system;
  5. educate UW students, faculty and staff about the potentials, pitfalls, and possible benefits of green walls and water harvesting systems;
  6. disseminate the results of our research internationally and contribute to the advancement of green wall and water harvesting technology;
  7. contribute to UW’s reputation for innovating and espousing sustainable practices.

The UW Biodiversity Green Wall, Green Screen and Water Harvesting System was constructed as a demonstration project primarily for research and education purposes. This monitoring project will allow us determine actual benefits such a project does (or does not) confer as well as the best practices for creating such systems, thus guiding opportunities to create similar projects across the university and beyond. The initial monitoring study found the green wall to be successful as a thermal regulator; and the water harvesting system was likewise found to successfully reduce polluted stormwater runoff and reliance on potable water. In addition to measuring and recording these benefits, this research and monitoring project will allow us to discover ways to enhance these benefits even further. Therefore, this project has great potential to contribute to the University of Washington’s sustainability goals by:

  1. Reducing heating and cooling needs for buildings. By acting as a heat sink during the day and a heat source at night, green walls reduce building energy demands. The EPA estimates the buildings account for 36% of total energy use and 30% of greenhouse gas emissions in the United States.
  2. Reducing polluted stormwater runoff. Water harvesting systems divert rainwater from building roofs that would otherwise either go to a water treatment facility or carry pollutants directly into water bodies.
  3. Conserving potable water. By relying on rainwater inputs, the water harvesting system significantly reduces the need to irrigate the green wall with potable water. Irrigation currently accounts for the majority of potable water usage in the United States.
  4. Enhancing urban biodiversity. The green wall provides important habitat and foraging opportunities for birds and insects.


February 2014: 

  • Establish Research Protocols
  • Order monitoring equipment (video camera, thermal sensors)
  • Literature Review

March 2014: 

  • Use installed irrigation monitoring equipment to begin assessment of water usage after final calibration of water harvesting system
  • Set up additional monitoring equipment (thermal sensors, video camera)
  • Solicit and train volunteers for observational biodiversity monitoring
  • Continue Literature Review

April - October 2014

  •  Set up website with real-time monitoring results and video stream
  •  Continue data recording and analysis based off of:
    •  water usage
    •  thermal monitors
    •  video feeds
    •  biodiversity assessments (plants, insects, and birds)
  •  Design and install interpretive signage with QR code linking to website (CSF funding request)
  •  Encourage UW and outside media to publicize research
  •  Continue Literature Review, compile into written document
  •  Regularly collate and review results, adjust monitoring protocols as necessary

November-December 2014:

  • Collate, review and interpret data
  • Write journal paper(s) and submit to journals such as:
    • Urban Forestry and Urban Greening (Elsevier)
    • Conservation Biology (Society for Conservation Biology)
    • Solutions Journal
    • Ecological Applications
    • International Journal of Environmental, Cultural, Economic and Social Sustainability
    • Landscape and Urban Planning
    • Urban Ecosystems
    • Urban Environment & Urban Ecology
    • International Journal of Climate Change
    • Journal of the Built Environment

 January / Winter 2014:

  •  Review program, Report to Green Seed Fund
  •  Present to Administration
Primary Faculty:
Nancy  Rottle
Primary Staff:
Meegan Amen
Primary Student:
Leann Andrews

This project was funded during the 2013-2014 academic year.