Tina Profiles: Sarah Murphy Founder of Canopy (Green Roofs)

by Prince Of Petworth January 14, 2009 at 11:00 am 15 Comments


One of the things many people find difficult about city living is the lack of green space. Fortunately for us, the nation’s capital ranks pretty high on the list of cities with the most park space, with 250,000 acres of parkland in the Greater Washington Metropolitan area. As privileged as we are to be able to enjoy all of this green space, we also have the responsibility to respect and maintain it. Caring for our city’s parkland can mean something as simple as not littering, or picking up after people who do. Another option, one that not only protects existing green space but also creates more, has quickly been gaining popularity – installing a green roof!

We’ve spotted a number of green roofs around the city, but there are many, many more thanks in part to Canopy, a green roof company started by Sarah Murphy. Last week I had a chance to sit down with Sarah and learn about what she does and why she does it. I’ll admit that going into this interview I knew very little about green roofs, aside from the fact that they are pretty and that adding some green to an otherwise unused space probably has some environmental benefits. In the short amount of time we spent together I learned that there are a ton of reasons to consider installing a green roof on your home or business.

Though you have to make a bit more of an investment up front for the installation costs, the payoff can be pretty rewarding. The insulation provided by a green roof can help to reduce heating and cooling costs, and it can help extend the lifespan of your roof membrane by protecting it from harmful UV rays. Installing a green roof can also increase your property value by utilizing unused space. Green roofs also have a number of public benefits, including lowering the Urban Heat Island effect by reducing ambient air temperatures, and capturing storm water which helps our waterways by reducing flow rates. Did you know that a 4 inch green roof system (that’s pretty standard) will hold up to an inch of rainwater?! Continues after the jump.


In addition to all of this impressive information about green roofs, I also learned that for a young woman, Sarah has a quite an impressive background in the field and is anything but green in terms of her experience. Listening to her describe her work, it was clear to me that she truly has a passion for what she does and has put in a lot of time and effort to get to where she is.

Sarah began her college career at Virginia Tech as many Hokies do, in the engineering program. Somewhere along the way she realized that it just wasn’t the right fit and she switched majors to study horticulture. Around this time she took a trip to Vienna where she was introduced to the work of Freidrich Hundertwasser, an Austrian Architect, famous for his revolutionary architectural designs which incorporate natural features of the landscape, roofs covered with earth and grass, and large trees growing from inside the rooms, with limbs extending from windows. Sarah was so intrigued by this idea and upon returning to VT she presented it to her peers, who were a little skeptical.

Though her presentation was met with uncertainty Sarah was not deterred and began to do her own research, writing papers and attending conferences. At one of these conferences she met Ed Snodgrass, the owner of Emory Knolls Farm, a leading supplier of plants and plant expertise for extensive green roof systems. Sarah ultimately wound up interning at Emory Knolls, and while she enjoyed her work and was learning a lot, what she really wanted was to focus on green roof installation in urban areas.

In 2006 she took a job with DC Green Works, right around the same time that Executive Director was leaving the organization. Sarah wound up basically running the show as the only employee. The experience, though challenging, gave her the confidence to start her own organization with her friend Criston Mize. And thus Canopy was born.

In just one year Canopy has installed a number of Green Roofs around the city. Their clients are a mix of homeowners and small businesses, but Canopy specializes in residential installation and works closely with the homeowner, contractors and architects to meet specific challenges presented by the varying rooftops of residential structures. Some of their installations can be spotted around town at Greater Good on U Street, The Tabard Inn – which also has an herb garden, and atop a converted garage at 14th and Swann, to name a few. A more complete listing of their projects can be found here at greenroofcanopy.blogspot.com.


Sarah and Criston have had a lot of success in their first year of business and as Canopy is quickly approaching it’s first birthday, some new services will be integrated. The mission will be expanded to include garden coaching and gasless lawn care. Like many small business owners, Sarah relies heavily on word of mouth for advertising. She gives a lot of talks, is a member of the Garden Writers Association, and is involved with a number of community organizations – coincidentally she will be teaching the pottery class I’m taking at Art Space!

I have to say that Sarah’s enthusiasm for green roofs is a little contagious, and after chatting with her I think that the concept is just as fascinating as she does. And I don’t think I am alone! As we were wrapping up our conversation the gentleman across the table from us at Tryst let us know he had been listening in and was very impressed with what he heard. Hopefully he’ll look to Canopy if he ever plans to install a green roof on his own home, and you should too!


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