Living Company History
50 years are behind us – the best are ahead of us.
Uwe Harzmann, Managing Director of Optigrün International AG, offers insights into the creation and development of Optigrün, reports on visions and future plans, and reveals which roof he would most like to add plants to and why the company has remained true to its location in Göggingen!
HOW DID THE IDEA OF GREEN ROOFS ACTUALLY COME ABOUT?
My father discovered the idea in the early 1970s in Switzerland. A Swiss gardener there developed the basic idea of a green roof system called optima. As products from our own production could be marketed alongside the green roof, this was an excellent complement to the existing product range of my parents’ company in the field of (flat) roofs, roof insulation, facades and facade insulation.
My father also recognised the ecological benefit at an early stage and acquired the licence for Germany in 1972 together with a northern German business partner. The launch of the optima green roof in Germany was followed by the Austrian market one year later. We have also been working in the Netherlands for 25 years.
By the way, you can see my parents, my two sisters and me in the old promotional photo from 1973 on the right. At the time, we had the privilege of acting as models to fill the newly built “roof garden” with life. In the next photo, you can see my father (2nd from right) on an excursion with planners in 1977.
DID THE TOPIC OF ENVIRONMENTAL PROTECTION PLAY A ROLE FROM THE BEGINNING?
Yes, of course, as climate change and environmental pollution haven’t just arisen today. Except that very few people were interested in it in the past. It is only in recent years that building greening has left the “crazy corner” and been viewed as a serious option for active environmental and climate protection. And quite rightly so!
Visionary ideas for climate and environmental protection for 50 years
Our success is based on our ability to look beyond our horizons, believe in the future and be a step ahead. We attempted to raise awareness of soil sealing, flooding, urban heat islands and air quality with scientifically well-founded texts and clear illustrations as early as 1977. Our brochure from the time is still just as accurate and up to date now, almost 45 years later (see photo right). Even then, we highlighted solutions that are today often brought together under the term “sponge city”.
Sustainability as part of our company philosophy
Even over 30 years ago, we installed a decentralised network of earthworks to minimise the transport distances for substrate deliveries to the construction site as well as the environmental impact associated with that as far as possible.
We continue to pay attention to our ecological footprint. Our plastic and aluminium products are almost exclusively manufactured from recycled raw materials. For instance, our drainage boards are made from recycled HDPE from the drinks industry and our protection fleeces are made from recycled clothing and waste carpet.
In production and administration, we use electricity that we generate ourselves using photovoltaics systems or green electricity. Motion sensors have been installed in our office buildings, our company fleet includes electric vehicles. There are strict CO2 requirements for vehicles and SUVs are not permitted due to their higher CO2 emissions. The office we most recently moved into is an old commercial complex, which we have renovated according to the latest energy standards.
WHAT ARE THE SUCCESS FACTORS FOR OPTIGRÜN?
We primarily see ourselves as a technology-oriented service provider and construction system provider who strives to always find the best solution. With our comprehensive product range, we offer the right solution for all construction situations.
As a construction system provider and construction supplier, we support planners even in very early project phases with our technical expertise and our planning support services, thereby helping to implement design ideas and visions in a sophisticated manner.
Since 1976, we have maintained a partner system with qualified companies from the garden and landscaping sector who have been trained by us and who specialise in installing and maintaining building greening. These 125 partners form the basis for sustainable and solid implementation and maintenance. In addition, we have close, long-standing contacts in many other companies within garden and landscape construction and construction material retail, thus allowing many excellent green roofs to also be implemented in this way. Our private customers with do-it-yourself building projects are served via our online shop (www.dachbegruenung24.de)
Visions and pioneering developments, thinking about tomorrow today, supplying good products with perfect logistics, offering comprehensive service, fair conduct towards our partners and customers, low prices and long-standing employees with a high level of knowledge and who enjoy their work: these are the foundations for our success.
WHAT SETS OPTIGRÜN APART FROM THE COMPETITION? WHAT DEMANDS DOES OPTIGRÜN HAVE ON ITSELF?
We always want to be a step ahead. We have decades of extensive experience. With comprehensive, pioneering green roof solutions for usable space and recreation areas, we sustainably promote near-natural urban development, quality of life in urban areas, and an improvement in the climate balance.
Through healthy, profitable growth and continuous, organisational further development, we secure our leading market position as a reliable partner and devoted employer over the long term. Research and development are incredibly important for us. We have been working closely with universities and research institutes for decades to expand our knowledge and develop new visions and products.
HAVE YOU EVER THOUGHT ABOUT RELOCATING THE COMPANY? WHY GÖGGINGEN?
No! As a medium-sized, Upper Swabian company, we have strong ties to our homeland. Our roots lie in the rural district of Sigmaringen and there are better opportunities to expand in terms of space in the countryside. Many of our long-standing, experienced employees come from the local area. Relocating would mean a major loss of practical knowledge. We also work in an area where others go on holiday – in the heart of nature.
Based on a love of progress
Despite our love for our location, we are naturally completely up-to-date. Working from home is common practice for us. Our first sales representative worked from home in Hamburg over 15 years ago. Not including the external service providers who otherwise live and work in the region, we now permanently employ many other employees from Application Technology and Sales on a working-from-home basis. They work from their respective places of residence in Austria, Bulgaria, the Netherlands or Germany. This allows us, despite our location in the Lake Constance hinterland, to bring the best talented individuals to Optigrün, as country life isn’t for everyone.
WHERE DO YOU SEE OPTIGRÜN IN 50 YEARS’ TIME?
We want to remain the market leader and continue to focus on our core competence:
Optigrün – ROOF GREENING
Trades involved in construction grow together: we thus want to learn how we can get involved in neighbouring areas and further develop them. Digitalisation in construction will also become more and more widespread in the coming years and hopefully further improve construction quality, standardise it a little more, and thus counteract the cost explosion as well as allow further optimisations in terms of how valuable resources are handled.
IF YOU HAD A FREE CHOICE: WHICH ROOF WOULD YOU LIKE TO ADD PLANTS TO?
Any roof that isn’t green yet!
WHAT HAVE BEEN THE MOST IMPORTANT MILESTONES IN THE COMPANY’S HISTORY?
The first few years were characterised by intensive fundamental work, as many questions concerning a functional green roof structure simply hadn’t been answered yet, such as root protection and water drainage.The first FLLgreen roof directive was published in 1982. The development of blowable substrates with corresponding blowing technology for transport onto the roof was a crucial milestone. (see photo from the early days). This made construction site logistics easier and is now state of the art.
1985 Nature Roof
his was the year that we introduced the Nature Roof eingeführt. This roof is now often referred to as the Biodiversity Roof. Our Nature Roof planner (see photo right) was a big hit at the time and was displayed in many architecture offices.
1995 Retention roof and flow control system patent
In 1995, we invented the Retention Roof and patented the flow control system.We were (unfortunately) far ahead of our time with this invention. The market was not yet ready for this advanced form of green roof. Our patent expired after 20 years without us being able to plan and sell the number of Retention Roofs that we had been hoping for. This has since changed significantly. In 2020 alone, we planned and supplied over 800 Retention Roofs.
2000 Renaming of optima in Optigrün international AG
When I joined the family-run company as the third generation, we adapted the company structure to suit the change in market conditions, changed the legal form, improved our capital resources and thus set the course for our further growth.
2003 Optisafe load-supported fall protection
Optisafe stands for personal protection systems for fall protection on flat roofs. What makes this fall protection special is that it is held by the superimposed load of the green roof, meaning that it does not penetrate the waterproofing so no resealing is necessary.
2008 Meander board
Following nature’s example, we introduced a retention element that significantly delays drainage. This product system allows peak discharge coefficients of 0.01 to be achieved according to FLL.This is the absolute peak and far better than the values that can be achieved with imitation products.
2010 Load-supported solar mounting frame Sunroot 30 (first generation)
A solar panel on a green roof? Is that even possible?
This system opened up the possibility of offering a solar mounting frame that is supported by the green roof structure. The system allowed the installation of photovoltaic modules that was common at the time at an angle of 30°. The green roof has a cooling effect on the solar panels, which increases their efficiency and service life.
2013 Load-supported SkyGard railing system for used roof areas
A system for protecting used roof areas that is also only supported by the green roof structure keeps the roof waterproofing sealed and intact. Particularly in Germany, we have very strict safety regulations, which our SkyGard fulfils completely
2014 Retention roof 2.0
By using various plastic hollow bodies (Water Retention Boxes WRB), we were able to significantly increase the retention performance of the green roof and thus set the industry standard that has since been copied by some of our competitors.
2015 Load-supported solar mounting frame Sunroot 15 (second generation)
The system was further developed with the second Sunroot generation. Modules could now also be installed at an angle of 15°. Once again without any penetration of the roof membrane.
2016 Smart Flow Control (SFC)
The weather-based, dynamically controlled flow control using current weather data, which more than doubles the retention and evaporation performance of the green roof compared to static flow control. This solution was presented with the Gardening and Landscaping Innovation Award in 2016.
2020 Load-supported solar mounting frame Optigrün-Solar (third generation)
All good things come in threes: the third generation of our solar mounting frame offers considerable advantages compared to the predecessor version: angles of 10°, 15° or 20°, lower weight, easier and therefore quicker installation. And thus a significant cost saving. .
2021 Water balance control system
We want to restore the natural water balance of a property even when it has been built on, thereby counteracting soil sealing and flooding.
To achieve this, we combine our Retention Roofs with the civil engineering components for water discharge, cleaning and storage from our cooperation partner FRÄNKISCHE Rohrwerke and an intelligent control system, which is based on weather data or the latest weather forecast.
2020 was the most successful year so far in our company’s history – we were once again able to achieve an approx. 15% growth in turnover at around €70 million. This turnover was distributed between around 7,000 different building projects with a green area of approximately 4.0 million m2.
These figures make us by far the market leader in Europe and we want it to stay that way. We look forward to wonderful projects that enrich our living environment and give us joy every day.