In the midst of our concrete jungles, a local startup works to implement greenery on the roofs and walls of buildings.
They’re called Belalang Inovasi, or Belalang for short, and the company was established in March 2018. The idea of starting a green innovation venture was conceived 2 years prior to that, however, after a business trip to Singapore.
Co-founder Quiwan told us, “It was evident that the island republic was going all out to encourage technology transfers in the urban greenery department; we simply had to do better to preserve and bring back biodiversity and green lungs into our cities.”
When he next met up with his best friends from secondary school, Karen and Dave, Quiwan pitched the idea, “and it was all systems go when we realised we were all on the same page,” he said.
Increasing Biodiversity In Cities
Quiwan is a Civil & Environmental Engineering graduate, Karen is an Environmental Engineer, Dave is a Naval Architect, and they’ve all worked in their respective fields for about 6 to 8 years.
Together, the three of them dug into their savings for the initial capital to start Belalang. “Our immediate focus is to provide the Malaysian market with dependable solutions to urban greenery, specifically in the green roof and green walls department,” Quiwan said.
“Although architects, designers and building owners recognise the advantages of green roofs and green walls, the main stumbling block locally has always been the issue of maintenance. Many green roof and walls failed due to lack of maintenance,” he explained.
To tackle that issue, Belalang is introducing soil-less green roof and green wall solutions that require less upkeep. Quiwan added, “We also want to encourage greening up all kinds of roof surfaces, including retrofitting for existing buildings.”
Green walls and roofs “act as an insulator and thermal regulator that ensures that indoor temperature of buildings is reduced by up to 4˚C during the afternoon peak temperature spikes,” Quiwan told us.
According to him, they also provide biophilic design, and “studies have shown that having greenery in our work or social environment increases social cohesion and reduces stress.”
Other benefits include the filtering out of pollutants in the air by green walls, the mitigating of flash floods and the extension of roof lifespans by green roofs, and they both provide noise abatement and bring biodiversity to cities.
A One-Stop Solution
Belalang handles the design, pre-growing, supply and installation of the green roofs and walls, including the automated irrigation system after taking into consideration their customer’s main intention for greening up their space. “This allows us to customise the plant selection, irrigation system and other technical details based on the customer’s original roof or wall design,” Quiwan said.
Pre-growing takes 3 months while installation requires a week, and the larger the project scale, the longer the pre-growing period. “Implementation can also be affected by design changes, construction delays or out of the ordinary weather conditions,” he added.
On how long the green roofs and walls can last, Quiwan said, “50 years with the right maintenance regime. For both, maintenance typically involves checking the automatic irrigation system, weeding and replacement of plants. Based on the client’s preference, we do cater to requests to do pruning for green walls.”
“Our GaiaMat green roofs are very low maintenance—only 4 visits per year is required for mature roofs, and no trimming is required. GaiaWall system is our green wall low-maintenance alternative that only requires one visit in 2 months after the first year, compared to monthly visits for typical potted green walls,” he said.
The cost of Belalang’s products differs according to location and scale with green walls typically costing 4–5 times more than green roofs per square metre. “We work mostly with designers and architects to incorporate our system into their design from the get-go in order to maximize structural cost-savings for the client,” Quiwan stated.
Belalang also caters directly to private home owners who are keen to explore greening up the roofs or walls of their private properties.
The biggest challenge for Belalang is their small team which Quiwan says “can be overstretched at times”, so they’re still looking for long-term employees to strengthen the core team.
Despite that, they’ve gone on to accomplish several achievements that make them proud. “As one of our first projects, we are honoured to partner Think City to green up the KULS bus shelter located at Jalan Raja Chulan (funded by Citi Foundation),” he said.
Belalang also had the opportunity to give a talk about green roofs and discuss the application of green roofs with the local community in Pasir Gudang.
Quiwan said of the reception of Belalang’s products by Malaysians, “From our experience setting up a booth at the recent KLCC Archidex 2019 expo in July, the reception from the public, especially architects and designers have been outstanding. In the last month alone, we have been invited to present the products to design teams in KL, Penang and Kuching.”
Belalang wants to engage with more local councils to encourage the use of green roofs and collaborate with local universities in R&D to quantify more benefits of green roofs and walls, and they hope to expand into East Malaysia through Kuching with a couple of planned projects for the end of this year.
The ultimate goal is to raise liveability standards in our urban environment via urban greenery and green innovations.
- You can find out more about Belalang Inovasi here.
Featured Image Credit: Belalang Inovasi