Instead of being a company that does solar installation and nothing more, you put sustainable living principles into your workplace. How did that happen?
The past 10 years for me have been a process of trying to implement sustainability where I can, in my work life or personal life; they are all connected. There is no differentiation for me. It started in 2005, when my business partner at the time chose to purchase a Volkswagen Jetta that runs on biodiesel. It's a good work vehicle that gets good gas mileage. We don't drive trucks; we drive this small car, and we have a trailer that can hitch onto the car. ... We also put a lot of attention into recycling the scraps left over from all of our projects, and we recycle all of our equipment. We've always had those relatively conventional ideas. We've done a number of projects using our bikes to haul our equipment, but we have to keep those (projects) within at least a 5-mile radius of the main office.
What more do you see the business doing?
I've recently purchased an electric motor for my bike. Right now, on a regular bike, we can only pull 300 pounds on a trailer. An electric motor on a bike could help us do projects at a greater distance. My intent is to test it out and see how far we can get with a loaded trailer, further greening our transportation choices. We could work with a whole fleet of electric bikes. I'd be prepared to purchase more so our whole group could ride out to sites.
Before you began working in solar, you worked in neuroscience. When did you get interested in the environment?
I wanted to get into some sort of sustainable studies at the UA in the late '80s and early '90s, so I took ecology courses that would be helpful for studying the environment. Back then, there was a lot of conservation work being done, in terms of public lands and open space. I think that work is very important. But ... damage is being done in the concentrated urban areas. What I really ... wanted to do is be involved in the greening of those urban areas--so ecology didn't really fit for me. I did really enjoy science, so I ended up almost accidently going into molecular and cellular biology, and eventually neuroscience. But my original intention was to do something environmental, and it took me going down the wrong road ... to one day realize that this really wasn't what I wanted to be doing.
You mentioned that you're busier than ever right now.
I've watched (the interest in sustainability, solar and water-harvesting) grow exponentially in the past two years. ... By the end of 2006, there were four of us, and then last year, we grew some more, and went up to eight by the end of the year. Now, we are at 10.
Do you feel that interest is growing in Tucson?
Absolutely; I feel very good about that. Somebody says, "I want to get a solar system," and they install it, and then a year later, they realize, "I'm driving an SUV, and I have a $40,000 solar electrical system on my roof," so then they swap (the SUV) out for a Prius. I have other people who start with water-harvesting earthworks that don't cost them anything. Three years later, they put in a solar water heater or an active water-harvesting system. I think people's path to sustainability is cumulative, and I think that is the right way to go.
We saw interest in solar grow during the Carter administration, but eventually it disappeared. How is this time different?
Right now, the industry is still driven by tax credits; I see that as a major liability. ... I would hope we could stand on our own at some point. I think what's different now is our concern about global warming and the environment. Those concerns are less likely to go away. I think people will (continue to) first look at the bottom line. But there will always be a strong contingent of people who will continue to push (renewable energy).