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Natural Awakenings Tucson

Champions of Sustainability: Tucson Heroes Helping Save the Earth

May 31, 2021 09:00AM ● By Suzie Agrillo
“Act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” ~ Greta Thunberg

For the world to change, we need visionaries who imagine ways to improve it. While there are some alarming facts about climate change, this month we’re highlighting some of the creative thinkers and innovative companies in the Tucson area who are focused on solutions.

Originate: Building Materials From the Earth


Natasha Winnik is a force of nature, quite literally, creating change that impacts the Tucson community. Originate is a natural building materials showroom that specializes in environmentally friendly interior finishes.
The design and construction industry have a huge role to play in protecting our environment and resources. Winnik explains how she inspires her clients to make use of current technology and sustainability.
Winnik was raised in Leonardtown, Maryland on the Western shore of the Chesapeake Bay in an old farm house from the late 1800s. She spent a lot of time around the water and was drawn to nature for this reason. Growing up in an historic house made her appreciate buildings in a different way.
She took her first course in Architecture when she was a senior in high school, and used this intro course to direct her toward architecture. Winnik saw it as a conduit for providing a structure to her creativity. She went on to get a Bachelor of Architecture from the University of Miami, and a Master of Architecture from the University of Arizona.
Winnik has worked with natural building materials, particularly with strawbale construction starting in 1997. She continued working in natural building materials through classes involving earthen plasters, natural paints, earthen floors and Japanese plasters. During her master’s studies, she worked with rammed earth and paper bale construction.

What drew you to open your store?
In the summer of 2000, I did an internship at the Presidio Trust in San Francisco as a Green Materials Research Intern while getting my graduate degree. I spent the summer immersed in green building materials, particularly environmentally friendly interior finishes. I came back to Tucson and wanted to integrate these materials into my designs, but found it challenging, as it was hard to see the materials in person. I was excited by these materials more so than traditional architectural design, and thus started Originate in the fall of 2003.
Originate was established to provide a location within the City of Tucson to serve as a local and regional source of environmentally sound building materials and to provide a place where people can see and experience these materials. I found it really hard to imagine using more environmentally friendly materials if you only had a small 2-inch sample and if no one understood the materials and could not answer your questions. Particularly, how to best utilize the materials, which applications are best and where there are concerns.

What types of building materials do you sell?
Originate specializes in interior finishes that are environmentally friendly, non-toxic, durable and made from natural, renewable and recycled resources. Products include: countertops, tile, alternative plywood, flooring, building materials, paints, plaster, stains, sealers, adhesives, caulks, fireplaces and architectural salvaged materials.

What consulting services do you provide to individuals and businesses who want to use eco-construction?
Originate provides creative consulting for a range of projects involving planning, remodeling and/or new construction. We focus on material selection, but also spatial planning, how to make your space feel the best and flow the best from room to room. We can also recommend builders, installers and crafts people to finish your project.

How do you inspire your clients to make use of natural building materials and sustainability in home construction and improvement?
I think the showroom inspires people. When you walk in, the softness of the natural materials feels different. The clay plaster feels like the room is giving you a hug. The cork flooring is soft, quiet and warm. There is a juxtaposition of the original materials—bricks and trusses—with the newer materials—plaster walls, hardwood, cork and marmoleum flooring. Customers comment that they like to linger and that the space feels relaxing and inviting.
We use a lot of architectural salvage and love to reuse materials in creative ways, which ties in nicely with the salvage yard—the blend of old and new, a Japanese term “wabi sabi”.

What education services do you offer to schools and nonprofits who want to learn more about your green building materials?
Originate functions as a community resource. We love to collaborate with others. We enjoy sharing knowledge about natural building materials and making environmentally aware choices during the design and build process. We welcome small groups and classes of all ages to visit the showroom by appointment.  We offer tours to all ages and can specialize talks to any interest, such as recycled materials, renewable materials and sustainable building methods. We have worked with preschoolers through college classes.

What do you think is the best way to address the mindset prevalent among many businesses that views the earth and its resources as something to exploit rather than nurture and protect?
We as humans are part of the earth, just like plants and animals. We are meant to co-exist, not dominate or over-utilize our resources. I think making conscious decisions on how you spend your money and what companies you support is key. We all have limited funds and choosing to support what you believe in makes you feel connected to your environment.

With your focus on sustainability, what changes do you hope to see in the world?
I hope that we start making smart decisions that allow us to leave our planet to our children not with the current climate crises. We need to look at where our energy comes from, supporting solar and wind energy over coal, fracking and natural gas. We need to look at building in ways for longevity, so our buildings last generations like in Europe and how our original ancestors built. We need to look at renovating our existing housing stock versus new construction. Reusing materials is important and things were built better in the past than they are currently.
Living in the desert, water use is crucial. Reusing water through greywater and harvesting rainwater are both choices that should be integrated into all homes.

Besides building materials that are good for the planet, do you incorporate any other mindful, sustainable or eco-friendly practices into your life?
From the beginning we have looked at the choices we make at Originate. Some choices were our business cards, originally printed on 100 percent recycled paper with soy-based inks; now they are printed on hemp paper. We use Tree Free paper for all of our printing in house as well.
All of our lighting is LED. The amount of energy we use is equivalent or less than a typical residence. We use daylighting as much as possible and large windows were carefully designed into the renovation.
We harvest rainwater that sheet floods across our site through permaculture basins and two tanks that capture 4,500 gallons of rainwater. I practice what I preach as much as possible.

Connect at [email protected] and

Originate Building - 948 N Main Ave Tucson AZ

Originate Building - 948 N Main Ave, Tucson, AZ

Natasha Winnik is a force of nature, quite literally, creating change that impacts the Tucson community. Originate is a natural building materials showroom that specializes in environment... Read More » 

TerraSante Village: Innovating for a Healthy Planet


Jim Rothers is a steward of the earth’s resources, and he has a sustainability minded ethos. For him, sustainability is a state of mind and a way of life. For over 10 years, Rothers has lived in TerraSante Village, a nonprofit community located west of Tucson, which is changing the paradigm of environmental living.

Rothers finished high school and went to college for a semester. But the grind proved to be a bit much for him, and he dropped out in favor of working low paying jobs that required less time and devotion, so that he can spend as much time as possible on his inventions and projects. He is currently in the early stages of working with others to form a democratically run cooperative. describes its mission and vision: “TerraSante Village is a nonprofit community dedicated to experiments in sustainable living in the challenging environment of the Arizona Sonoran desert. It is a laboratory/community resource for projects in permaculture and locally sustainable agriculture, ecologic housing, solar and renewable energy, water conservation and community development… Sustainability is the practical ability to satisfy the basic needs of today while ensuring the ability of future generations to do the same. A sustainable society exists such that the ways of living and the patterns of activity of its members are in harmony with the inherent ability of nature to maintain life.”

Rothers shares his thoughts on living a sustainable lifestyle, his inventions and what he’s up to now.

Who founded the TerraSante community and how is it committed to the environment?
Bruce Scher founded it over 20 years ago. We’re as committed as is practical, and we recognize our impact in the desert. We believe that small-scale change, living in community and within our means, generating as much of our own power, water and food as possible, is also vital for sustaining ourselves and the earth and its beings. We also need systemic changes at the top, like a real commitment to reverse greenhouse gases to normal levels.

How many people live there?
It’s a small, intergenerational community. It ranges from about eight in the summer to up to about 18 in the colder season. 

One of your inventions is the funnel garden. How does it promote food growth?
It’s great for growing in areas where water is precious or when it’s cold or hostile outside. It’s a greenhouse that has no wasted walking space. The plants are elevated and you can lean in from any side. I want to make a large version soon, maybe suitable for small trees.

Are there other inventions in progress and/or on the horizon?
Yes, many exciting inventions that I’d love to advance. Many are shown at
There’s the Wind Ring. The big advantage of this design is that it’s significantly less expensive to build. Plus it doesn’t need rare earth magnets and its blades are 100 percent recyclable, unlike most blades that get chopped up and thrown in a landfill after a short life.

Also, I’ve designed a sodium sulfur flow battery that may be extremely valuable, or may be of zero value. It needs some expert evaluation at this point. Plus, a new kind of solar concentrator. It stores power as heat and converts it into energy after the sun goes down. It absorbs more energy than current types by using aluminum as a phase change material. I’m planning on filing a provisional patent soon.

And I have a fire-fighting robot. I believe it could protect homes during wildfires for a surprisingly low cost. It’s very simple to create and probably nothing like you’re imagining.

What do you say to climate change deniers?
We must consider who is funding those ideas, and what they have to gain financially. If you want to see the big picture, just follow the money. Facing climate change can feel overwhelming, and we can understand why people may bury their head in the sand when they don’t know what to do. We’re fortunate to be working on solutions, and would like to offer others the opportunity to be part of the solution.

Connect at [email protected] and

Terrasante Village - 13535 W Sacred Earth Place Tucson AZ

Terrasante Village - 13535 W Sacred Earth Place, Tucson, AZ

TerraSante Village is a nonprofit community dedicated to experiments in sustainable living in the challenging environment of the Arizona Sonoran desert. It is a laboratory/community resou... Read More » 

Cero: For Your Zero Waste Journey


Many of us are wondering about how to combat plastic pollution, opt for sustainable energy solutions or how to become an advocate to make real change to help the environment.
Cero was founded by Val Timin and Nelene Deguzman, two friends who share a deeply rooted love of the environment. Timin is an environmentalist on a path toward a sustainable, less wasteful lifestyle. Deguzman is a vegan with a background in biochemistry, and the lead singer/songwriter of the local band Female Gaze. They both enjoy living life in accordance with their values.
Located in Tucson on Broadway Boulevard along the Sunshine Mile, Cero is a popular zero waste store. It sells products including body care, art, home goods, haircare, gift cards and other items made by artisans. Their products contain natural ingredients which promote health, environmental consciousness and integrity.

What sets your business apart from other stores?
At Cero, the home and body products we carry must align with our special set of values. Items must be zero waste or sustainable, many are locally made in Arizona and all products are vegan. As a zero waste store, we offer several household essentials by refill as well. Locals can bring their own containers into the shop to fill up on staples like soaps, laundry detergent and cleaners, or pre-order online for local pickup. We do ship nationwide as well.

Tell us about your Collection and Recycling Project.
For about a year now, we’ve been collecting and redistributing items with our unique reuse and recycling programs. We do this because we believe that it’s all too normal to throw things in the trash or recycling when they are still useable or valuable. We take in items like cardboard boxes that we store and give away for free to people and businesses who can use them. We collect takeout utensils that we then deliver to The Lot on 22nd, who use them for their free meals program.

Prescription bottles are collected, boxed up and brought to the Primavera Foundation, who uses them for workforce training and hygiene distribution programs. Additional items, like e-waste, writing instruments and instrument strings, are collected and sent to specialty recyclers. Locally, we pass items on to Suburban Miners for recycling, and we also send items to Terracycle.

How do you engage your employees in your sustainability efforts?
Fortunately, sustainability is ingrained in what we do. We put a lot of time and effort into our reuse and recycling work, for example. Outside of our retail shop and recycling programs, most recently we’ve also adopted the roadway by our space through Tucson Clean and Beautiful programs. We now have the honor of taking care of Tucson Boulevard between Broadway and 22nd Street and ensuring that it stays free of litter and unwanted objects, and we report missing/broken signs and things like that too. We regularly participate in cleanup and eco efforts through other organizations in Tucson, as well, like clean-ups with A Better Rillito ( We’re always trying to expand our knowledge and take action to help save the planet.

What can fellow Tucsonans do in order to help save the planet?
A few ways to get started: 1) Start thinking about it and learning about it. 2) Drive less/fly less. Opt for carpools, cycling, walking and public transportation when possible—especially for short trips. 3) Go vegan, or reduce meat/dairy intake. 4) Support businesses and organizations that share your values. Spread the word about them, volunteer or make donations if you can.

Connect at

Cero - 228 S Tucson Blvd Tucson AZ

Cero - 228 S Tucson Blvd, Tucson, AZ

Cero is a growing zero waste store based in Tucson, Arizona. In May 2019, Cero began as a pop-up shop and has since grown into a retail and events space located at Tucson & Broadwa... Read More » 

What’s Soup Got to Do With It?

Each of us needs to stop and think about the impact we are having on the planet. Commit to conscious consumerism. The fashion industry is responsible for 10 percent of our greenhouse emissions.

Support candidates and businesses who make environmental issues a top priority. Pass on grass. Recycle rainwater. Think about how much you are buying, how much waste you are producing, the food you eat and how far you travel. Donate clothing and used items rather than throwing them away. Shop in secondhand stores.

Humans throw away about 1.3 billion tons of food a year. Reduce food waste at home by making soup with fading vegetables in your refrigerator.

We all must get on board in order to make significant change.

Suzie Agrillo is a freelance writer and frequent contributor to Natural Awakenings Magazine. She focuses on writing about the arts, inspirational people and the human connection, and she enjoys reading all things true crime. Connect at [email protected].

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