A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.
How we got to here...
How did the two founders of Living Zenith, both overseas humanitarian activists, begin building net zero smart homes in Salt Lake City, Utah?
GETTING SERIOUS AT
REDFISH LAKE, ID
Our story starts in 1999 in Nepal.
After an 18-hour trek, Tiffany Ivins arrived to a rural Himalayan village carrying a box with a solar panel, a car battery, some wires and a switch. She came to join in a solar installation atop a rural Nepali community center.
In remote villages without electricity, poor women can’t study until chores are done. Kerosene lamps are the norm, but fumes make night classes toxic. Solar power would allow women to go to literacy classes at night.
For these women, literacy means the ability to have a voice, make decisions and problem-solve. Tiffany explored Himalayan literacy in her Masters/Doctoral research at Oxford & BYU.
“Sunlight is free energy. If tapped, it empowers these women with self-reliance. Literacy illuminates lives in the exact same way.”
Mitchell Spence was lured by Nepal’s rugged terrain around the same time. A humanitarian volunteer with 25 years of design and construction experience, Mitchell was researching appropriate construction strategies and methods for building schools and community centers in remote Himalayan villages.
Mitchell was impressed how villagers creatively leap-frogged to 21st c. tech with GPS tools and recycled satellite dishes to build line-of-sight internet-relays over mountain peaks.
With the solar and construction help that Mitchell gave, ancient “falchas” became community education centers for online learning. Remote villagers were now able to do e-commerce, tele-medicine, agricultural and e-trainings.
“I learned from locals how to integrate cutting-edge technologies with ancient practices that work best in their communities.”
Prayer wheels and prayer rolls brought Tiffany and Mitchell together in their humanitarian work. A Nepalese wedding with traditional Nepali dress and honoraria soon followed—plus a stateside wedding too.
Powering education in Nepal through energy-generating buildings.
For their honeymoon, Tiffany and Mitchell were back in Nepal collaborating with the Hewlett Foundation, MIT, and the Center for Open Sustainable Learning.
Together, they began an initiative to bridge rural villagers with lifesaving educational content: Open Content for Development (“OC4D”).
“Locals know what locals need.”
OC4D still provides digitized and localizable educational materials and on-site trainings to bolster self-reliance for vulnerable lower-literates.
Tiffany and Mitchell supported ed-tech programs in 10 Youth-Managed Resource Centers through their nonprofit organization Community Development Network. Solar energy, internet relay, localized softwares, and appropriate technologies now enable villagers to access content related to health, human rights, democracy, peace-building, micro-enterprise and self-reliance. “The best part about it is that locals lead the whole thing.” Tiffany smiles.
Living Zenith is born.
AND UTAH’S FIRST NET ZERO COMMUNITY
The next 10 years found Mitchell and Tiffany often abroad doing humanitarian work. When stateside, Tiffany raised awareness and funds while Mitchell built custom homes through their company Redfish. But, it wasn’t until after a humanitarian trip to Southeast Asia in January 2016 when they had their “zenith” moment.
“We had 4 kids in 4 years,” Tiffany shares. “We threw our kids in backpacks and kept going to Nepal every 6 months. Mitchell focused on the building side of our lives and I focused on the non-profit side.” This was all good but something was missing.
“In early 2016 we had an epiphany to sync our energies more and align our efforts on all fronts.”
“We connected the dots of America’s building demands and villager livelihoods. We knew we must push for green building.”
Mitchell reflected: “In January 2016 we traveled up the Mekong in SE Asia. We were sobered by the pollution of that waterway—the lifeblood for 300+ million lives. Tiffany and I had been to the Tibetan Plateau and seen the crystal clear headwaters of the Mekong and we couldn’t believe how different that same river looked once it got to Vietnam. We traveled with hydrologists who told us the impact of chemical pollutants dumped upstream in China and the ripple effect downstream. We connected the dots of America’s building demands and their livelihoods. We knew we must push for green building.”
Net zero homes cost 30% more to build than the status quo. Regardless of reduced profits, Mitchell and Tiffany committed to build exclusively green homes using renewable energy. They are committed to build a better world—not only for those along the Wasatch Front—but in a small way for their friends across the globe. Tiffany continues: “We started learning from engineers and experts—in Berkeley, Portland, London, Oslo. Together, we designed a net zero community with 5 homes near Liberty Park. It was unanimously approved by the Planning Commission in June 2016. It’s now becoming a reality and that’s exciting.”
With each green step you take, you help solve our planet’s problems… By making your home more energy-efficient, you stop global warming and create a more secure energy future. You restore the Earth. You save lives.
What will our future look like?
Will you join us and make it a better one?
Living Zenith at Liberty Park is the culmination of this story. But it’s also just the beginning. It is the zenith of years of work, research, construction, and experimentation with energy at home and abroad. Living Zenith means living in harmony with our values. Our philosophy and our lifestyle can now be congruent.
“Even though we’re a small developer, we know it’s going to take broad buy-in from builders everywhere if we want to have real impact going green,” Mitchell says. “Our hats are off to others in SLC who advance better building. We stand on their shoulders. We’d love to collaborate in raising the bar on SLC building.”