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9 Sustainability Stars Making Waves in Arizona

From architecture to agriculture to wildlife preservation, these Valley residents are proving that caring for the environment can be a part of our everyday lives.

David Hovey Jr.

President, chief operating officer and principal architect, Optima
David Hovey Jr.’s passion for sustainability runs in the family. “My parents started doing green roofs back in the 1980s,” the architect says, referring to Eileen and David Hovey Sr., who founded Optima in 1978. Hovey, who joined the firm right after earning his masters degree in architecture, says sustainability is a driving force at Optima. “It’s a design approach that keeps the people and the environment at the forefront,” he says. The company’s latest project, Scottsdale’s Optima McDowell Mountain Village, will be the first residential development in the Southwest to be built under the International Green Construction and International Energy Conservation codes, and will have the nation’s largest private rainwater harvesting system. And, in keeping with the firm’s mission, it will make heavy use of biophilic design. “Biophilic is a trendy term right now, but it’s simply about connection to nature,” Hovey says. “So, green roofs, floor-to-ceiling glass, terraces, our signature vertical landscaping—those are all biophilic design.”

A modular prefabricated—meaning manufactured in an off-site factory—home by architects David Hovey Jr., AIA, and David Hovey Sr., FAIA, rests lightly on the land. With limited onsite construction, it was possible to maintain more than 90% of the boulders and vegetation. The system used to build this dwelling is sustainable up to the LEED Platinum level and can be built quickly and efficiently in any location, climate or terrain.

Marlene Imirzian

Principal, Marlene Imirzian & Associates Architects
Even at the height of summer, a well-designed Phoenix-area home can go for hours without the air conditioning being turned on. “Every house has the potential for efficient operation,” says architect Marlene Imirzian. She should know, given her firm’s record of designing houses as well as commercial and institutional buildings that are models of sustainability. They’re also strikingly attractive and artfully attuned to their desert landscapes. Sustainability has long been a priority for Imirzian. “It’s always been an important aspect of good work,” she says. She’d like to dispel the myth that it takes money to build an eco-friendly house. In fact, her firm won a 2018 contest sponsored by the city of Phoenix and the American Institute of Architects to create a nearly net-zero energy, affordable single-family home. “In the Valley, we have the most potential for independent, off-the-grid housing,” she says. “What we can do here has hardly been touched.”

A series of permeable yet protected exterior pods creates spaces for students and faculty to plug in and collaborate at Paradise Valley Community College, designed by architect Marlene Imirzian. The massive roof provides ample shade while collecting rainwater for use in irrigation.
Imirzian won a competition devised by the City of Phoenix and the American Institute of Architects’ Arizona chapter to design an affordable home with a near-net-zero footprint. The construction plans for the project, called HOMEnz, can be downloaded for free at phoenix.‌gov to encourage the public to build more sustainable abodes.

Justin Rohner

Cofounder, Queen Creek Botanical Gardens, and founder, Agriscaping
When you grab a bundle of asparagus at your local supermarket, you figure you’re getting fresh produce. Justin Rohner would like you to know that those veggies likely traveled more than 1,500 miles to get to that grocery store shelf. “That doesn’t sound fresh,” he says. Rohner’s passion is helping people get a bit closer to their food by growing it themselves. “Any yard has plants,” he points out, “so why not have them be productive?” Something as simple as planting a rosemary bush or a citrus tree can enhance our connection to nature, he says. His company, Agriscaping, holds webinars for people who want to know more about growing their own food and provides help, through a onetime consultation with a personal coach who will work with you over the course of a year to build an edible yard. “You can have your beautiful garden and eat it too,” Rohner says.

The FAB5 program via Agriscaping gives families their own dedicated certified educator to coach kids through the gardening process.

Karen Bradshaw

Professor of Environmental Law, Arizona State University, and author of “Wildlife as Property Owners: A New Conception of Animal Rights”
Karen Bradshaw’s one-acre Tempe yard is, by design, a haven for wildlife. “I have javelina, road runners, snakes, coyotes and bobcats,” she says. “We think of wildlife as something at the national parks, but here we are in the city, and it’s everywhere.” Most people are on board with the concept of protecting the environment and preserving natural habitat, Bradshaw says, but environmental law doesn’t have a lot to say about the subject. Her book, “Wildlife as Property Owners,” proposes that animals should have the same rights to property that humans have. It’s not as radical an idea as it might at first seem, she says. “Expanding who can own property is something we’ve done many times in the past.” Until it happens, she encourages people to “re-wild” their yards. Plant flowers that attract pollinators, she suggests. Hang a feeder to welcome birds. “We exist as one species among thousands on any given acre of land,” she says. “We’re already sharing the land, and we always will.”

Karen Bradshaw says it’s actually remarkably easy for anyone with a yard to create a wildlife habitat that’s certified by the National Wildlife Federation. “It’s a well-run program with great ideas, such as putting in water features,” she says. And since it’s self-certification, it’s a simple process. Download the checklist for certification at

Green Warriors

Meet Radically Reimagining’s Sustainability Leadership Award winners of 2023. Founded by Bradshaw and funded by the Desert Institute for the Humanities at ASU, the initiative honors champions of environmental and sustainability efforts in Arizona.

Hasrah Thomas, director of Realm 4 at ASU, is developing Dreamscape Learn, a fully immersive, interactive virtual reality platform teaching students concepts such as ecology, sustainability and biodiversity preservation. (dreamscapelearn.‌asu.‌edu)

• White Tank Mountains Conservancy facilitates bipartisan solutions among conservationists, developers and cities to help preserve the natural beauty and wildlife of White Tank Mountain Regional Park and Skyline Regional Park. (wtmconservancy.‌org)

Through her catering business, Dii IINÀ Food Start to Finish, Danielle Goldtooth, educates Arizonans about sustainable food systems and traditional Diné (Navajo) farming practices by creating culinary experiences featuring traditional and local foods.(Instagram: @danielle.goldtooth)

Philanthropist Richard Morris creates innovative approaches to Arizona water sustainability issues using collaborative approaches informed by his life experiences as a former Navy fighter pilot, lawyer, business and Episcopalian priest. (morrisoninstitute.‌

• Elvy Barton, forest health management principal for Salt River Project, is creating forward-thinking land management solutions for the preservation and restoration of Arizona woodlands; watershed protection; and wildfire prevention. (


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