John Schaeffer

Founder, Board President

Solar Living Institute founder and board member John Schaeffer

John has been exploring renewable energy and sustainable living since graduating from UC Berkeley in 1971. Over the last 40 years, he founded and grew Real Goods Trading Company as its President from a garage start-up to the foremost global source for tools and information on renewable energy and sustainable living. In 1995 he created the Solar Living Center in Hopland, California, a 12-acre educational demonstration site. He founded and remains Board Chair of the educational non-profit Solar Living Institute dedicated to promoting renewable energy through inspirational environmental education.

John has received numerous awards including Small Business Person of the year, Most Environmental Catalog from the Direct Marketing Association (three times), and has been twice nominated for Entrepreneur of the Year. John lives with his wife Nantzy remotely in Mendocino County, California in a natural home built mostly from recycled materials in the middle of a permaculture off-grid oasis powered by solar and hydro-electric energy, where John and Nantzy also raise grapes, olives, fruit trees, and an abundant vegetable garden organically and biodynamically.

Nantzy Hensley

Solar Living Institute board member Nantzy Hensley

Nantzy has been strong supporter of solar energy from an early age and has lived off the grid for over 40 years. She hauled water and chopped wood in order to homestead where she could plant an orchard, grow food, and raise her son close to nature in Mendocino County. Joining Real Goods in 1989 as the Retail Store Manager was a perfect opportunity for her to share her knowledge of and love for sustainable, independent living. In 1991, as the first dean, Nantzy helped birth and direct the Institute for Independent Living which would later become the Solar Living Institute.

Nantzy’s career at Real Goods has focused on managing the Hopland store and as Buyer for the catalog and the retail division. Her other responsibilities have included Retail Marketing Manager, Special Events Coordinator, Retail Division Director, and Solar Living Institute volunteer.

When not at Real Goods, Nantzy enjoys gardening and tending her orchard and chickens. She has a special love of wild rivers and oak woodlands and makes an annual backpacking trek to the lost world of the Eel River. She and her husband John have a biodynamic, solar and hydro powered farm where they grow olives, lavender, and grapes.

Tom Cotter

Solar Living Institute board member Tom Cotter

Tom Cotter holds a deep desire to re-think, to re-design, and build a positive future. Tom is the organizer and curator of the Fresno Solar Tour, co-founder of Green Central Valley and Founder of Fresno Green Drinks. He also serves on the board of directors at the International Green Industry Hall of Fame and Restore Hetch Hetchy. His roles as father, consultant, clergy, manager, public speaker, community organizer, and professor have provided a unique perspective on the challenges we face and the changes required to overcome them. He sees the end of the era of cheap fossil fuels and key materials, coupled with rising population and anxieties around water resources, food production and harmful wastes, as clearly demonstrating the need to rethink our model of production and consumption, not merely attempting to patch it up. He shares an optimism that this rethinking will bring a better quality of life and increased opportunities as it can potentially restore natural and social capital.

Tom frequently speaks to groups about solar, creation care, circular economy, electric cars, postmodern culture, and social media for good.

Brian Varkevisser

Solar Living Institute board member Brian Varkevisser

Brian Varkevisser was raised along the planes of Northern Colorado, home of the black-tailed prairie dog and the greater prairie chicken. He began his environmental journey with CoPIRG organizing against Coors, in support of the Clean Water Act. Upon graduating with degrees in Chemistry and Neurobiology, he hitchhiked through Mexico – running out of money in Chiapas where he spent time with biologists studying medicinal herbs in the jungles along the Mexico-Guatemala border.

He spent the following decade back in the U.S. working to organize local environmental groups such as the Northcoast Environmental Center and Californians for Alternatives to Toxins, and was briefly a member of the board for the Mendocino Environmental Center.

Brian currently teaches the importance in recognizing dangers of climate change to unsuspecting chemistry students at Mendocino College, and has been living off the grid for the past decade. His current projects at SLI include: Riparian Restoration of Feliz Creek – bordering the SLC and creating a Summer Science Institute here at the site.

Joel Kaufmann

Solar Living Institute board member Joel Kaufmann

Joel is a proven business executive with a track record of success across sales, marketing, and business development. He is currently leading the Marketing Department at Ecology Action. Ecology Action, a California-based non-profit, is a leading provider of innovative marketing and engagement programs that overcome barriers to reducing energy use and achieving environmental sustainability. Joel co-founded Independent Energy Systems – one of the top solar companies in California – which is now part of RGS Energy.

During his 9 years in the solar industry, he had a hand in almost every aspect of solar, from his work as a NABCEP-certified installer to his extensive experience in sales, business development and marketing. He has a broad background in energy efficiency for residential clients including solar thermal, passive solar, and green building. He served on the Leadership Committee of the U.S. Green Building Council for the Monterey, California branch and continues to educate his community about the need to be more efficient with our resources. Joel is passionate about helping his country reduce its fossil fuel-based energy use and helping people reduce their personal energy consumption. And yes, he has solar on his house.