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Seven Questions for…Jim Slama

Age: 46
Oak Park
Founding publisher and editor of Conscious Choice; President of Sustain

So how “green” is Chicago really?
Commissioner Sadhu Johnston of the Department of the Environment is a national leader in urban sustainability and works closely with the mayor to fulfill the city’s green goals. Most of the other commissioners are also actively engaged in this work, and Sadhu is helping to make this effort an integrated approach that focuses more on results than politics.

What do you think about Mayor Daley’s decision to ditch the blue bag program?
This is a good example of Sadhu’s impact. There has been a great deal of criticism of the blue bag program for a long time, and yet nothing changed. Once Sadhu became the point man on the issue, they took a hard look at the program and crafted a new approach that is winning praise from some of the blue bag’s harshest critics.

In 2000, you and Sustain’s creative director, John Beske, created a play in which you starred as a nine-foot-tall vegetable, Corn Man. How did you use art to make a stand?
When the FDA announced that they would hold its first-ever public hearing on genetically engineered foods, Sustain planned a counter event at the Federal Plaza in Chicago. This was soon after a Cornell study implicated genetically engineered corn with the death of Monarch butterflies. [We] developed a street theater performance featuring a nine-foot-tall mutant corn puppet with a skull and crossbones. At the right moment, the puppet spewed forth pollen, and eight children dressed like Monarchs symbolically died. The protest received international news coverage, and the next day, Corn Man’s picture was in over a hundred newspapers. Less than a year later, a highly toxic form of genetically engineered corn was quietly removed from the market.

Tell us more about FamilyFarmed.org, one of Sustain’s latest projects. How successful has that been?
We launched FamilyFarmed.org in 2005 as an EXPO to connect consumers and trade buyers with local and organic farmers and food processors. Whole Foods Market, the City of Chicago, and Goodness Greeness (the largest organic supplier in the Midwest) have been major partners in this effort, and it has turned into an amazing networking event and place for food producers to do business. (The EXPO returns to the Chicago Cultural Center on March 23 and 24.)

What should the No. 1 priority of the environmentalist movement be?
Modeling natural systems offers tremendous upside for creating truly sustainable industrial processes. For example, good organic food production creates biodiversity by providing habitat of native species. It also regenerates soil and eliminates the use of toxins to produce our food. The concept of bio-mimicry makes the point that natural systems can be the basis for many powerful, effective, and profitable projects.

Can you describe your lifestyle? What changes have you made in your everyday life to lead a more sustainable existence?
My home has been renovated using green techniques. For example, I have a solar hot water heater, and the doors in the house come from wood certified to be sustainably harvested. I purchase mostly organic food, much from local and organic farmers. I own a Prius that gets amazing mileage.

Can we put that to the test? Jim Slama, what’s your ecological footprint? http://www.myfootprint.org/
Twenty [4.4 planets]. Better than average-but room for improvement.


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