Sadhu Johnston

Chicago is the third-biggest city in the States. Why quit as environment czar there to come to Vancouver?
In Vancouver everyone asks me why I want to move here. In Chicago everyone says, “You’re. so lucky. What an incredible opportunity. What a beautiful city.” Vancouver has done so much, building a green, livable, sustainable city, yet it hasn’t gotten the credit it deserves. So there’s an opportunity there. But I also feel like the city is poised to really push this agenda. I want to be part of that.

There’s been criticism that Chicago talks a good green game but hasn’t necessarily made a lot of progress with basic things like recycling. What we’ve done for recycling in Chicago is to fundamentally change it. We rolled out a new program, the largest in the country, with an innovative recycle-bank approach, where people are actually given financial incentives to recycle; we set up GPS technology, to track how much people are recycling.

What’s your own background?
I was born in England. My parents were interested in alternative spirituality and I was taken to India when I was one, to live in spiritual communities outside Mumbai. I lived there for almost eight years, then Germany for a year, England for a year, then came to the States. My parents split up when I was pretty young, and I’d visit my dad in Vancouver. My wife and I got married at Hollyhock on Cortes.

You and your wife have the same middle name. How come?
My mother’s side of the family is Jewish from South Africa. Her mother escaped Nazi Germany. The rest of her family was killed in the concentration camps, so her mother’s last name, Aufochs, disappeared when she died. So we adopted it.

People don’t think of Chicago as having a big eco-conscious community. Did you feel out of place?
No, but keeping worms in the basement to eat our organic waste, we certainly weren’t the norm.

Do you expect you’ll find more like-minded people here?
Somebody from Vancouver was telling me about his neighbourhood. I asked how far it was from his work and he said, “A 20-minute bike ride.” I thought it was neat that what rolled off the tongue was how long it took to bike, not drive. My impression is that many of the things that we do in our daily lives, like compost or re-use Ziploc bags, will seem a little more normal in Vancouver and Canada generally.