A Conversation With Suzy Amis Cameron, Environmental Activist

SuzyAmisCameron-Post.jpgYou may remember Suzy Amis Cameron from The Titanic -- she played the granddaughter of modern-day Rose -- or from her roles in Fandango and The Usual Suspects. These days, the former Hollywood actress is trying to make an even bigger name for herself, this time in the sustainability world.

Two years ago, Amis Cameron created a sustainable dress-design contest for the Oscars, inviting the winner to strut down the "green carpet" at the Global Green pre-Oscar Party. Amis Cameron herself wore the winning dress on the Red Carpet with her husband James Cameron, the directing giant responsible for the eco-conscious film Avatar. The contest raises money for another one of her projects: a set of green schools that helps children love and respect the environment. The school project, called MUSE, includes one campus for Burmese refugee children in Thailand and another for students in California, where Cameron lives. The campuses go to extremes to achieve the most toxic-free environments. They have their own gardens, and children eat locally grown food on china and silverware instead of disposable dishes. Organic cleaning products are also the rule -- Amis Cameron hired a resident falconer to take care of a rodent problem at the California campus, rather than using harmful chemicals.

Here, the Hollywood-turned-sustainability star discusses the importance of eating well, how trash can actually clean up the environment, and why sometimes it's the little things that count most.

What do you say when people ask you, "What do you do?"

It's kind of a loaded question, because while I don't act anymore I've taken on so many different roles. I'm a full-time mom; an environmental advocate; and the founder of MUSE School CA, MUSE Global, and the Red Carpet Green Dress competition ... and a very proud wife!

What new idea or innovation is having the most significant impact on how people think about sustainability?

I think it's beyond an idea or innovation -- there is not just one thing or organization, but an emerging awareness about the precarious place we're in with the destruction of the environment. Even five years ago, people were less aware of these issues, but the public is becoming more and more educated each day about the position we're in, the harm we're causing to the environment, and the changes we desperately need to make.

What's something that most people just don't understand about what you do?

For a long time, people around me didn't understand my commitment to environmentalism, healthy eating, and educational reform. Yet now, people around me are fully grasping and embracing these passions. Parents are learning that what we feed our children  -- and the products we use -- seriously impacts their health and how they learn. People thought I was over the top, but now they're getting it. At MUSE School CA, the school I founded with my sister Rebecca Amis in Malibu Canyon, we serve locally grown and organic food and are striving to be a a toxic-free, zero waste, zero net energy and zero net water campus. We are hugely proud of this achievement.

What's an emerging trend that you think will shake up the sustainability world?

There are so many things I could name -- one that really stands out for me right now are plasma waste converters which basically burn trash to create fuel, thus using our landfills to generate energy. This is huge in terms of cleaning up the environment and reusing our waste to generate energy. But you see little things all the time that add up to make a difference -- like the paper straws my children are using -- and realize the little things that can have a transformative effect. From stronger fuel efficiency to companies going paperless or schools putting in gardens, it's clear to me that there isn't one specific trend but many that are helping to create a more sustainable world.

What's a sustainability trend that you wish would go away?

Greenwashing. Enough with the false advertising.

What's an idea you became fascinated with but that ended up taking you off track?

There are two things. First, opening a school has opened my eyes to better educating our children to inspire innovation, leadership, and creativity. Also, becoming aware of how our clothes -- the things we wear and buy everyday without a second thought -- are produced, has busted my eyes wide open. Opening MUSE and starting a sustainable global dress competition, Red Carpet Green Dress, has allowed me to meet amazing people, read incredible books, and feel like I am on a new path that has the potential to make a big impact. I'm glad I was taken off track, so to speak.

Who are three people you'd put in the public sustainability Hall of Fame?

My husband, of course. A driven and effective environmental activist, he has done so much already and just keeps going -- he's lobbied in Washington and gotten activated around the Gulf Coast BP spill, and he is now greening the new Avatar set, which will be the greenest set around. And I assure you, he'll keep going. I must also add Lester Brown, who wrote Plan B 4.0, and Bill McDonna, who wrote Cradle to Cradle.

What other field or occupation did you consider going into?

When I was about 13 I started riding horses seriously, and I started flying airplanes at 15. I had this big dream to combine my passions and wanted to become a flying veterinarian -- someone who swooped in to take care of horses. For a long time, my academic focus and personal passion was on becoming a flying vet.

What's one website or app you wish more people knew about?

There are two, actually: www.MuseSchool.org and www.redcarpetgreendress.com.

What song's been stuck in your head lately?

The "Bob the Builder" theme song, which also inspired a recent speech I delivered to thank everyone at MUSE School CA.

Image: Brandon Hickman.