The oak trees of Kiwanis Park in Brookfield could be seen from the road, but did not warrant a second look. When Jeff Swano looked at them,he saw raw beauty that could be diluted by man if not protected. He discovered that the surrounding Salt Creek was suffering a similar fate. Run off from fertilizer and lawn chemicals were hurting the area’s ecosystem.
“Lawn chemicals are the biggest problem polluting rivers in the urbansetting,” said Swano. “Once you start, the soil becomes sterilized, then you have to keep applying chemicals because there is no natural supply of nutrients.”
This experience triggered Swano to develop a three-pronged approach for sustainability: Inform, preserve and supply. It also inspired him tobecome an entrepreneur.
He co-founded the Salt Creek Watershed Network in 1998, a 150 squaremile swatch of the Salt Creek, to promote the improvement of water quality, recreation, and the use of management practices and ecosystem enhancement. To preserve the oak trees of Kiwanis Park, Jeff partnered with the Brookfield Conservation Commission to create the Oak Savanna, asanctuary for the ecosystem.
Swano learned the negative effects of not taking care of the environment early in his career. After graduating from the University ofIowa with a Degree in Environmental Economics, he worked with international firms and governments to facilitate hazardous waste remediation.
To help curb the issue of water runoff and chemical fertilizer, Swano founded Dig Right In Landscaping in 1998.“We are focusing on green infrastructure as a solution, not justpushing it off into the street and storm drains,” said Swano. “I learnedthat it is easier to keep the environment clean than to pollute it and then go back and try to clean it up.”
In his free time, you will find Jeff speaking to garden clubs, schools, libraries, and any forum that will allow him to share his knowledge of sustainable ecosystems in the hopes of spreading awareness. One of Swano’s new presentations – “Rain to Drain and Back Again: Our
Local Water Resource” – teaches children the importance of knowing wheretheir drinking water is from.Swano’s passion for sustainability and giving back to the community, combined with his success in growing Dig Right In Landscaping into an innovative, profitable company with over 20 employees, make him an idealcandidate for the 2014 James Tyree Emerging Business Leadership Award.
Jeff Swano and Dig Right In Landscaping is a finalist for the James Tyree Emerging Business Leadership Award. The award is given in honor ofthe late, James Tyree, who served as Chairman for the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce. Tyree was an advocate for the community, dedicating his time and talents to numerous organizations and causes in support ofhealthcare, education and children. The winner will be announced June 24 during the Chicagoland Chamber of Commerce Annual Meeting at Navy Pier.