Interview with Craig Johnson Part II: Sustainability at James J. Hill House and in Craig's Life

This interview was conducted by Yixuan Cai, our Summer 2015 Sustainability intern. Yixuan co-wrote this post with Shengyin Xu. It was edited by Samuel Courtier.

Drawing room of the James. J Hill House

Craig Johnson: "Yes, it's true that it is a place of conspicuous consumption---they had way too much and no one needs all that---, yet many of the choices they made were much more sustainable than the ones we make today.”

Craig Johnson discusses Sustainability at James J. Hill House and in his personal life.

At first glance, it may appear that James J. Hill House has little to teach us about Sustainability. Indeed, as the Gilded Age mansion of the 'Empire Builder,' Hill House seems to embody extravagance and---borrowing terminology from Craig---'conspicuous consumption.' However, during our interview, Craig shed light on the variety of opportunities he's found for incorporating Sustainability into the Hill House's story and day-to-day operations.


Workplace Well-being - Indoor Environmental Quality

As mentioned in the previous blog post, corporate and institutional sustainability reports should cover all three pillars of sustainability. Social sustainability can be seen as the hardest topic to address, but is essential to creating an engaged work community. One area an institution can be socially sustainable is maintaining a healthy work environment for its staff members.


My Energy Story: Measuring and Reducing Home Energy Usage

LED lights with our dining room hutchAs I mentioned in a previous blog post, my partner and I are relatively new homeowners; we’ve lived in our 1914 story-and-a-half South Minneapolis bungalow for about a year and a half.  Given that we’ve both worked in the energy efficiency field, we’re pretty cognizant of our energy usage, and try our best to walk the talk when it comes to conservation.  But, as the Minnesota Historical Society knows well, older buildings pose a number of challenges for achieving efficiency, as well as a number of opportunities. We love the original woodwork in our house, the built-in dining room buffet, and the colonnade archway that separates the living room from the dining room.  The house tells a story of the growth and development of South Minneapolis in the early 20th century, of the old-growth lumber that was used in the construction (that would be quite expensive and hard to find today), and the high quality, solidly built homes that characterized the aesthetic of that era.  


Minnesota History Center: Most Improved State Building on the Capitol Complex!

Water bottle filling station on the 4th floor

In the few weeks I’ve been working in the MN History Center building so far, I’ve noticed some of the visible things that are helping to reduce resource use and encourage sustainable behavior- like the water bottle filling stations that make it easy to bring your own reusable bottle rather than a disposable plastic bottle and the junk mail reduction campaign posters. I was interested in hearing more about some of the behind-the-scenes (or in-the-mechanical-room) actions that are resulting in such impressive savings throughout the MHS. Last week I talked with Karen Nichols, Facilities Manager here at the MN History Center and Green Team member, to learn about initiatives in the building to save energy, water and waste.

Shortly after I sat down, Karen proudly shared with me that the MN History Center has seen the biggest savings of any building in the State Capitol Complex. Part of the impetus for making these building improvements was based on an Executive Order from the Governor, to reduce energy consumption by 20 percent in state facilities. The energy consumption for all buildings in the Capitol complex is tracked through the State of Minnesota Plant Management Division at the Department of Administration. Based on those numbers, the Minnesota History Center has seen a nearly 60% savings in energy usage over the past 6 years, significantly more than other state facilities and above and beyond the goal of the Executive Order (1). This is especially significant given that in 2005 the History Center was the Capitol Complex building with the highest total energy use.