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.


Interview with Craig Johnson Part I: MNHS Green Team Flashback

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.

Craig Johnson at James J. Hill House

Craig Johnson: “Through the lens of Sustainability, we can take a close look at how people did things in the past and contrast them with how they do things today. All of the MNHS programs might have greater relevance when evaluated in light of the big Sustainability issues of our day—climate change being foremost.”

Craig Johnson gives us a history of the Green Team at MNHS and tells the story of Sustainability’s evolution from brown bag topic to strategic priority.

Sustainability is a strategic priority at MNHS thanks to the collaboration of a few passionate individuals who assembled to form the MNHS Green Team in 2008. Craig Johnson, a founding member, played an instrumental role in the transformation of the Green Team's early successes, like the "Green Team Tips" e-mail campaign, into institution-wide commitment to sustainable practice.

Craig began his career at MNHS in 1977 as an interpreter at Fort Snelling. From 1984 on, he held various positions at James J. Hill House, becoming site manager in 1994. In 2015, Craig decided to leave MNHS to focus on another of his passions, theater. Before moving on, Craig was kind enough to sit down with Yixuan Cai, our Summer 2015 Sustainability Intern, for an interview at James J. Hill House. Craig gave us a retrospective on the origins of the Green Team and the evolution of the Sustainability initiative at MNHS.


NEH Funds Energy Efficient Cold Storage Project at the History Center

MNHS is proud to have received our second NEH grant for energy efficient cold storage (press release)!  This NEH Sustaining Cultural Heritage Implementation Grant will allow us to implement the recommendations from our interdisciplinary study on energy efficient cold storage.  In 2012, NEH awarded a Sustaining Cultural Heritage Planning grant to the Minnesota Historical Society (MNHS) to conduct an interdisciplinary study that balanced issues of long-term preservation for film materials.  These issues included preservation metrics, potential energy use, cost for maintenance, as well as investment cost for any recommended system or building upgrades.  At the conclusion of the study in 2014, the interdisciplinary team reduced the broader set of options into a cohesive set of recommendations that include building improvements and specific upgrades of equipment.  When implemented, these recommendations would produce a colder and drier environment that helps preserve film materials longer while concurrently reducing the energy required to sustain that environment.  


American Alliance of Museums 2015 Annual Meeting Green Recap

Did you go to AAM Atlanta 2015 this year?  This year’s AAM Annual Meeting theme, “The Social Value of Museums: Inspiring Change,” had an inspirational message about the role of museums in inclusivity and social engagement.  Sustainability has a role in this as well since it is often defined as a holistic approach to social, environmental, and economic issues.   This was well demonstrated with several sessions and events at this year’s AAM event.  Here is a quick recap and report out of the green events and sessions!  


Sustainability Feature in Latest Issue of Museum

The latest July / August 2014 issue of Museum features the white paper on sustainability standards developed by AAM's PIC-Green (American Alliance of Museum's Professional Network on Green Museums).  The feature is an excerpt from the full white paper that describes the challenges of museum sustainbility and the current state of standards in the wider sustainability field.  

Minnesota Historical Society's sustainability program is one of the case studies referenced in the white paper for our approach that is "rooted in science and data."


Earth Week Event

The first Earth Day was held on April 22, 1970 since then over 192 countries and 1 billion people participate in the worldwide event. Earth Day is tomorrow, Tuesday, April 21st, but since the growth of the Earth Day network environmental programs throughout the country take place throughout the entire week.


The Revival of Streetcar Systems and Principles

Although transportation systems, such as roads, rails, and sidewalks can go unnoticed they oftentimes shape our cities in layout, growth, and development. Some examples of how transit systems have shaped a city are Chicago and the “L”, New York City and the subway, Copenhagen’s bike friendly streets, and London and the Tube. A city can prosper from a functional, well-planned transit system. Transit systems allow for access to goods, jobs, and other amenities necessary for living. 


Highlights from APT New York 2013

This year’s Association for Preservation Technology International Conference was in Times Square, New York.   While it was my first time at an APT Conference, I was still very impressed with the level of discussion starting with a great keynote on local conservation issues to a great panel on education and sustainability in heritage preservation on the last day.  I also had the pleasure of presenting on a panel on American and European perspectives on energy efficiency and historic preservation.  The following post includes some highlights from my panel as well as other sessions. 


AAM Annual Meeting Sustainability Wrap-Up

What a great time at the 2013 AAM Annual Meeting last week in Baltimore!   Among the many highlights of the conference was the new app that organized all program and session information alongside social media and notifications.  This was the first year for the app, so there were still print programs, but there will be some great paper savings next year.  At a larger scale, though, sustainability was featured all throughout the conference.  As a new co-chair on Professional Interest Committee on Green, I met many leaders in sustainability that are doing great conservation work in their own businesses or in museums.   Also, the Summit on Sustainability Standards in Museums produced a great discussion on the challenges and benefits of standardization.  

PIC-Green's MuseumExpo booth.

PIC-Green's MuseumExpo booth at the AAM 2013 Annual Meeting.  Pictured are our very own Matt Hill, and Luke Leyh from the US Holocaust Memorial Museum (photo credit: PIC-Green).


Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change - EDITED

We were given the opportunity to speak at the 2012 Behavior, Energy, and Climate Change conference, this week in Sacramento, California. The conference is extremely timely, as recent cases of extreme weather that are now being attributed by many mainstream media sources as possible proof of climate change, such as in Bloomberg Businessweek’s cover article – “It’s Global Warming, Stupid.”

Perhaps it was the nice weather in Sacramento, an ideal sunny 60s during the day, but the atmosphere at the conference was much less gloomy than the article, but no less important in the message. Over 700 professionals, scientists from many fields, and even utility companies gathered at the event to discuss new research and practices on energy-savings strategies that involve behavioral change. As our More for the Mission campaign develops, this conference was a great opportunity to hear other case studies, and research on how best to enact lasting change towards energy reductions. In particular, even the panel that we presented and spoke on focused on so many different approaches and scales of energy-efficiency, it was hard not to think of the potential for our organization and the More for the Mission project.