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.


New Kelley Farm Visitor Center will be a LEED Gold and B3 Sustainable Building

The Minnesota Historical Society will utilize USGBC’s LEED Green Building Design and Construction Certification system as a way to support the mission of the Oliver Kelley Farm:

“...interpret the history of family farms, Kelley Family, and MN’s agriculture past, present and future to nurture an understanding of where our food comes from and agriculture’s image on our world...”

LEED supports this by guiding an environmentally, economically, and socially sustainable infrastructure to deliver this outcome.  It is also responsible for significant market transformation in sustainable building, and is often recognized by general audiences as well as those in the construction industry.  In particular, the team is targeting Gold certification (of Certified, Silver, Gold, and Platinum levels).  


Energy-Efficient Cold Storage Recent Publications

Our NEH-funded Energy-Efficient Cold Storage study has been picking up a lot of attention at recent professional conferences!  We presented to mixed crowds at the American Alliance of Museums (AAM) and the American Institute for Conservation (AIC).  In the fall, we plan to publish an article in the International Association for Museum Facility Administrators (IAMFA) journal - Papyrus.  In the meantime, catch up on the materials we have already shared: 


New Book Features Minnesota Historical Society’s Sustainability Program

This spring (2015), the MNHS Sustainability program was featured in Environmental Sustainability at Historic Sites and Museums by Sarah Sutton.  Shengyin Xu and Matt Hill contributed to the mini-case study titled “Minnesota Historical Society, Dynamic Data and Real-Time Sustainability.”  The piece describes the Society’s use of data and metrics for both decision-making and communication and highlights the importance of sustainability for history organizations.  


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."


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. 


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 Reduces Energy by over 50%

The Minnesota History Center is noteworthy for many things, from great exhibits to exciting programs.  However, in 2005, it was also noteworthy as being the highest energy consumer on the State Capitol Complex.  Since then, major mechanical system and lighting upgrades have reduced the energy usage by over 50%. Today, the building no longer holds that record and is now using less energy than most office buildings in the region.  The graph below illustrates this change over time in KBTU/SF, combined energy use per square foot of the building.  


Minnesota History Center: Existing Building Commissioning

This guest blog post is by Angela Vreeland and Chris Plum from Center for Energy and Environment (CEE). Angela is a project engineer for the Public Buildings Enhanced Energy Efficiency Program (PBEEEP).  Chris is a Program Manager at CEE and is the Program Manager of the State Government Public Buildings Energy Efficiency Enhancement Program (State PBEEEP). CEE will be presenting on the Evolution of Energy in Minnesota at the More for the Mission event on December 11, 2012.  To find out more and register for the More for the Mission event, re-visit this blog post

Minnesota History Center

The Minnesota History Center is a relatively new building which is primarily used as a museum, with public areas, exhibition spaces, classrooms, storage spaces for valuable artifacts, a library and conservation laboratories. Several hundred thousand people visit the History Center every year, about half of them in school groups. The building was built to the Minnesota Building Code and its energy use of 160 kBtu/square foot (about $2 per square foot) was typical of many museums. It was nonetheless noteworthy in 2005 as the building on the capitol complex with the highest total energy use. Not only is that no longer true, but the building now uses the same amount of energy as an average building in the Capitol complex and less than many office buildings in the Upper Midwest.

What did the staff that manages the state’s buildings (the Division of Plant Management in the Department of Administration) do to achieve these impressive results?  Read more...