Johnson Center for
Environmental Innovation

Mission and Goals

The Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation supports environmental sustainability on the Gustavus Adolphus campus and in the surrounding communities while equipping students to continue that work in their lives beyond Gustavus. To accomplish this mission, the Johnson Center works as a catalyst for environmental innovation on and off campus with the broadest understanding of innovation: not only technical innovation, but also business, policy, and social innovation.

The Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation was established thanks to the generous support of Glen and Lavonne Johnson. Glen Johnson attended Gustavus for one year until financial difficulty halted his pursuit of formal education. He went on to a distinguished career as a newspaper editor, government official, and money market fund executive. In addition to a career in business and finance, LaVonne has been an ardent supporter of education and the arts. Both have been strong supporters of Gustavus over the years, with Glen having served on the Gustavus Board of Trustees. A restored wetland on Glen’s family farm has also been made available as a field laboratory for Gustavus students.


James Dontje has directed the Johnson Center since its establishment in August of 2007. In that role he has supports campus sustainability efforts and teaches in Gustavus’ Environmental Studies Program.

Although he grew up in northern Iowa, just 1.5 hours south of St. Peter, he came to Gustavus from Berea College in Kentucky where he served as the Compton Chair in Ecological Design. His graduate work, focused on water quality issues, was done in the Department of Biosystems and Agricultural Engineering at the University of Minnesota. He has also twice served three-year terms in international community development with the Mennonite Central Committee, first in Burkina Faso, West Africa, and then in Indonesia’s Papua province.

Activities and Accomplishments

  • Drafted campus energy study
  • Led energy conservation campaigns that contributed to a 15% reduction in electricity use over three years.
  • Under the auspices of the American College and University Presidents’ Climate Commitment (ACUPCC), conducted the first campus greenhouse gas emissions inventory and drafted an emissions reduction plan. The second greenhouse gas emission inventory is nearly complete, also.
  • Worked with student-initiated effort to develop the Big Hill Farm student garden.
  • Obtained partial funding for, and constructed, a demonstration solar thermal system on the Melva Lind Interpretive Center.
  • Johnson Center Director has taught six Environmental Studies classes—ENV 399 ES Senior Seminar 2008-2010; ENV 110 Intro to ES Spring 2008; ENV 225 Intro to Renewable Energy J-Term 2010 and 2011.
  • Consulted with numerous students on class sustainability projects.
  • Brought nationally known sustainability author, Paul Hawken, to campus in February 2010.
  • Supported curriculum development work on an NSF-funded grant project to incorporate renewable energy laboratory exercises across the science curriculum.
  • Supported the HHMI funded teacher outreach program connected to the 2010 Nobel Conference.
  • Serving on R9 Renewables, a regional economic development task force looking for economic development opportunities in renewable energy. That effort resulted in an internship for a Gustavus student.
  • Serving as a board member of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society. In that capacity, facilitated the work of a student team from an organizational behavior class on a problem solving exercise for the organization.
  • Through a private consulting effort, developed several solar thermal systems in the area that serve as field trip destinations for students.
  • Served on the core planning team for the New Academic Building.
  • Serves on the Nobel Hall of Sciences renovation planning committee.
  • Serves on the Kitchen Cabinet advisory board for Dining Services.


The Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation is located in the Melva Lind Interpretive Center. For directions, see