John Johnson is the new(ish) director for Sustainable Kingston, as of June 2013. Active in the community for over 40 years, he has made some interesting changes to Sustainable Kingston, helping Kingston become the most sustainable city in Canada. He has a lot to say about sustainability, Kingston, and… windsurfing? Let’s hear from John!
Sam: How did you become the Executive Director of Sustainable Kingston?
John: Well, I actually started as a physiotherapist at Hotel Dieu!
While I was working as a physio, I started taking courses on planning in order to help my career. I became Director of Physiotherapy at the hospital, and then director of professional services. Eventually I moved to the planning office, and for the last nine years I was VP of planning and facilities. Hotel Dieu was going through some great changes at the time, going from an inpatient to an outpatient hospital. Almost every inch of the hospital was changed in some way. Because of my physiotherapy background, I took a special interest in making sure everything was accessible, and at the same time sustainable.
One of the larger projects we did was a 4.2 million dollar energy retrofit, which saved $365k per year in energy costs, significantly reducing our carbon footprint. The biggest part of the project involved changing the heating system from steam to hot water, though we also did the standard energy work such as changing lights.
Eventually, we finished most of the work at the hospital, so I decided to retire. I wasn’t quite ready to quit, however, so I hung up my shingle and started a business, Trailhead Initiatives. I did some work in accessibility and sustainability, including with the City of Kingston on their accessibility plan. Meanwhile, I saw a posting for a facilities manager position at the City, and I though why not give it a shot. I hadn’t interviewed for a job since 1983… but I got a one year position, which turned into 3.5 years. Eventually, I realized that the job needed to go to an engineer, so I retired again. At that time, the Executive Director job came up, I applied, and I got it!
How has the direction of Sustainable Kingston changed since you started?
When I started, the focus had been building a network of community partners. It wasn’t up to date, and there hadn’t been much follow through on the actions. We originally wanted to turn our community partners into revenue sources.
We’ve also changed some of our community outreach programs. We’ve taken on Earth Hour, for example. Citizens and local groups put it on in the past, but it had become too cumbersome. Since we have the staff, bricks and mortar available, it became ours. We’re still partnering with Tim Horton’s with Pitch in Kingston.
We’ve also changed the format and style of our yearly community forum. We traditionally held it between Earth hour and Pitch In, but it created planning problems so we moved it to October. It’s going to be more of an exhibition this year, and we’re going to try and combine all of the facets of sustainability. Sustainability can be an environmental buzzword, so we want to make sure we address the cultural, social and economic pillars. We also plan on making it free. The only thing we need is a good name, so if you have any ideas let me know!
I like some of the more intimate, local events you’ve been putting on, like the lunch and learn series and the green parking space. Are you going to keep doing those types of events?
We’ve had great feedback from the parking space. People were angry we were taking it down the next day! We’ll do something similar this year, either another green space or maybe fix up a spot to see how many bikes we can park into it. Our lunch and learn events have also been very popular. We are booked will into the fall. In fact, we’ve been running out of room, and have had to move furniture into the alley behind our building to fit everyone who shows up!
What do you like about living and working in Kingston?
I came to Kingston originally to go to Queens. After graduating, I left for a year and a half while my wife went to school in London. We both had the type of occupation where you could go anywhere, so we looked around and decided on Kingston. We felt it would be a great place to raise a family, and the past 43 years have proved us right! There are so many great things about this town. We have a great symphony, top notch golf courses for reasonable rates, and a fantastic waterfront. I was an avid windsurfer back in the day. I think I owned one of the first six windsurfing boards in the city. I still remember in ’76, after they had the world windsurfing championship in town. Hundreds of amateurs got boards and clogged up the bay for months.
Thank you for your time, John!
John is leading a weeklong sustainable bike tour of Cuba, May 10th to 17th. Contact John directly to get more information and book your ticket. Gotta say, looks pretty sweet!