The building is informed by its bioregion, generates its own energy with renewable resources, captures and treats its own water and is constructed of locally and responsibly sourced non-toxic materials.
New programs like the Living Building Tour Program, Youth Climate Summit, Engineering and Design School Field Trips and Environmental Justice Series have resulted in the center’s ability to work with more diverse audiences from more than 80 towns and communities in Massachusetts, 30 states nationwide and 30 countries from throughout the world annually.
But what has been Johnson’s greatest joy during her tenure at the center has been working with dedicated, passionate and highly skilled staff.
Now she is planning to step down from her role on June 30, after nearly 20 years of leadership.
Since 2001, she has been focused on building greater capacity to fulfill the center’s mission, resulting in an historic period of growth and transition; she is the longest serving director in the organization’s 59-year history.
Since opening the doors to the new Living Building, the Hitchcock Center has experienced a 40 percent growth in the number of people mentored, taught and supported there and a 325 percent growth in the number of visitors who come to the center as a destination for new ways of learning and teaching about sustainability.
The Hitchcock Center educates and inspires action for a healthy planet through nature-based programs, serving an average of 10,000 program participants annually throughout western Massachusetts and beyond with PreK-12 school programs, children, youth and family programs, adult education and professional development programs for teachers.
“We are facing one of the most if not the most existential threat to human survivability – climate change. It is no longer acceptable to conduct business as usual,” Johnson said. “We must find creative and innovative ways not only to teach sustainability, we must demonstrate it — show that is it possible. And we must not just learn about sustainability, we must act on our knowledge to develop and implement solutions to achieve sustainability. This requires new programming that focuses on environmental leadership and civic engagement. This is our priority.”
With 35 years’ experience in social policy, community development and nonprofit management, Johnson has worked to strengthen the impact and reach of the Hitchcock Center for the Environment’s mission to educate and to inspire action for a healthy planet. She has kept the Hitchcock Center at the forefront of leadership in environmental education through careful strategic planning, sound financial stewardship and collaborative partnership development.
One of her crowning achievements in the 20 years she has led the Hitchcock Center is the construction of the 23rd Certified Living Building in the world — third in Massachusetts — through a $6.9 million Building for the Future capital campaign. Her leadership in creating this new sustainable environmental learning center that serves as an innovative teaching tool for generations to come garnered her the 2017 Green Giants Award from the Western Massachusetts U.S. Green Building Council.
She said leading transformational change to enhance organizational performance is her greatest strength, and she is committed to driving innovation and ambitious goals, using the power of education to create an environmentally sustainable and just future.
Also among her achievements has been securing the center’s new home on the Hampshire College campus with a 95-year ground lease, making it the newest member of the college’s Cultural Village that includes the Eric Carle Children’s Book Museum and the Yiddish Book Center.
“We cannot thank Julie enough for the dedication, passion, enthusiasm and motivation she has given the Hitchcock Center over these past years. She will be greatly missed by the staff, board, members and partners alike,” said Hitchcock Center Board President Clay Ballantine, noting that the center will continue to endeavor to meet the growing demand for environmental literacy.
Prior to joining the Hitchcock Center, Johnson was the executive director of the Guild Studio School in Northampton and served in a number of leadership positions for the City of Santa Monica, California, where she managed a $7 million grant program that provided funding support to more than 50 nonprofit social service organizations.
She plans to leave the Hitchcock Center to do independent consulting for forward-thinking nonprofits that are seeking transformational change and impact.
The center’s board of directors has assembled an executive search committee chaired by the board vice president, Tom Davies.