Dontje Leads a Green Lifestyle

Posted on November 6th, 2009 by

Jim Dontje 2009 by Kelly K Nelson '10

Jim Dontje (Photo by Kelly K. Nelson)

Written by Kelly K. Nelson 10

You may see him riding his bike to work, or perhaps you recognize him from a recent committee meeting where he spoke on behalf of environmental awareness, or maybe you simply know him from the neighborhood because of the solar panels on the roof of his home. Whatever your encounter with Jim Dontje has been, no doubt it has left you inspired by his dedication to living out his commitment to environmental sustainability.

Director of the Johnson Center for Environmental Innovation, Jim Dontje joined the Gustavus community in 2007. He interprets his role in three parts: to work on leading campus environmental initiatives, to lead the drive to greater campus sustainability, and to try to make connections with the community locally, regionally, and nationally.

Dontje looks for ways to involve students as much as possible in his initiatives and projects. His work with various campus activities has fostered what he describes as “teaching in the bigger sense.” He says there is an educational value to his day-to-day interactions, and some of the most effective parts of his day are conversations, both the formal and even the informal, that may occur on the sidewalk in passing.

Dontje works in partnership with people throughout campus; he is a member of the environmental studies faculty, adviser to the Gustavus Greens, adviser for the Big Hill Farm, a member of the dining service advisory Kitchen Cabinet, and a member of the New Academic Building Committee. If someone in the community is looking for input on environmental sustainability, Dontje is often the first to come to mind. He also serves the larger community as a member of Region 9 Renewable Committee and a board member of the Minnesota Renewable Energy Society.

Dontje’s projects at Gustavus have ranged from working to bring wind turbines to campus to helping the Education Department create a curriculum about water-related issues that Gustavus students taught to 6th graders during the 45th annual Nobel Conference. Dontje asserts that his involvement is not so much him spreading his philosophies as it is Gustavus being a community that wants to act. He describes it as “enabling rather than convincing people.”

Of course, a most admirable quality about Dontje is his ability to merge his professional and personal lives, or “walking the talk,” as he calls it. His personal lifestyle aligns with the efforts he brings to campus. A clear example is his habit of commuting by bicycle every day, be it August or February.

Senior english and environmental Studies major Haven Davis has personally been inspired by Dontje’s persistence and dedication to environmental issues. She is a student in Dontje’s environmental studies senior seminar as well as a member of the Gustavus Greens. “In everything he does—every conversation and interaction—you can tell that environmental awareness is a way of life for him, not just his job. It’s a way of thinking, a lens through which he sees the world,” Davis says.

He even works to make his own household more energy-efficient, getting his kids to turn off lights, asking them to walk or bike to school, running one of their family cars on vegetable oil, and using solar thermal energy.

“I make my life count by living it,” Dontje explains.


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