Montclair’s environmental affairs coordinator wants to build a more sustainable future
(COURTESY OF LISA JOHNSON)
She’s a 12-year Montclair resident and a veteran of the Montclair Center Business Improvement District’s executive board, including being its former president.
She’s also the owner of the Culture Couture boutique on Church Street, whose website says it sells ethically made merchandise for an “eco-friendly lifestyle with a spiritual edge.”
And she teaches as an adjunct professor in Montclair State University’s Department of Earth and Environmental Science, where she is also pursuing a Ph.D. in environmental science and management. She has a master’s in sustainability science from MSU.
She is Lisa Johnson, Montclair’s environmental affairs coordinator, and she has big plans to strengthen existing township programs.
Johnson also will be looking for new ways to move Montclair toward a more sustainable future.
“My long-term goal is to put Montclair on the map as one of the most environmentally conscious, sustainable municipalities in New Jersey,” she said. “It's something that is absolutely doable.”
Johnson, who began in the position in October, has deep ties to local business and environmental efforts and education. She was a member of BID’s executive board from 2010 to 2022 and served as president from 2019 to 2022.
The environmental affairs coordinator position “was a perfect fit for me,” she said, adding that her experience working with BID has been invaluable.
“I was already familiar with a lot of how the municipality works and a lot of the departments,” she said. “It was a great stepping stone for me again to move into this position.”
Johnson filled an opening left by the retirement of Gray Russell in June 2021. Russell served in the role under a different title – sustainability officer. He has been a great resource for Johnson as she has stepped into the role, she said.
“Anything I need, if I call him, he's right there for me,” she said.
When Johnson began her job in October, over a year after Russell retired, there was some catching up to do, she said. She was faced with more than 100 voicemails left with the township, with questions about recycling, composting and more.
She was also left to piece together environmental programs that had fallen by the wayside amid the personnel transition.
One of those programs was the Montclair Shred-Fest, an opportunity for residents to shred documents at no cost. The event hasn’t happened since 2019, but Johnson is planning for its return on April 29.
She is also revamping the township’s subsidized compost bin program, which has been overseen by Montclair Community Farms since Russell’s retirement. Through the program, residents can purchase 80-gallon compost bins from the township for less than $80. The retail price for such bins can be more than $180, Johnson said.
“We're trying to keep as much as we can out of landfills, out of our trash, so that we have a more sustainable future,” she said.
She is also tackling new projects, hoping to create more programs to promote sustainability in Montclair.
She is applying for a grant through the state’s Green Acres Program, funding that can be used to meet different recreation and conservation needs, including urban park development, acquisition of green space and more.
“That's something I'm really passionate about, green space, and especially urban green space,” Johnson said. “I think that's very important.”
Increasing green space in Montclair would create places for the community to congregate and spend time in nature, but it would also allow for groundwater recharge and ecosystem services, such as pollination, and erosion and flood control, she said.
She is also working to upgrade and install electric vehicle chargers throughout downtown, including in the parking decks, and to upgrade the municipal fleet to electric vehicles, which she expects will be a long-term project.
“This is something that's going to take a lot of time, but there's tons of money out there, so I'm currently working on research and the acquisition of funding,” she said.
Johnson works closely with Montclair Community Farms, the Montclair Environmental Commission and Montclair Climate Action to think about programs and opportunities to make Montclair more sustainable.
But these changes and programs, and finding the funding to make them happen, can be a slow process, she said.
“Sustainable change takes time,” Johnson said. “You’ve got to be patient, you have to be compassionate, but there is obviously also a huge sense of urgency.”
Residents can reach Johnson on her township phone line, 973-509-5721, or by sending her an email at email@example.com.