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Chris Johnson with students at the Climate Justice and Resilience Fest.

Johnson engages with students at the Climate Justice and Resilience Fest. Photo by Erik Jepsen/University Communications.

Take 10 With a Triton: Chris Johnson, a Model of Campus Sustainability

Chris Johnson stands behind his favorite tree, Redwoods.

Johnson stands behind his favorite tree, Redwoods, in his nursery.

Name: Chris Johnson

Position: Landscape Sustainability Worker

Years at UC San Diego: 18

What he does at UC San Diego: Chris Johnson’s career at UC San Diego has evolved to follow his passion for sustainable practices. He’s been involved in everything from helping with student gardens and hosting regular campus tree tours as well as growing and planting trees. He also helps people on campus realize some of their sustainability goals, like composting, and is known to repurpose found items and fix old bikes to loan to students. Johnson says it all started with the influence of his parents. “My parents, they took care of their stuff,” said Johnson. “A very important part of sustainability is avoiding a throw-away society. I learned that from them.”

Years ago, he saw an opportunity to raise the profile of the more than one hundred species of trees on our campus. Just before the pandemic, in 2019, Johnson kicked off the first campus tree tours. “On the tours, we cover about five or six trees at a time, sharing details like how they got their name, where they’re from and why we plant them on campus,” said Johnson of the free, hour-long tours. “To build tree advocacy, familiarity and knowledge must come first.”

What he loves about UC San Diego: Johnson says he enjoys working with students outside of the classroom, in the outdoors. He points out the opportunities all around us, noting that he recently made wildflower bouquets with students, foraged for seeds and identified fiber, dye and medicinal plants on campus. “Get your hands dirty,” Johnson recommends. “If you want to learn about trees, go out and plant them. If you want to know about mulch, get out there and make it. Live the experience.”

Best advice received: It’s important to focus efforts when taking on major change. Johnson shares, “The best advice I’ve been given is to choose your battles carefully.”

Also, everyone has heard the phrase, “be the change you want to see in the world.” Johnson said it’s important to live the lifestyle to show people how to live sustainably. It’s also key to find ways to be more sustainable. “If you see something, like maybe your building is not recycling cans, ask questions,” said Johnson. “Try to see how you can make things happen, just ask.”

Students plant trees on campus.

Students plant trees on campus. “Get your hands dirty,” Johnson recommends. “If you want to learn about trees, go out and plant them.” Photo by Erik Jepsen/University Communications.

Something unique in his workspace: Johnson has something somewhat unique in his workspace—the next generation of campus trees. “My workspace includes a nursery, where I’m growing hundreds of trees for the campus,” he said. “The collection includes Torrey pines, magnolia trees, oak trees and my favorite tree, redwoods.”

His favorite spot on campus: His new office, which includes everything he needs to promote sustainability on campus, including a library, tools and other “stuff.”

Something most people don’t know about him: It is not surprising that one of his interests is a creature often associated with California redwoods. Many people do not know that I am fascinated by the Bigfoot phenomenon,” said Johnson. “There have been sightings in every state, except Hawaii, so I’ve spent much time learning about it and visiting related locations all around the country.”

If he had one day to do whatever he wanted: Not surprisingly, for a day to do whatever, he would take a road trip with good music and snacks to visit a garden, park or forest.