Laura Johnson, who is stepping down as president of the Massachusetts Audubon Society, always loved environmental work. After graduating from Harvard in the ’70s, Johnson went to New York University to pursue a degree in environmental law, but it was through her 16-year job with the Nature Conservancy that she became involved with Mass Audubon. “What struck me about Mass Audubon and has proven to be true, it’s an organization that really ties together conservation and education,” says Johnson, who was named president of the organization 14 years ago. “I really believe in the organizations that put emphasis on reaching people through education and reaching people through advocacy and policy.”
Q. What initially attracted you to Mass Audubon?
A. Mass Audubon has an incredible history and such a breadth of impact across the state, region, and beyond. It’s an incredibly powerful force for protecting nature and reaching people and helping to build community. It was just irresistible when I was invited to be president.
‘Studies show that kids [ages] 8 to 18 spend 45 hours in front of screens each week, and 20 minutes outdoors. We realize that is not good for kids.’
Q. Why do you think Mass Audubon is important?
A. I could go on forever. We continue to protect land and water resources, clean air resources, to provide safe, healthy food for families. I think one of the things that we provide is a community conservation ethic.
Q. What are some of your proudest accomplishments during your time at Mass Audubon?
A. We have continued to expand our sanctuary system including into urban areas, like the Boston Nature Center, and work we’re doing in other urban areas in the state. We’ve really focused on inclusion like physical ableness, as well as location of our sanctuaries. We have a real commitment to serving and inviting all people to become part of Mass Audubon’s work and to strengthen their communities and the health of their children.
Q. Was there one part of your job you found to be particularly fulfilling?
A. It’s people together enjoying the outdoors and having a chance to connect with each other. There’s something that’s enormously energizing for people to let go of what ties us to our desks. The fact that kids are spending so little time outdoors and so much time in front of screens . . . Studies show that kids [ages] 8 to 18 spend 45 hours in front of screens each week, and 20 minutes outdoors. We realize that is not good for kids. They need to be able to explore, play, relax, think; those opportunities are provided through Mass Audubon facilities and programs.
Q. What do you hope to leave behind?
A. I hope I’m leaving an organization that is extremely effective, very passionate and caring, committed to a high standard of excellence and impact. We still have a lot more to do. We have a lot of land and resources we want to protect, we want to reach more people and invite more people to protect the land of Massachusetts. We need to raise more money and importantly, we need to help people understand the challenges of climate change and what we can be doing together to address those challenges. [I want to] encourage people to join, become involved, look out the window and recognize the natural world holds the key to our health, our joy, and our future.
Q. And for you, what’s next?
A. I’ll be doing some writing, some teaching and consulting. There are some things I really want to explore more deeply with regard to environmental issues. I’m looking forward to a different pace, but I love this place. I believe in it, and I’ll stay involved.