Headshot of John Wasp of Heffron

5 Questions With John Wasp, Sustainability Leader at Heffron Company

“5 Questions With…” is a weekly BioBuzz series where we reach out to interesting people in the BioHealth Capital Region, Philadelphia, and beyond to share a little about themselves, their work, and maybe something completely unrelated. This week we welcome John Wasp, Sustainability Leader at Heffron Company.

1) Please introduce yourself to our audience by looking back at your education, training, and career.

Hi, my name is John Wasp, the Sustainability Leader at Heffron Company. It’s a pleasure to participate in this segment with BioBuzz, and it appears we have the same hypothesis on life.

Like BioBuzz, I believe that businesses do good when the community does good, and vice versa. This outlook, instilled in me during my high-school years, has served as a guiding principle throughout my entire life. I try to put my best foot forward every day as I strive for excellence in life’s different buckets: business, family, and wellness. My road thus far has had many highs & lows – all part of the journey.

Growing up in the DC area, crowded streets lined with equally crowded buildings was a part of my everyday life. I especially loved walking past the city’s most impressive buildings, such as Union Station, the Capitol building, and the Library of Congress, to name a few. I was entranced with how people interacted with these buildings and how the buildings interacted with nature, and this passion is what led me to pursue a degree in Urban Planning at Miami University.

My first profession out of college was in commercial real estate (CRE), and it was in this industry where I learned that a successful building project comes from truly understanding the intricacies of spaces and structures. Before my current role at Heffron, I worked for two of the largest CRE firms in the world, CBRE & JLL, and was fortunate to work alongside some of the best brokers in the field. My CRE expertise paired with my learnings at Miami University and my construction background all led me to where I am today. The path wasn’t always predictable, but in many ways, I truly believe things worked out as intended in the end.

As I was deciding whether to continue in commercial real estate or turn to a new role as Sustainability Leader at Heffron, I asked myself where and how I could make the biggest impact. At Heffron I now have this amazing opportunity to take the things I loved most as an urban planning student and a broker in commercial real estate and combine those with my passion for buildings and the mechanics that bring them to life.

2) Tell us a bit about Heffron, the services that it provides, and your current role at the company

For nearly 100 Years, Heffron has established itself as the DMV’s premier full-service mechanical contracting company, specializing in unique solutions for the life sciences, healthcare, and educational industries. You might think that these facilities look ordinary at first glance, but the mechanical systems are truly the heartbeat of a building. The heating, cooling, and ventilation systems all require a trusted partner with a specialized skillset to execute in the right way to fit the high demands for these facilities.

Heffron Company, a fourth-generation family business, is fortunate to have decades of experience in specialized piping for manufacturing facilities. In the 1970s, Heffron Company expanded its operations to include the life sciences. At this time, George Dunn (Heffron’s 3rd Generation Leader) saw the importance of that growing business in Maryland and decided to embrace the specialized niche to serve the community’s needs. Heffron hasn’t looked back since.

At Heffron, I have come full circle leading the charge for their Sustainability Division, Heffron Health, trying to leverage all my experiences to support our mission and clients’ needs. I feel like things in life sometimes happen for a reason, and all my trials, tribulations, triumphs, and successes served a purpose, providing me with a unique perspective and the right tools to make an impact for future generations. I enjoy the opportunity to wear several hats in a single day and support our team in providing unmatched client service. Loving what you do is great but knowing that you work is having a direct impact on your community is even greater.

Heffron Health embraces pulling back the curtains on building systems and identifying areas for improvement that align with our clients’ goals. We offer a suite of Solutions and Services tailored to their needs, from building assessments and technologies to improving IAQ and lowering energy consumption, and from ongoing maintenance and monitoring to supporting buildings throughout their lifecycles – cradle to grave. We are immensely proud of our 100-year history, and Colin Dunn (Heffron’s 4th Generation Leader) strives to continue building as we move through the next 100 years.

I believe that creative minds are attracted to big missions, and I fully intend to build a game-changing performance analytics software/technology to help bridge the gap between property managers and the C-suite, who often speak two different languages when trying to target efficiency upgrades.

Right now the system is fragmented – I envision a tool that builds out models to help analyze existing buildings conditions and weigh efficiency/sustainability capital improvement options from a business and environmental lens. It will encompass which efficiency projects to target based on factors such as goals/initiatives, energy benchmarking, energy procurement options, renewable solutions, battery storage, demand response, upfront capital, payback period, ROI, and many, many more.

Needless to say, it’s a giant Rubik’s cube that is constantly evolving and changing. I’m committed to seeing this through, though, and am determined to unravel all of these inner workings.

3) How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted you and your career path?

Like many, COVID provided me a unique opportunity to take a step back, reflect on life, and grow as an individual. As I tried to figure out my “next chapter”, I took to virtual meetings and extensive backyard projects to bring me clarity and relieve stress. It wasn’t an easy time in our household as the forced-work-from-home experiment set in.  My wife was forced to embrace teaching virtually and manage two little ones running around our house while I posted up in my mom’s attic to work remotely, trying to reinvent myself.

During this time, I started a virtual ‘Leadership Series’ to inspire others and also rented a backhoe to rework my yards topography. The ‘Leadership Series’ turned out to be a huge success – I’m not sure I can say the same about all of the backyard projects, though. 😉

Here are just a few of the speakers that we featured:

•        Chaos to Capability – Featuring Jesse Itzler

•        Improvise, Adapt, Overcome – Featuring Green Beret, Brad Israel

•        The Mindset of a Champion – Featuring Bo Porter

In addition to the high-profile speakers above, I led numerous smaller roundtables to bring together thought leaders and knowledge experts discussing an array of topics such as evolving macro-trends, how the real estate industry will change drastically in the next decade, and what the “new normal” will look like.

As we turned the page from 2020 to 2021, after months of reflection, I decided to pivot careers to follow my passion in helping people by promoting sustainability through modern energy performance measures. The pandemic has changed our daily lives in ways we never imagined and reinforced the importance of a building’s interior environment & sustainability for future generations.

4) Talk to us more about the volunteering work you’ve done for veterans, as well as the new “Honor a Hero” nonprofit that you’ve launched.

I’ve been fortunate to be involved in a non-profit where we helped local veterans during the holiday season. After serving as a board member for six years, the organization ended, but I still wanted to find ways to honor our deserving heroes.

I just launched the non-profit Honor-A-Hero with a few of my friends to give back to our unsung heroes during the holiday season. Honor-A-Hero’s mission is to express appreciation to local frontline heroes (healthcare workers, first responders, teachers, and other essential personnel) for their service to the community.

Just a few of John Wasp’s many projects and hobbies…

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, a hero is “a person who is admired or idealized for courage, outstanding achievements, or noble qualities.” We see examples every day of true frontline heroes in our communities. These people are out serving others and doing their jobs to keep others safe and healthy. We’ve selected the ER Nurses at Sibley Hospital and the Teaching Staff at the Washington Jesuit Academy for this year’s Honor-A-Hero award. We will be decorating and beautifying their respective institutions in the coming days.

5) And finally…what’s this we hear about jerky?

Jerky, Jerky, Jerky!

I’ve been making Jerky off and on for the last decade. My love for this high-protein snack-meal started as a hobby with my brother-in-law; it was around the same time as when I began my CRE journey

After making a few small batches as experimentation, we were immediately hooked. Soon after, we purchased a Hobart meat slicer and Cabelas commercial dehydrator – we were off to the races! Jerky became our preferred snack on the go, helping fuel our busy days, and we loved giving it to friends and colleagues around the office to sample our different creations.

With lots of positive feedback, we were eager to fine-tune our craft/product and soon looked to turn our hobby into a business. Capital Jerky Co soon began, becoming “official” when we purchased a domain name. It then became “unofficial” when we decided to focus on our current careers at hand and thus scale down manufacturing. Concurrently, my now-wife, Kathryn, who was my girlfriend at the time, was not so keen on me keeping the meat slicer in our tiny apartment. After a lot of deliberation, we decided to part ways…me and the slicer, that is!

Fast-forward ten years, I’m now working in an office environment with a bunch of jerky-holics. and welcome you to our office any time for some sustainably crafted Heffron Jerky!

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Sarah Ellinwood

Managing Editor at BioBuzz | Workforce Genetics
Sarah Ellinwood is BioBuzz's Managing Editor. A scientist by training and a science communicator at heart, Sarah specializes in making complex concepts understandable, engaging, and exciting. She received her Ph.D. in molecular and cellular biology with a focus in infectious disease immunology from the University of Maryland and is passionate about all things related to scicomm, peer mentorship, and women in STEM.