Q&A: St. John Properties Founder Edward St. John On Sustainable Philosophy

Commercial Observer  |  Keith Loria

Edward St. John, Founder & Chairman of St. John Properties
Edward St. John, Founder & Chairman of St. John Properties

Baltimore-based St. John Properties, one of the mid-Atlantic region’s largest privately held commercial real estate firms, has beefed up its sustainability efforts at all of its properties.

Edward St. John, founder and chairman of St. John Properties — which just celebrated its 50th anniversary in 2021 — noted that the company prefers to initiate portfolio-wide initiatives as it implements its sustainable strategy.

For instance, St. John Properties installed electric vehicle charging stations at all its newly constructed multi-story office buildings in an effort to support the use of energy efficient EVs.

Across the company’s portfolio, which encompasses more than 22 million square feet of commercial real estate in eight states and, St. John Properties ranked as the top green building developer across Washington, D.C., Maryland and Virginia, according to the U.S. Green Building Council.

Commercial Observer spoke with St. John about the importance of sustainability to his company.

What is St. John Properties’ sustainability philosophy?

Our mission is to retain our leadership role in developing sustainable sites and buildings, while maintaining indoor environments that promote employee wellness and conserve energy. We believe the conservation of energy and natural resources, along with the ongoing need to develop and innovate environmentally friendly buildings, have become a priority in attracting new tenants.

What are some of your long-term sustainability goals?

Among our significant sustainability efforts is to work toward a scalable and economic solar approach on top of all building types and to deliver buildings that naturally produce more energy than they use. Future sustainability endeavors also include a focus on building health and wellness and the continuation of our LED lighting program, which has resulted in the upgrade of more than 10,000 office lighting fixtures throughout the portfolio.

Talk about efforts with materials on new developments. What’s being done there?

We only specify building materials produced with low or zero volatile organic compounds to eliminate off-gassing. This includes interior paints, sealants, glues and coatings.

How will you reduce energy inside new buildings?

St. John Properties employs a multi-tiered approach to energy conservation with the specification of efficient lighting fixtures, high-grade insulation, white reflective roofs, top-of-the-line window systems and the installation of high-performance HVAC systems. Having quality HVAC equipment is not enough, as it is critical to operate the system in the correct manner, or efficiency benefits will be minimized or lost.

Air quality is becoming an important issue, what’s being done there?

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic heightened our focus on the air quality of our indoor environments, therefore we launched our UV Whole Building Air Purification process in 2021. The program is a multi-step strategy featuring the installation of UV-C light disinfecting systems designed to eliminate airborne pathogens such as fungal spores, bacteria and viruses that pass through a building’s HVAC equipment. The process involves replacing existing HVAC air filters with models that capture more airborne particles; upgrading coil cleaning and HVAC system sanitation, resulting in increased air flow; and utilizing longer HVAC runtimes, allowing for more frequent fresh air circulation throughout a building. This process began in 2021 with portions of our Maryland portfolio comprising 2.4 million square feet of space.

We consistently monitor and rely on guidance from the most respected asset management industry groups including the American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers and the Building Owners and Managers Association. Our intelligence gathering remains active and we intend to continue our quest to identify the most highly effective and long-term solutions to the air quality issue.

How has the need and desire for sustainable space evolved over the last few years?

Leasing space in sustainable buildings has become a point of emphasis among companies in all industry sectors and, in the case of the local, state and federal government as well as many Fortune 500 companies, it has become a prerequisite for new real estate searches. Companies are increasingly interested in reducing their energy usage and associated expenses. They recognize the health and employee productivity benefits of a green building. In addition, more and more clients are specifying the use of natural lighting to filter into workspaces, as well as the incorporation of outdoor spaces into traditional designs.

Why is it important to the company to implement these sustainable efforts?

Our long-term success is predicated on listening to our clients to better understand their needs. The health and safety of our clients and staff continue to be our top priority, and we recognize that indoor air quality and a safe working environment remain utmost in the minds of many. We were always motivated to implement innovative air purification measures and to achieve LEED-certified status and, over the past 18 months, have significantly increased our efforts throughout our portfolio.