VG CEO Drew Shula Talks NZ21 on Environmental Social Justice Podcast
Verdical Group Founder and CEO was recently interviewed by Wendy Nystrom of Environmental Social Justice, one of the Conference Partners for our 8th annual Net Zero Conference. The pair discussed the history of the event and what attendees can expect from this year’s conference, which will include both virtual and in-person offerings.
To learn more, watch the recording and read the transcript below.
Please note: a voice-to-text application was used to create this transcript. Please forgive any inaccuracies, spelling, or grammar in the content below.
Wendy (0:01): Good morning everyone, and welcome to another episode of Environmental Social Justice. Today we have a very special guest. We have Drew Shula, who is the CEO and Founder of Verdical Group and also the Founder of the Net Zero Conference, which will be happening this year on September 13-16. So, Drew, please tell us everything about Verdical Group and the Net Zero Conference and how amazing you are for doing this.
Drew (0:25): Thank you, Wendy. Thanks so much for having me on your show, really exciting, and I love what you are doing with ESJ. I watched a bunch of your episodes, and it’s great. So everyone, please go watch all of Wendy’s episodes. But very happy to be here to help promote the Net Zero Conference. It’s our eighth year coming up. It’s the largest Net Zero Conference in the world. In the past, we always focused on the building industry — so architects, engineers, utility folks, higher ED across the board. And this year, we are expanding into other industries as well to find those areas of interaction and learn from other industries, such as agriculture and fashion. We are super excited to be growing this year in a new direction. It’s our biggest and best conference yet — we are expecting over 2,000 attendees. We are just 7 weeks away, it’s in the middle of September. So, we are really looking forward to another big conference this year.
Wendy (1:23): And you do offer some early bird pricing, I believe.
Drew (1:27): Early Bird pricing goes until this Friday. So, if you are listening to this it’s right away here. This Friday, which I believe is the 30th [of July], is the end of the Early Bird pricing. So get in there and get your pricing right away to save some money on your registration, but you can register all the way up until the event, and the event starts September 13th. This year is exciting because we have an in-person element, as well as a virtual element. So, coming out of the pandemic and all events going virtual last year, all of the education sessions will be online, so people can attend from anywhere in the world. Last year, we had attendees from, I believe, 40 countries around the world, as well as almost all U.S. states. So we’ve really learned to expand our reach in the virtual world. But we also will have an in-person element in Los Angeles at L.A. LIVE in Downtown LA — at the Terrace at L.A. LIVE, which is right above the Grammy Museum. Beautiful venue. We are going to have in-person networking and our Gala, where we do our Trailblazer Awards in the evening, September 16th, in person in LA.
Wendy (2:42): Now, I know you have some special speakers lined up. Some are still in stealth mode, and we are not allowed to bring it up. But I believe you have one person in particular that is very exciting.
Drew (2:51): We have a great keynote confirmed: Marcius Extavour, who is the Vice President, Energy & Climate at XPRIZE. He’s running the Carbon XPRIZE, which got a ton of press just a month or two ago with Elon Musk being heavily involved. And XPRIZE is such a cool organization helping to find technological innovations to help create and inspire a net zero future. The same thing we are doing with the Net Zero Conference every year. So, we are really excited to welcome Marcius of XPRIZE as one of our keynotes this year. There is a second keynote to be announced soon, as you mentioned. We can tell you they’re from Seventh Generation, a really great, big product company that you will see in the aisle of places you shop to buy groceries, or Target and whatnot. Seventh Generation is a really wonderful sustainability company on the products side and we are really excited to announce that keynote speaker soon.
Wendy (4:00): Now in the past eight years, the Net Zero Conference has been a huge conference for anyone in sustainability or renewable energy and things like that. Everyone knows this conference because you attract the best and brightest in the industry to come to this. As someone who would be new, like the first time attending, what can they expect in person and virtually?
Drew (4:15): This is where I’m so proud of how this thing has grown and will share a little bit about the history of the conference. But it’s really where the cutting edge happens in the building industry — and now beyond that as we expand into agriculture and fashion and personal products and all that sort of thing. So, whoever is really pushing the boundaries of really creating a Net Zero future, who is inspiring a Net Zero Future. However they are making that happen, we are talking case studies of projects and products, and how they were created, and what people are doing. It’s an amazing learning opportunity and place to get inspired to really power you for the whole year ahead. Wendy, I can quickly share the history of the event as well.
Wendy (4:58): Please, absolutely.
Drew (5:01) We got started eight years ago in Los Angeles. We decided to help educate our clients around net zero. And eight years ago, it was a new buzzword. There wasn’t nearly as much momentum around it as there is today in the ESG world and with the new federal administration we have in place in the U.S. There has been a ton of momentum in the past couple years around net zero. But eight years ago it was a new thing. We did an event and had about 100 people show up in Los Angeles. We thought that was awesome. We helped to educate a bunch of architect clients on what net zero is and how to do it in their buildings. There were some case studies presented and it was a great, small event. So we did it again the next year and 300 people showed up. We just continued to do it every year, and it’s gotten bigger and bigger organically each year. Last year, we had 1500 attendees; this year, we’re targeting more than 2000, and it just grows each year with more and more momentum. And it’s just been really inspiring to see what our small team at Verdical Group can do, because we are green building consultants, so we’re working with our clients to create net zero buildings and zero carbon buildings and LEED-certified buildings. We are really focused on sustainability for the built environment. And we didn’t really set out to be event planners we just stumbled into this. So it’s been amazing to see how it’s grown and how we’ve really built our team out around the event side of our business as well, and now we get hired by other companies to produce sustainable events for them as well. We’ve worked a lot with the utilities here in California and some other great clients, like FTI [the Facade Tectonics Institute], and that’s been a cool journey for us. And it’s something that has made us really unique as a company, because we have the sustainably consulting side of our business and the sustainable event side as well.
Wendy (6:53): Which I personally find to be amazing because most consulting firms would just stick to their road, stay in their lane. “We are just going to consult. Do our business.” You expanded that. “We are going to educate people. We are going to tell people about this new funky word called sustainability,” which is very nebulous and can mean a billion different things, depending on who you are talking to. And unfortunately, that does scare people, and people don’t know what that is and how they can help. And you guys took the reigns and said, “We are going to create this event. We are going to teach people. We are going to have them network because you meet the most interesting people at these events.” Every background, every walk of life, every industry that is sustainability, is net zero, is renewable energy, and now you are adding fashion and products. So you are becoming this whole encompassing event for everyone who is even curious about sustainability to be involved in and welcomed. It’s a very welcoming group as well. That’s what I like about it personally.
Drew (7:56): Thank you. To me this has developed because we are a B Corporation, which I am super proud about. And if you haven’t heard of B Corporation, I’d definitely go Google that. But there’s I think there are about 4,000 B Corps globally. Some well-known B Corps include Patagonia, the clothing company; Method soaps; King Arthur Flour; Allbirds shoes; Dannon Yogurt. They are for-profit companies, but they have focused on environmental and social positive impact as well. So, when you hear the phrase ‘triple bottom line,’ that’s exactly what they’re getting at. So, it’s a for-profit but also making an environmental and social positive impact. So this is so perfectly aligned with what we created at Verdical Group when I founded the company nine year ago. That’s exactly what I wanted to do. How can I do business that does good? How can I do good and have a business that makes a positive impact? The education side of our business is a big part of that. So we’re working on projects day-to-day — built environment projects, energy modeling, and commissioning, and daylight modeling.But we also expand far beyond the hundreds of people we work with on project work, to thousands of people we educate through the conference. We can make a much larger impact inspiring others through events. I think that’s where that interconnection happens, so it ties us into being a B Corp. I’m so proud, we actually re-certified this year and we actually have one of the highest B Corp scores out there — about 123 if I am not mistaken, much higher than many other B Corps in the market. So, super proud there. We are always looking to improve. Patagonia by comparison is the highest score I’ve ever seen, and they are around 150. So, they are our North Star out there for looking at ways we can improve in our business.
Wendy (10:10): And I love that fact, that companies are now paying attention to this. And realizing it is not just about consume, consume, consume and sell, sell, sell. It’s, “Do it the right way.” Let’s rethink how we do things. Maybe change some things up to make it more environmentally friendly. And again, this [the Net Zero Conference] is the ground zero for everyone to meet and decide on all these ideas, which is monumental to people like me. The fact that this exists and how it has grown from 100 to 1,000. Even having 1,000 people during the pandemic is pretty impressive. Most events just stop. So as we close our interview today. Net Zero is the 13-16th [of September], virtual and in-person in Los Angeles. How can people find you? What’s your website and contact info? Just go! It’s an amazing thing to do.
Drew (11:05): Thank you so much, Wendy. We have some of the most exciting speakers in the sustainability space coming to speak at Net Zero. It’s a great space to be and to get inspired to power you for the year ahead. I think that’s my biggest pitch for why you should attend. Some great companies to connect with, in-person in LA. It’s just a lot of fun. We are honoring Trailblazers and leaders. So check out our website at netzeroconference.com. Register, come out! And we look forward to seeing all of you in mid-September. The biggest Net Zero yet!
Wendy (12:01): Awesome. Well, thank you so much. Everyone should attend. I highly recommend [it], and it’s virtual so you can be anywhere in the world and attend this. That is the beauty of today’s world, where everything is online. So take care. See you soon. And everyone have a wonderful day.