VG CEO & Founder Drew Shula Talks Net Zero, Climate Education on Climate Rebels Podcast
Verdical Group’s Founder & CEO Drew Shula recently joined Joel Cesare and Owen Barrett on the Climate Rebels Podcast, presented by Rayven.
During the conversation, Drew shared his story of founding Verdical Group (a B Corporation, Benefit Corporation, and 1% for the Planet Member Company) and the annual Net Zero Conference, noting his focus on making an impact and doing good.
The group discusses conferences like NZ23 are important, the need for climate solutions and impactful strategies, and how to inspire the next generation.
Highlights from the conversation include:
- Drew’s work and impact at Verdical and the Net Zero Conference (1:57)
- Special Segment: The Trees Won’t Save Us (3:48)
- What makes Drew a Climate Rebel? (7:25)
- The importance of convening at climate conferences (13:39)
- The impact and adaptability of climate startups (20:14)
- Verdical Group’s founding and journey (21:52)
- The process and value of becoming a B Corp (28:11)
- Growth at Verdical in recent years (31:45)
- ESG ratings and forward commitments (32:48)
- Don’t wait to make an impact (36:48)
- Profit and positive impact can go together (42:00)
- Advice for the next generation getting involved in sustainability (43:05)
- What gives Drew hope for the future? (47:17)
- Connecting with Drew, Verdical Group, and the Net Zero Conference (50:52)
This transcript was created using an automated voice to text app, so please forgive inaccuracies, grammar and spelling below.
Drew Shula 00:00
What’s the real game plan to try to solve this in Speed & Scale? They talk about convening a little bit. And they actually mentioned the TED Countdown conference that I just got to go to last month, which was incredible. I think it was only seven or 800 people. So it’s not a huge group. But not just that conference, but you know, there’s our Net Zero conference, there’s Greenbuild. Every year, there’s lots of climate conferences, and they talk about them in the book, because that process of convening is so important, like sharing ideas, you could describe the whole climate crisis as just an education problem. Yeah. Which I think is well, like, I think it was Greta that said recently, something like, “We’ve already solved the climate crisis.” You know, we have all the technology and ideas that we need, we know what we need to do, we just haven’t done it yet. So these conventions and conferences kind of help create climate action faster by sharing those ideas so I think they are super important.
Joel Cesare 00:55
The climate conversation has never been more divided as disruptors. In this space, we’re hungry to find solutions to the challenges our environment faces. Welcome to the Climate rebels podcast. My name is Joel Cesare. I’m joined by Owen Barrett and Chris Pomerleau. We are experts in clean energy, Net Zero real estate, decarbonization and entrepreneurship. We celebrate those who take action against the climate crisis and are striving to make the world a cleaner place. Thanks for joining the conversation. Now. Let’s get to work. Welcome to the Climate rebels podcast. Joining me as always, is Owen Barrett. Of course myself, Joel Cesare, the world’s greatest climate podcast host. Today’s guest was Drew Shula Drew is the founder and CEO of Verdical group, a national leading sustainability consulting firm specializing in green building certifications, engineering services, strategy and events. He is also the founder of the world’s largest annual Net Zero event, the Net Zero conference and Trailblazer Awards, which we learned is coming up in a few weeks in Los Angeles. And we also learned that the greatest speaker of all time at the Net Zero conference is one of the hosts here today on the climate rebels podcasts. But Drew the great guest, he’s a friend, he’s kind of a legend in the world of green building. What do I take away, man? I mean, he’s such an optimist. It’s refreshing, at a time when it’s hard to be an optimist. And I think it’s a story of being an entrepreneur, and deciding he wanted to make money by doing good and taking risks on himself a long time ago and leaving a big company and starting a new company out of his garage. And now seeing that grow to 25 people. It’s pretty cool.
Owen Barrett 02:33
I mean, the optimism thing is so clear. He’s just like a happy go lucky guy. But I think Drew’s the, he’s the antithesis to the Go woke, go broke. You heard that slogan like, yeah, he’s doing good by doing well. And I think we need more companies like Verdical Group. Because it just proves that, you know, impact and money don’t have to work in opposite ways. You can have sort of one drive the other they can work together. So I think his story with the Verdical Group is just an inspiring one. And it gives hope to others like cleantech entrepreneurs out there.
Joel Cesare 03:09
Yeah, I think you and I agree, and I’m sure he does, too. It’s not just that those ideas work together. But the future is going to demand, you’re not going to be a growth company, if you’re not so focused on impact and doing better for the people on the planet. But before we get into that, with Drew, let’s dive into a segment we’re calling “The Trees Won’t Save Us”. I think you have a different name, you’d like to call this bit, but I wanted to make it a little more PG. So tell us what you want to talk about.
Owen Barrett 03:35
Sometimes you just learn something or you hear something that’s so stupid. And this is one of those instances. So have you heard of the new plan to plant a trillion trees?
Joel Cesare 03:58
I have not heard this as an official position.
Owen Barrett 04:01
So the new talking point amongst one of our political parties is now not to deny climate change. But it’s, yeah, it’s happening. But let’s just plant a trillion trees. And then they won’t have to worry about anything, because it’ll take care of itself.
Joel Cesare 04:16
What sounds easy.
Owen Barrett 04:18
Yes, as easy as just playing with a trillion trees, just get some drones up in the air, shoot seeds all around, do little, you know, let Mother Nature water it with some rain. The problem is that it’s not going to have nearly a big enough impact, nor is it going to happen fast enough. So the trillion trees would save the temperature from rising to one five degrees Celsius by 2100. So 1/10 of our target temperature rises by 2100. So it’s just a stupid idea. It’s another distraction. And the fact that it’s gaining steam as a talking point is scary. And to go a step further, there’s two startups that have raised tens of millions of dollars on the back of this idea, we’re gonna plant trees. And I don’t think we need dumb ideas like this, I think we need good ideas that have real impact.
Joel Cesare 05:15
That’s the part that’s frustrating. You know, whatever, they want to run some marketing campaign, at least they’re saying they’re acknowledging it’s happening. And there’s some strategy to like, address it, I guess, call that a win. And of course, everyone can agree planting trees is a good thing is using the right species and right ecosystems, and they’re trying to maintain them with great, right, more trees that will pull some carbon to the atmosphere. But the fact that you know, you and I know we’ve been at this game for years trying to raise money, trying to convince investors, private equity VCs, to invest in our ideas, and that we think are gonna have a big impact. It’s a constant game of competition, like those few people have funds, and those funds need to be deployed and if they’re being deployed into tree planning strategies that some other company that could have succeeded that didn’t get that money. So it’s not without consequences.
Owen Barrett 06:06
I mean, I love trees as much as the next person but don’t pitch planning trees as a climate solution. It’s not going to work. It’s a dumb idea, but go do something else.
Joel Cesare 06:17
Well said, I think we can end that. Now let’s jump into our conversation with Drew Shula. Drew Shula is a social entrepreneur and environmentalist. He is founder and CEO of Verdical group, a nationally leading sustainability consulting firm specializing in green building certifications, engineering services, strategy and events. Verdical Group is a certified B Corporation and 1% for the planet member company working on some of the highest profile green building projects in the world. With visionary institutions like NASA, Google, Johnson, LAX, meta and apple. Under his leadership, Verdical Group won a real leaders Impact Award in 2023 and was a finalist for Small Business of the Year from the US Chamber of Commerce in Washington, DC in 2022. He is also founder of the world’s largest annual Net Zero event, the Net Zero conference and Trailblazer awards. He’s a frequent speaker at numerous events, and has been featured and published in notable publications like USA Today, The Washington Post, Forbes and more. So Drew Shula, Welcome to the Climate rebels.
Drew Shula 07:20
Happy to be here. Hi, Joel. Hi, Owen, and thanks for having me on.
Joel Cesare 07:24
Yeah, thanks for joining. Happy to have you. While we get right to work here. We always start the show with the same question. Drew Shula? Are you a climate rebel?
Drew Shula 07:35
Why am I a climate rebel? Well, I am sick and tired of fossil fuel companies running the world in greenwashing, everything, and I want to see them go away as quickly as possible. So that’s been the focus of my career in the building world. And I know there’s a lot of smart people working on this with the three of us right now. And I hope that they just move as quickly as possible towards climate action to get rid of fossil fuels and get the fossil fuel companies to die as quickly as possible.
Joel Cesare 08:08
Yeah, we like to keep it real on climate rebels. So appreciate the straight talk. I think you’re a rebel in many ways, which we’ll dive into here. Let’s start with what’s most pressing here. We’re recording mid August, you got a big event coming up? Tell us about it.
Drew Shula 08:24
Yeah, Net Zero conference in LA is just a few weeks away middle of September 2023 at the LA Convention Center, biggest venue in SoCal. And we’re trying to make this work happen. This climate action works across all industries. There’s a lot of talk around buildings, of course, but also fashion and agriculture, as well. We’re trying to get those intersectional learning opportunities from different industries happening at the Net Zero conference and lots of great talks, keynotes and excitement coming up in LA for a few weeks.
Owen Barrett 08:57
Drew for the Net Zero conference. Is it mostly the attendees? Are they mostly fellow sustainability nerds? Or do you get to see sort of a diversity like people from operations, people from marketing, like who goes to this thing?
Drew Shula 09:09
It is pretty diverse. So folks from sustainability nerds like us, of course, like you said, but utility folks, universities, there’s even some students there, there’s building owners and developers, you know, energy contractors, general contractors, there’s all types of folks that come out, because sustainability in the climate crisis impacts everybody in every industry. So we do attract a pretty diverse crowd there.
Owen Barrett 09:40
So you’re a business owner, which is hard. And you also decided to launch a huge conference. What was the motivation behind that?
Drew Shula 09:49
Yeah. We’re a B Corp. And part of our mission is to just help make a positive change in the world and we are for Profit. As you know, I’ll be a corpse or for profit companies, but we’re trying to make a positive impact on people on the planet. And that’s really very much in our DNA. So through the conference, we’ve reached thousands of people that we wouldn’t otherwise. And we don’t get to work on thousands of projects, maybe in the future as we keep growing. But with the conference, we reach a ton of people that we wouldn’t otherwise and just help move the needle, educate and inspire folks towards a Net Zero future. So yeah, that’s why we kind of took on events. This is our 10th year of the Net Zero conference, the first year there were just 100 people that showed up, and it just grew a little bit every year after that it went to 300. The second year, so we decided, let’s keep doing this. And now we’re up to probably 1500, maybe 2000 attendees this year.
Owen Barrett 10:44
Did you get a Net Zero conference.com, before Net Zero became a buzzword?
Drew Shula 10:50
We did get that early, right, right off the bat, you know, eight or nine years ago, we got that website. And yeah, I mean, people were talking about Net Zero 10 years ago, but it was definitely, I think, a little bit newer sort of buzzword back then. And we honestly really fell into it. In many ways. We weren’t an events company. We are a sustainability consulting company. And we were just doing an event on the side because we had some time and we wanted to help educate our clients around Net Zero . We really just ended up in the right place at the right time, and then kind of grew from there.
Owen Barrett 11:23
Joel, I think we need a raven conference. So outside of Raven and Google, spend some time on that.
Joel Cesare 11:30
I’ll get right to it. I love the idea. We’ll go nuts somewhere. I mean, Drew, and I’ve talked about this. The Net Zero conference is unique and very cool. I appreciate you wanting to get bigger draws, I get that. But I also like its intimacy compared to some of the other bigger green building conferences you and I frequently attend. So I think it’s special that way. And I know a lot of us in the field of green building sustainability Consulting, you know, it’s kind of a wide ranging group. You go to conferences sometimes. And you know, especially some of the bigger ones, you’re like, what did we just do here? Besides screaming in an echo chamber and patting each other on the back? Like, wouldn’t we be better at taking our $1,000 conference fee, and going somewhere and building homes for people that are less fortunate and doing it in a sustainable way? So maybe that’s the idea. Oh, and we’ll, we’ll go build home somewhere. As part of our conference,
Owen Barrett 12:20
We’ll develop a conference website. And at the last minute, we’ll cancel it and say everyone just invest your conference funds into Raven.
Joel Cesare 12:30
Well, Drew, you can conference for 10 years. I think I know the answer to this question. But I’m asking anyway, who is the greatest speaker in the history of the netzero? Conference?
Drew Shula 12:40
Definitely you Joel.
Joel Cesare 12:41
That’s correct. I spoke about it a few times. Last year, I was on a very cool panel, which we should talk about. We’ll get to that next. But I remember years ago, I spoke because I think as you mentioned here, netzero energy was probably the primary focus. But now it’s Net Zero water. And it’s your waste in my talk that was actually on Net Zero nutrients because it was me and some wacky people that are thinking about working on trying to collect and process human waste in buildings to be used for secondary consumables like fertilizer. So at the Net Zero conference, you go there and who knows what the hell you’ll see. us talking about poop.
Drew Shula 13:25
You didn’t bring up why we convened, which I think is such a good question. And I don’t know if you guys have read this book yet, Speed & Scale? The author’s name is John Doerr, if I’m not mistaken. He’s like, venture capitalist, famous.
Joel Cesare 13:39
Stanford climate guy. Yeah. And he’s, actually, he’s a famous Google guy, too, because he created this thing that we use for KPIs called OKRs. Good TED talk, you should check it out.
Drew Shula 13:50
They mentioned OKRs a lot in the Speed & Scale book. I highly recommend it. I just read it this summer. Another one I always recommend is Paul Hawkins drawdown as well. But both of those books give sort of a broad overview of the climate crisis that we’re facing across all industries and in the context of 59 Giga tons per year of carbon emissions. And how does that break down by industry? Like how’s the real game plan to try to solve this? I think both those books do a really good job from that macro level so that we can understand what’s going on. They talk about convening a little bit. And they actually mentioned the TED countdown conference that I just got to go to last month, which was incredible. I think it was only seven or 800 people. So it’s not a huge group. But not just that conference, but you know, there’s our Net Zero conference. There’s Greenbuild every year. There’s lots of climate conferences, and they talk about them in the book because that process of convening is so important, like sharing ideas, and there’s such an education problem. You could describe the whole climate crisis as just an education problem. Yeah, which I think is well, like, I think it was Greta that said recently, something like we’ve already solved the climate crisis. You know, we have all the technology and ideas that we need. We know what we need to do. We just haven’t done it yet. So these conventions and conferences kind of help create climate action faster by sharing those ideas so I think they are super important.
Joel Cesare 15:20
Yeah. Well, where do we go next? Now, that conference,
Drew Shula 15:24
I would love to talk about that Joel. Another panel that you were on?
Joel Cesare 15:28
Oh, that’s right. Yeah. The panel from last year, let’s talk about that.
Drew Shula 15:31
We had a great talk about climate and like a climate influence panel. And Joel, you are on there, along with Kevin Patel and Isaiah Hernandez. And I just think the idea of influencing, you know, you might seem, you know, kind of superb, superfluous, but the idea of climate influencing is super important again, because it’s about it’s like science, education, and inspiring others to take climate action. And some of these young people and established people that have large followings are really making a positive impact with the people that they’re reaching. It can be hundreds of 1000s of people, you know, that they have a following around. So Joe, your panel around that last year was really great. I don’t know if you want to share any thoughts from that,
Joel Cesare 16:25
I didn’t have the podcast yet. But Drew knew I was about to become the world’s greatest climate podcast host. Pre-emptive influencer.
Joel Cesare 16:38
I’m gonna do it right after this show, I will do that. But that drawing was nice enough to let me join that panel. I mean, the panel and Kevin and SaaS were fantastic. And I learned a ton about them on the panel, and then subsequently followed them and, you know, actually DM with Isaiah slot, always love his content. But I think on that point, Drew, you know, we talk a lot on the show about what we’re doing at Raven, it’s very much a digital marketing company trying to raise money for real estate. So we’re on social media a lot, we got to learn about it. We’re testing things all the time. And I gotta say, even in the style of TikTok, content, B roll video, quick hitting, fact driven, dynamic. I talked about this in my day job, which is a very professional atmosphere and it’s like, sometimes, instead of some stupid decK, or some stupid memo, it’s like, this message could be a 32nd TikTok video, and everyone here would be better for it. And so it’s like, you can sort of, so especially as old guys here, on the panel on the podcast, talking about oh, TikTok as these influencers that’s different and new to me, I don’t get it. But it’s not just a new wave of social media, this is a new form of education that we’re learning a ton from, and I’m sure you do, too.
Owen Barrett 17:59
So interesting, because it’s like, you have, you gotta have a hook, it’s got to be short, like, it’s gotta be to the point. It’s like, all these key things of marketing, like, distilled into one manner of distributing it. But Joel, to your point, it’s like, if we could just learn how to take what everybody learns for TikTok and deliver all messages that way. I think everyone would be way more concise. No doubt,
Drew Shula 18:25
You know, I’m feeling very mid-career all of a sudden. You know, for the longest time, I was always the young person. And I think the further along you get in your career, we have to make these adaptations. And, you know, maybe we’re just feeling that for the first time. But, you know, lots of older folks towards the end of their careers had to go through lots of, you know, Internet changes, right. And coming here for us. We’ve got the metaverse, you know, it’ll leave TikTok in the dust, and there’ll be others, but I think we just have to stay adaptable. And it’s like whatever communication channels are currently working. We need to be there.
Owen Barrett 19:01
I read something the other day. This is not climate related, but kind of interesting, said that. There was a study done, and I can’t remember if the number was 900 or 9000. But there were only 900 or 9000 daily active users in the metaverse which cost $36 billion to develop. That’s like, that’s probably not the best use of resources for the company.
Drew Shula 19:23
That’s crazy. Yeah, there’s, I mean, I feel like it’s a massive investment trying to get over that hump of like, getting people to actually be there. Yeah, I don’t know much about the metaverse, but that’s a big challenge. Some of those folks you’re taking on
Owen Barrett 19:37
Joel, you spend a lot of time in the metaverse. Yeah,
Joel Cesare 19:40
I’m actually also famous in the metaverse. I’m an influencer there too. I got my digital house next to Snoop Dogg’s and stuff going on. Well, let’s talk about adaptability. And your role as a business owner Drew. I’d love to have the audience hear about your story. I know I’ve talked to you about it before I think you started in a garage. So you’re like this, like Steve Jobs or the Larry and Sergey of green building? Well, let’s start there. I have a follow up question. But tell us a story, Verdical group, where to start, what you try to do,
Drew Shula 20:14
I think for maybe all of us as well, and lots of folks out there like us, you know, for me, my goal coming out of college was like, Okay, how can I do something with my life where I’m making a positive impact and making money doing it? And I see you guys doing that with Raven. That’s what I’m trying to do with the Verdical group and the Net Zero conference. And I think, I don’t know if there’s a real world that likes words, but like climate startups, right? Like, how can folks start companies that are making a positive impact, especially on the climate space? You hear social entrepreneurs used to describe that as well. But that was me. So yeah, I started a Verdical group 11 years ago, my background is actually architecture. So a lot of the work that we do is working with architects and building owners to help them make their buildings more sustainable, and reduce the carbon impacts. So we’re doing things like LEED certifications, and energy modeling and commissioning of buildings, that sort of thing. Yeah, it was just me in the garage and now to a team of 25. So certainly not Steve Jobs and Apple, but who knows what the future holds?
Joel Cesare 21:20
Yeah, man, count zero to 25. That’s hard to do. Because Oh, well done are people. Yeah. Yeah. Where were you before? We think I know this. Well, maybe.
Drew Shula 21:32
I did architecture at Notre Dame in Indiana. And I worked at a real estate developer in LA that was since acquired, they’re no longer around anymore. And I worked for an architecture firm called Gertie with A J. And then I also worked at Jones Lang. LaSalle. JLL. Yeah.
Owen Barrett 21:48
Drew, when are you? How old is the Verdical group?
Drew Shula 21:52
11 years old. Okay, so
Owen Barrett 21:54
you started it? In 2012? More or less? Right? So Joe and I met each other in grad school. We were there. 2020 10 to 2012. So yeah, yeah. So I have a background in finance, and you know, hated my life and finance. And I wanted to get involved in sustainability. And the only thing I could find online at the time was LEED, like LEED certifications. Was it sort of like the sustainability world? And so I tried to get into it, but had no luck. And that’s why I went to grad school. But I’m curious how you like a probably traditionally educated architect, like what drew you to lead? How did you find out about it? Because 11 years ago, sustainability was a very different world than it is today.
Drew Shula 22:37
Yeah, there was no major and sustainability like there is now. I’m sure Joelle found that too, but I did have in my architecture program, I had one class on environmental design that I really liked. That was that though there was nothing else related to sustainability and my five year program. When I got my first job out of college at an architecture firm, they had a green team, and there were some just talking about lead. But lead was very early days of lead. This was in 2000, Zack, California, sixth 2007. I was in California, so we didn’t have any lead projects, or in the whole office, but we were just talking about it talking about lead. Then I went jolly. I know you. I think you know, Daniel Horton.
Joel Cesare 23:23
Yeah, of course. We gotta go and show. She’s a climate rebel.
Owen Barrett 23:26
Oh, great. San Diego, isn’t she? She might Yeah.
Drew Shula 23:29
So she hired me as an intern at Thomas Properties group, where actually there’s a lot of green building history there because David Godfried actually worked there briefly, who founded the US Green Building Council. But JCL hired me there as an intern at first and then I got hired on board full time. And I got to work with her. That was my first real sort of like, actual sustainability job. And that was my sort of springboard into working with lead from there.
Joel Cesare 24:08
Well, Drew. You know, we’re talking about books. I’ve been reading this book called sell like crazy. Let’s buy this Australian digital marketing guru. His name. I think I have it right here. Sabri subi. And he talks a lot about how business owners, especially small business owners, usually take too long to realize they are no longer who they thought they were. If you were, you’re a dentist and you start your own dentists dental company, you’re not a dentist anymore. You’re a chef, you start your own restaurant. You’re not a chef anymore. You’re a builder. You start your own construction company. You’re not a builder anymore. You are a CEO, you are a salesperson, you are there to bring in revenue and customers. And he tried in the beginning of luck just trying to motivate the person who’s reading anything to say the first thing gotta realize is that you know your business is 100% reliant upon you to bring in revenue or else it will die. And these things you love to do, which you are great at, which is why you’re probably starting a company you won’t get to do on your own. So I’d love to learn from you. You were a green building expert, you were an architect, now you run Verdical group. Do you agree with his perspective?
Drew Shula 25:16
100%? Yeah, I definitely went through that change. I started Verdical group, and I was working on LEED projects. And I loved it. And as it grew, you know, we’re still not a huge company. But even when you get a few people on your team, you’re responsible for all of the functions of the company. So for us, we have operations and marketing and business development and events and project management. And so there’s five teams within our company, and, you know, you might still get you, you still get to do a little bit of everything. So, you know, I’m still involved with the project. And I love that right? I’m not I don’t, I’m not totally divorced from it, but I have to be responsible for all the other parts of the company as well. And I think sales is always one of the most important things like you mentioned, Joel. But I also think that the culture piece is super important to get right, especially for small, you know, startups that I latched on to. And that’s where our drive around B Corp came from, and what being a 1% for the planet member company, and what really walking the talk and a lot of ways around all of our goals, and what we’re doing in the world as we are how we operate as a company making climate commitments and these sorts of things, and just creating a really awesome place to work, that all has to be created and built. And that’s the sort of culture piece that becomes super important, somebody has to do that and be responsible for that. In addition to all the other things, but yeah, now today, I’m really not working on the project at all anymore. But I’m helping to lead and inspire and bring in revenue and making sure we’re staying on track with our annual goals. And those sorts of things.
Owen Barrett 27:04
What did you like more: Verdical Group when it was 3 people are Verdical group when it’s 25 people?
Drew Shula 27:10
I like it when it’s 25. And I’d like it to be 250. That’s our you know, our longer term goal is to keep it growing. You know, we’re structured in a way now we’ve gotten through a couple of these growth jumps, you know, going from zero to one, and then one to four, and then four to eight. And, you know, as you double, you know, you kind of hit these moments, and we’ve gotten through several of those stages now. And we want to just keep that going. I always explain that because we’re a B Corp, we’re making a positive impact on every project we work on. So the more work we do, the better the more projects we do, the better. So if we can grow our team by 10 times the size it is now we’ll be making 10 times the positive impact.
Owen Barrett 27:53
What’s the process for becoming a B Corp? Joel, if you have more, if you have more climate rubbly questions you can accept but I’m curious.
Joel Cesare 28:02
Hey, man, you’re gonna host. Ask away. I was gonna ask him about the B Corp. I do have a point to make but let them answer first.
Drew Shula 28:10
Big B Corp as a process. It’s if you’re familiar with lead, it’s similar to LEED, it’s documenting. Like a Points Based System where the more points you get, the better. And so there’s a huge framework that B Lab is an organization that runs B Corp that they created. And it’s super detailed and built out around all the ways your company can make a positive impact on people in the environment. So it’s the carbon footprint of your company and diversity and pay equity and a million things and you’re scoring yourself. And what happens is, it gives you a list of areas where you can improve on so it’s this brilliant tool for continuous improvement over time. And we use B Corp exactly for that. We’re looking at our score every year and trying to figure out okay, what can we do next to improve our score next time around.
Owen Barrett 29:06
That’s awesome. So it’s an annual certification process.
Drew Shula 29:09
It actually recertifies every year. It used to be two years. I think they’ve changed it to every three years now when you technically get recertified, but we’re using it, you know, every year in between as well. Keep making progress. Cool.
Joel Cesare 29:23
I’ve heard it’s kind of a pain in the ass. Like, it’s hard to do, which is right. So it should be.
Drew Shula 29:28
It is not easy. It’s extra, right? Like you’re, you know, there’s you’re not making any direct revenue from this. But what, but it is a huge crater of value because the company gets better. The more of these things you’ve implemented, the better the company is, the higher your B Corp score is, the better the company is. It really works.
Joel Cesare 29:50
Yeah, I mean, I’d heard that actually. My wife works in fashion and she was interviewing a while back with an athleisure company out of Canada, a pretty smaller brand, but they were a B Corp. And I remember being so impressed by that because the world of athleisure you know, Lululemon is very very just had some Climate Neutral claim, which I’m sure Owen would poke a lot of holes in like he loves to do when people are making these claims, but it’s interesting B Corp. I would guess amongst the general non sustainability nerd public, it’s hard for anyone to differentiate, oh, carbon neutral. It’s got some certification looking things there. That must be legit. And oh, that’s B Corp. I don’t know what that is. But B Corp is different and better. I wish there was a way people recognize that companies like you, that’s not easy or simple to do. That’s differentiating.
Drew Shula 30:34
Yeah, one thing you can do is everybody out there listening to your podcast is to support me. Courts buy things from corpse votes with your dollar is a great beat Corp tagline. And it’s super effective, right? Like, there’s, there’s over 6000 B corps in every type of industry, you can look for a B Corp to buy your food from and your clothes and your shoes and everything else you can think of. And it really does help to create this B Corp economy, which is I think something we all want to see happen. So Drew,
Joel Cesare 31:07
Let’s pivot a little bit, still a Verdical group, but we’re talking green building architecture real estate. Sure. Times like right now the commercial office, industry struggling big companies reconsidering their real estate footprint, you know, less people in offices. Do we need offices? I would imagine your best years have been when construction and developments are booming, right? You’re hitting on those new construction projects trying to do LEED trying to do high performance green building. I won’t ask that, you know, I guess, is it a struggle now with the downturn? Or I would imagine there’s opportunities to pick up some ESG work that’s not so focused on real estate? Where are you guys at?
Drew Shula 31:45
Yeah, great question. We had our best year ever last year and 2022. So the Verdical group, again, it’s 11 years old, we’re stuck at around eight people for like four or five years. But since 2020, the past three years, we grew from eight to 25. And then this year has been, you know, nowhere near as hot as last year, you know, the rising interest rates have really put a damper on things, a lot of projects kind of going on hold. There’s just not as much activity as there was last year. I think I’m hopeful that by early next year, early 2024, things will be back to the races again. But we’ve had to, you know, we’ve sort of been a little bit more flatline this year after a ton of growth the past couple years. So, but ESG is something that we see as a newer service for us the past couple years that we think will really continue to grow in the future, for sure.
Joel Cesare 32:39
Oh, and is a vocal critic of ESG thinks it’s all BS. So what do you say to a consultant who brings ESG services?
Owen Barrett 32:47
I will give a little background. I spent a lot of time poking around ESG ratings, because I do think it’s mostly BS. And what I see a lot of the time is companies get ESG ratings now based on what they say they’ll do in the future. And my point is, why don’t we give companies scores now based on what they’re doing now? Because I feel like that’s what’s important. And to the B Corp conversation, you would get reevaluated every year, every two years, every five years, whatever. But I don’t see the value in giving someone a score now for what they say they’re going to do in 25 years. I just think that’s part of the problem.
Drew Shula 33:23
Yeah, I agree with you. And I think that ESG can be a whole, you know, if it’s done the wrong way, it can be used as a horrible greenwashing tool. And, you know, you see fossil fuel companies that have cigarette companies, scores, right. And it’s just crazy. I think of it anyway, as an emerging field, we’re still figuring it out and improving it as we go over time. But the way we approach it at the Verdical group is we’re working with our clients that have an ESG program to help them tell their stories. And I think that, like a B Corp certification, you know, could be thought of as like an ESG score, you know, a way to score your company from a third party as well. That’s really an effective tool. But you know, if you think about an annual report for a company that was to show all of the great things that they’re doing for people on the planet, you know, from volunteer hours, to their projects that they’re working on, they’re LEED certified spaces, whatever it might be. Put that all in a report that they share at the end of the year. That’s kind of what we’re helping our clients focus on their own ESG program.
Owen Barrett 34:32
I think it’s important, I think, you know, as you were answering, that my bone to pick with ESG is my same bone to pick in sustainability. And that’s that there’s so much coverage put on forward commitments, like whoever came up with that idea as a concept as a genius because it takes everyone’s attention away from what companies are doing today. And more on what they say they’re going to do so far down the future. that no one can hold them accountable. There should be some program Joel, here we go shiny object where you evaluate companies just on their impact year to year impact year to year growth in whatever their target is. And you don’t even care about what they say they’re going to do in the future because it shouldn’t be relevant to the conversation. Whether it’s ESG, or emissions, which I guess is part of the ESG brings
Joel Cesare 35:25
up shiny object. I’m constantly reminding him on these shows when we meet people, and they’re telling them about some cool business idea they have or some vague spot in the market they think they can exploit. And he just texted me aside, he’s like, maybe we should start a company doing this. Like, hey, Owen, you’re running a netzero real estate company and wanted you to focus on the task at hand. Yeah, but there’s so many opportunities that truly create a new impact.
Owen Barrett 35:59
True. Yeah. But it doesn’t it does not take into account forward commitments. Because I think that’s a slippery slope.
Drew Shula 36:06
Yeah, no, we should build that. I just want to agree with you, though, on the forward commitments, kind of crazy. They are, I think, a lot of companies you hear about, and like we’ve talked about a little bit between the three of us, like that the general public just doesn’t even understand all the terminology that we’re using, right? Yeah, that’s a problem. But even for folks in the sustainability world, like the three of us are, when companies are making Net Zero 2050 commitments, and people are celebrating this and writing press releases about it. And that is, what, 2027 years away 27 years, let’s take 30 years, yeah, that’s a really long time away to just have a goal to get to Net Zero . And that’s basically just saying, you can do whatever the hell you want, you can have the worst emissions possible for 27 more years, until you get to 25th. That’s what the 2050 Net Zero goals say. It’s pretty horrible. As a comparison, we were a small company, right? We’re only 25 people, but we got to net positive in 2021. Two years ago, we’re already net positive. And we did it all the way back to day one of founding the company in 2012, we figured out our missions for all our first 10 years, and we offset those and we’ve reduced emissions as much as we can moving forward. And we’re gonna continue to offset those over missions plus 10% into the future. So it can be done two years ago, or 10 years ago, it can be done now. And 2050 is way too far out. 2040 is better. 2030 is even better, or today is the best. Right? So for everybody out there listening, just talk, talk to your company or organization, start to do it today. Yeah,
Joel Cesare 38:03
Yeah. It’s always interesting, especially some of these really big companies with old white guys. Let’s be honest, running the show executives. And it’s like, you guys, you made your money. You’re an executive at a big company. What’s the what? Why are you so afraid of taking a risk?
Owen Barrett 38:22
Nobody wants to put their neck out. Nobody wants to be like, yeah, no one wants to ruin their, you know, their cushy job.
Drew Shula 38:29
It’s much harder for these huge companies. Right? So like, we’re a 25 person consulting firm, like, it’s easier for us to get to Net Zero than Delta Airlines. Right. But is it? I mean,
Owen Barrett 38:43
if you took, like, proportionally your resources, and scaled that to Delta, I don’t think it’s that hard. Like, I think companies could do it in five years, if they really wanted to. I just think they don’t want to
Joel Cesare 38:57
Drew’s trying to grow a big company. He can’t be taking shots at big Fortune five clients, he can’t be here revenue.
Owen Barrett 39:08
Check me on the side of the shots and I’ll start making shots needed to be a nice forward facing self. No, but I mean, I think this is like huge kudos to you. I don’t think I don’t think you should understate the impact. Just because you’re a small company. I think it’s hard, regardless of the size. And I think bigger companies have more resources. And so it’s maybe more complicated, but you just throw an equivalent amount of resources towards it and get the same outcomes, probably greater risk, you
Joel Cesare 39:37
Now, Drew’s Yeah, margins are probably tighter than deltas, and, you know, one bad year and that’s 25 People could shrink and he’s got people relying on them. It’s, you know, delta can have a bad year and they’ll usually be fine.
Owen Barrett 39:48
Yeah, it’s a good point. Like all the airlines right now, having terrible years, is just like, Well, maybe not from a profit standpoint, but from a service standpoint. So Delta
Joel Cesare 39:59
Lake Delta might have a good sustainability program. I got no words. We’re gonna clip that one. And now we’re gonna send it to Delta. Well, Drew, while we’re here talking about it, I want to hear your answer. I mean, we’ve touched on it. But it’s something that we on this podcast really celebrate. It’s something Owen and I have always aligned upon, which is why we’re business partners and do what we’re doing with our company currently. But it’s those of us who think the world needs something better, impact needs change. Sometimes you can go about that by nonprofit, you can volunteer, you can donate. But we’ve always thought I again, oh, and I agree on this when we met in grad school, the best way to have impact is through business. And I think I’ve heard you say this before. I mean, you said earlier, you know, you want to make money by doing good. I mean, expand upon that. Why is that your thesis?
Drew Shula 40:50
Really good question. Well, we live in a capitalist world, and I don’t think we should not be ashamed about wanting to make money. That’s just the system that we’re in. And but I think that we, you know, we’ve been doing it wrong. And that’s this whole idea of B Corp. If you haven’t heard about B Corps, please check it out, everybody out there. It’s a very powerful idea, though, about harnessing the for profit, capitalist system to make a positive impact on people on the planet. Verdical Group became registered in the state of California as a corporate entity as a benefit corporation. So we’re legally required to think about our impacts. And then B Corp is a separate third party certification for companies who are serious about this and creating a scorecard like we were talking about, but, you know, I thought about going into the nonprofit world after college trying to figure out what I was going to do with my life. And, you know, I was struggling trying to find a job, I wasn’t qualified for anything. The pay was really low. And I think if we can successfully connect profit with positive impact, which is what we’re talking about here in the capitalist system, that’s where we get these massive, positive outcomes happen. I think it works the best as well. So I’m just agreeing with you.
Owen Barrett 42:35
Yeah, I mean, imagine the impact if every company tried to do a little good with every dollar they made. No, it doesn’t have to be, you know, be a corpse, it could just be a little incremental. Good. We’d be in a totally different space.
Joel Cesare 42:50
Drew, I’m sure you do, too. I get a lot of young people reach out to me on LinkedIn, see my profile and my career and they want to learn how I got to where I got to, or what lessons learned I could share and what advice I could give, and people that want to save the planet with their career. And I have to tell them, because you know, a lot of people want to get into big fancy company, corporate sustainability. I want to work for Nike or Apple or whatever, you know, and I often tell people don’t start a company, figure out a way to start a company, go to a company and learn what it takes to run a company go work for someone like Drew Shula and see what it takes like we need more innovators, entrepreneurs, disruptors, that’s what the world needs, not more, corporate lackeys who are creating ESG reports with forward facing goals. So my rant for the day.
Drew Shula 43:40
I know it’s hard because I worked at JLL in the past, which is a massive real estate company. And, gosh, I had the hardest time there because I had already gotten in the mindset of working in sustainability. And there was almost no one else at that , you know, 11-12 years ago, there was almost no one else there, thinking like that. So you’re, it’s very hard at these big companies, you’re really swimming upstream against everybody else. So I appreciate that sentiment a lot, Joel, because I think we need that too. Sometimes it really helps, though, to have those kinds of bad experiences at a big company. And it makes you value and appreciate, you know, your work, the benefits of a small company and being able to really focus on what you love every day, and just be surrounded by that all the time. Like, gosh, so true. I wouldn’t feel that as if I hadn’t worked at a huge company in the past. I don’t think
Joel Cesare 44:34
Owen was so fed up in one of his corporate jobs. He started a company and almost was on food stamps or you were on food stamps, right?
Owen Barrett 44:41
I’m gonna say why I quit. I quit this. I had the cushiest corporate job ever. I probably work two hours a day maybe? And crushed it. And I quit for two main reasons. One, I implemented a one megawatt fuel cell for our company that said, you know, it was like a $10 million Project. This was when there was the s-chip around fuel cells in California. So I think we got a 40% incentive. And then there’s a 30% tax credit. So you got a $10 million fuel cell for 3 million bucks, saved a million dollars per year. And I think it was a homerun when the project was, I guess, when it was operational. I got a thank you card. From the CEO, this is like a publicly traded company. It’s a huge company. The CEO, CFO, my boss and her boss who is like the CSO. And it’s thanks for all the hard work $25 gift card to Starbucks. Wait, I would have rather had no money in it just a thank you. But the fact that the like assigned a value to it was $25 pissed me off so bad. And then shortly after that, I might have the CSO assigned to me for this project. Joel, going to your point about how stupid some of these job tasks are of creating plaques in our buildings in Drew, this one might hit a home for you so sorry, but it was she who asked me to design plaques. That called out what like different LEED components of our building. So like these buildings lit with LED technology, these bathrooms have low flow toilets. And I was like, You guys are paying me a bunch of money to do energy projects. And now you want me to become like a corporate artist and make plaques. And I just didn’t do it. I just didn’t do the job. And part of the reason that I ultimately ended up quitting is because I thought I was gonna get fired for not doing that job.
Joel Cesare 46:59
Well, drawing this was fun. We’re running out of time, I want to make sure we really plug the conference because we talked a lot about it in the beginning, but it is very special. So we want to take this opportunity to help you reach more people. But before we do that, you’re an optimist. You’re one of the most optimistic climate fighters I know. So this question will not be difficult for you. But we always end the show with the same question to our, to our guests, which is we’re not going to harp on the doomsday news and the climate pessimism, we want to celebrate people disrupting taking action, and ask you what gives you hope for the future.
Drew Shula 47:34
Yeah, I’m definitely an optimist. I think we’re gonna solve this one way or another. It’s just a matter of how long it takes. And the sooner the better. But hopefully, it’s not these 2050 goals that we’re talking about. But yeah, I mean, a bit of a cliche response, but you know, young people, right, we’re talking about climate influencers earlier. And everybody out there, please check these folks out. Isaias Hernandez and Kevin Patel we mentioned earlier, we’re on the panel with Joel at last year’s Net Zero conference. A couple others would be Wawa gather Rue, and Leah Thomas, and Christy Druckmann are all great folks to follow on Instagram or LinkedIn or wherever you are. But young people get it. They’re growing up in a very different world. And we grew up right, you know, we’re mid-career in our 40s. I think I don’t know about all you guys, but I’m 41.
Joel Cesare 48:25
I’m there with Owens, a little younger than 37. Okay. It’s got a lot of gray in that period, he says.
Owen Barrett 48:33
All the stress of buying buildings…
Drew Shula 48:36
Like 20 year olds, you know, they’re 20 years younger than us now, right? And they’re growing up in a very different world with very different messaging and education around the climate crisis. And they’re responding to that and doing things quickly and making climate change climate action happen quickly, and educating others about it. So that’s my sort of cliche response. And then my other response for why to be a climate optimist is heat pumps.
Owen Barrett 49:06
One word answer, we can choose which one we publish.
Joel Cesare 49:12
It’s pretty simple. I mean, I work on building electrification, it’s one of my main tasks in my day job and sometimes I get some executives like, Oh, like this big expensive program running for buildings all over the world. Tell me more about it. It’s pretty simple. We just got rid of the boilers and replaced them with a heat box.
Owen Barrett 49:27
I’m going to sound like an idiot, even though it’s my job to not be an idiot. But he pumps work in all 50 states, correct? Oh, yeah. Where did this come from that they don’t?
Joel Cesare 49:40
What do you think is misinformation? Or I mean, I think a lot is there’s been a lot of innovation in the last 10 years. I guess I’d imagine they’re using a refrigerant that taps into the thermal cycle to create heat and cool. That’s not new technology, necessarily. You know, our air conditioners that only create coolness are essentially heat pumps. But this dual purpose, heat and cold and the ability to operate in really cold climates. I think that innovation has definitely taken leaps, probably in the last 510 years. And then it really did previously,
Owen Barrett 50:11
I see so many things, especially with the Inflation Reduction Act, I think Heat pumps are going to start to be on a lot of consumers minds. And there’s so much stuff out there about does it work? Will it work? Well, it won’t work, but I’m glad to hear I got two experts here. I can ask them my questions, too.
Drew Shula 50:25
Yeah, I think it’s kind of a little bit similar to, like electric vehicles just in that. People understand it, they like them, but like, it might be a long time before they purchase their next car, you know, yeah, they want to do whenever they do buy a car, they’re like, I’m gonna go to an Eevee. Like, I feel kind of similar to heat pumps. People are starting to learn about it a little bit. But hopefully next time, they’re ready to do like an HVAC upgrade. They move in that direction. So true. Yeah. All right, Drew.
Joel Cesare 50:53
Let’s wrap it up. plug everything, plug your own social media, plug your company, but then feel free here to tell everyone about the conference, how they can sign up, what it is, can they still go?
Drew Shula 51:15
Yeah, please come out to the Net Zero conference, everybody in Los Angeles, middle of September 13 and 14th at the LA Convention Center. It’s just Net Zero conference.com. Go there to register. There’s even a free Expo pass. So there’s no barriers for anybody to come out and check it out. So please do come we’re just trying to expand the tent and get everybody there. And then our website’s Verdical group.com with a D in the middle that always has to explain verbs like the Latin root for green. So check out Verdical group.com and on Instagram @sustainability_CEO and then just my name on LinkedIn Drew Shula.