Drew Shula is Founder & CEO of Verdical Group, and Founder of the annual Net Zero Conference

Drew Shula is the founder and CEO of Verdical Group, a sustainability consulting company helping clients decarbonize their building projects. He is also the founder of the Net Zero Conference, an annual conference and expo dedicated to carbon, climate, equity, ESG, net zero, and resilience.

Why did you start Verdical Group and the Net Zero Conference—what were your drivers?

Of course, I wanted to make money, but I wanted to do it my way. My favorite movie was The Social Network and I’d seen it in the theater multiple times. We had entrepreneurs in my family and in my wife’s family. We had our first daughter, Acadia, in 2010 so I had a two-year-old at home when I decided to start Verdical Group. I thought that if I didn’t do it then, I’d probably never do it.

I had a strong ambition to change the world and started Verdical Group alone in my Pasadena garage as a direct response to the climate crisis. 40% of global carbon emissions come from buildings, so they are a huge part of the problem, which conversely also makes buildings a huge part of the solution. Verdical Group is a sustainability and green building consulting company helping our clients decarbonize their building projects.

Now I’m a start-up guy and love talking about social entrepreneurship—starting companies that make a positive impact. Verdical Group has always tried to lead by example. We’re a certified B Corporation, 1% for the Planet member company, registered Benefit Corporation in the State of California, have committed to not take money from fossil fuel companies, have divested our investment portfolio, and are a net positive company. We published our first annual Social and Environmental Impact (ESG) Report last year and our mission is to, “build an equitable net zero future for all people, now.”

As a for-profit company working to make a positive impact, part of how we achieve our mission is through education and that’s where our Net Zero Conference comes in. We’re now in our ninth year and the event has grown to 1,500 attendees from almost every U.S. State and more than 50 countries. We’ve been able to scale our impact far beyond our clients who we talk to in our day-to-day project work, impacting the entire industry.

Verdical Group CEO Drew Shula (far right) with the Verdical Group team at the company’s 2022 Earth Day beach cleanup volunteer project in Venice, California. 

What’s exciting to you in the sustainability industry today?

I’m a climate optimist, I think we’re going to solve this problem, and there’s a lot to be excited about. The rise of ESG is a big one—Environmental, Social, and Governance reporting. Big companies are starting to transparently share their positive impact goals and progress. Things are changing fast. Every industry in the world is reinventing itself to run zero carbon—buildings, transportation, shipping, manufacturing, you name it.

One risk is how confusing all the terminology is becoming—we need to keep things simple. Do you know the difference between carbon negative, climate positive, and net zero? Sustainability people need to focus on the issues and standardize terminology fast because it’s driving people away from our movement and leaving them confused.

We’re at a critical moment, trying to cap our planet’s warming at 1.5 degrees Celsius. It’s incredible to see the climate actions being taken in all industries, but we need to move faster, with more urgency and sweeping policy. $369 billion of federal funding for climate initiatives in the USA is a great momentum signal, but we have an incredible amount of work ahead of us.

The Net Zero Conference is a place for sustainability leaders to convene, inspire, and create a path forward to get this done. We need to build a net zero future for everyone as quickly as possible. I think I’ll spend the rest of my career working on this challenge.

The Net Zero Conference will take place at the Los Angeles Convention Center, September 14-15, 2022. 

What’s next—what’s in your future forecast?

Verdical Group and the Net Zero Conference are continuing to scale up. Our company has doubled from 2020 to 2021, and is on track to double again from 2021 to 2022 this year. It’s our goal to continue on this trajectory into the future. There are strong tailwinds and a ton of momentum in our movement.

We’re not pursuing growth for the sake of growth, or solely for profit. We’re growing to do more good in the world. The larger we get, the more projects we complete, and the more carbon we reduce from the atmosphere. And that’s where this story comes full circle because I hope to be back in the Maine woods where I grew up when I retire a few decades from now, reconnected with the nature and seasons of my youth, without significant change from what I enjoyed growing up.

How fast can we move? How fast can we reduce and sequester our annual gigatons of carbon emissions? How low can we cap our global warming number? Check back in with me in 20 years and if I’ve done my job well, I’ll have good news for you. 

About Drew Shula

Growing up in the woods of rural Maine, Drew Shula was incredibly connected to nature and attributes this to why he is in the sustainability industry today. His parents were hippies who moved to Maine as part of the back-to-the-land movement in the 1970s.

At 18, he moved to the slightly larger town of South Bend, Indiana at Notre Dame for a five-year program studying Architecture, Urbanism, and Philosophy. He also considers the summer he spent volunteering on an ecotoruism project in the tiny rural village of Tokor in the Adaklu Region of Ghana as a transformational experience, where he was struck by the strong communal ties and quality of life the locals enjoyed.

After graduation, he moved to LA with his college girlfriend, Elizabeth, who he ultimately married. At the time, the sustainability industry didn’t exist yet, but he knew he wanted to make a positive impact on people and the environment. After a series of temp jobs and from professional experiences that introduced him to LEED and the green building industry at places such as Jerde Partnership, Thomas Properties Group, and Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL), he ended up founding Verdical Group in 2012.

Working in green building and sustainability allowed Drew to marry his training in the building industry with his deep connection to nature and love of environmentalism. He considers himself one of the lucky people who absolutely love what they do for work—for Drew, there’s no better recipe for life happiness.

The Net Zero Conference 2022 (NZ22) will take place at the LA Convention Center, September 15, 2022, with the Trailblazer Gala & Awards that evening at the South Park Center in LA, keynoted by ILFI’s CEO Lindsay Baker. The event features an expo hall, keynotes, and an education session program. Register at: www.netzeroconference.com

Written By