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This Q&A with Sandra Brandt, Executive Director of Shift Cycling Culture, was originally published in the Spent 2 Yearbook (September 2023). Interview by Daisy Maddinson.

Hey Sandra, great to chat with you! You joined Shift Cycling Culture as their new executive director this year. Can you give us a brief overview of Shift’s mission and why you have joined the organisation?

Thanks! Shift Cycling Culture is a global not-for-profit foundation with the mission to accelerate collective climate action in the cycling world. We bring the cycling community and industry together to share knowledge and ideas around environmental topics, with a clear focus on the opportunities for companies to make progress in their sustainability journey.We address common challenges and work together to identify the next steps and what we as a group can do to drive the biggest positive impact. The aim of our workshops and forums is that people walk away inspired to make changes, empowered with new ideas and equipped with helpful resources.

I am a keen cyclist, and my passion for mountain biking has influenced my life quite a bit. It made me move to the mountains in Italy, where my partner and I set up our own company and trail network for mountain biking adventures. However, my professional background lies in environmental sciences and sustainable business models. And that’s why it always bugged me that the cycling industry has been hiding behind the narrative that the bike is part of the solution to climate change but has not addressed its environmental impacts. I got excited when I came across Shift, so when I saw the open position, I couldn’t say no!

Shift has been doing some remarkable work within the bike industry. In your opinion, why is this work more important than ever?

Yes, considering Shift was brought to life by three passionate cyclists purely on a voluntary basis, it is incredible what they have achieved so far. It shows the huge interest in change and collective action, but also that there has been a need to provide a space where the cycling community and industry can come together on the topic of sustainability, which is great because this is what we absolutely need right now. We can’t continue to make incremental and individual steps and take our time to figure things out. The environmental crisis and collapse of entire ecosystems are no longer a future threat. We are reaching irreversible tipping points that we won’t be able to fix, which will have devastating effects on the places we love to ride and on every aspect of our lives. If we want to get serious about this, we need to cut our carbon emissions in half by the end of this decade. And no company can tackle that alone.

To drive action and bring about tangible results, collaboration is often crucial. How do you work with other organisations, businesses, or community groups to advance your mission?

Shift is all about bringing people together to help one another progress in their sustainability journey and tackle challenges collectively. This kind of open and honest knowledge sharing between companies – and collaborating on projects – is still quite new to the cycling industry compared to other sectors, such as the fashion and outdoor industry, which have been doing this for many years. There’s a lot that the cycling world can learn from these initiatives and other industries. That’s why we bring them together through our different Shift forums and meetups to share insights and discuss the things that have worked and the ones that didn’t. These conversations also help us identify where the gaps are and what we can do together to drive things forward.

One great example is our CEO Forum. For about three years now, Shift has been facilitating a group of CEOs from some of the largest cycling companies in the world who meet on a regular basis to hear from leaders in our and other sectors, share learnings, discuss what sustainability means from a leadership perspective and find ways they can collaborate and use the strength of collective action to accelerate change. For example, they initiated the Shift Cycling Industry Climate Commitment, which we launched in November 2021. To date, we have more than 80 CEOs who have signed the commitment to measure and disclose their emissions annually and share their plans on how to reduce them by 55% by 2030.

Since you joined Shift, the bike industry has been going through some big swings. What is your takeaway on what’s happening in the industry right now? And are you seeing any changes in the momentum of brands pursuing climate action?

It’s a turbulent time for the industry to navigate through. Searching for a balance between supply and demand, it has been devastating to see the ongoing waves of layoffs. We are certainly seeing the influence of these current challenges on companies when it comes to sustainability. It feels like it has been dividing the crowd even more into those who see sustainability as a strategic key for building more resilient and successful businesses and those who only see it as a nice-to-have marketing exercise. While there are some exciting things happening at some companies, others have pushed the topic aside.

What are some of these exciting things that are happening?

Some companies have been exploring great new product innovations and technologies over the past few years, and the concept of circularity has really been driving some of these product developments, like the prototype of a 3D-printed frame and fork using a recycled aluminium powder revealed by Canyon last year. Schwalbe, for example, has been working on a circular process for their tyres and recently launched a tyre that consists of 70% recycled materials and reduced its emissions by a third. At this year’s Eurobike, we saw a prototype of a gravel bike frame made from bio-based flax fibre. These developments excite me as they build on the innovative spirit of this industry and help inspire and motivate others to integrate sustainability into their core business and processes.

What are your key goals for Shift Cycling Culture in the upcoming months or years?

I recently had an interesting conversation with someone senior in the cycling industry, who told me that everyone always speaks about collaboration but that she didn’t know what collaboration in the competitive cycling industry actually means. My goal with the Shift community is to demonstrate what collective action looks like, showcase the positive impact it can bring and get more companies on board. We have been working on some great projects with our community this year, which I believe will only be the start of many more.

Can you tell us more about one of these collaborative projects?

Our recent initiatives mainly target companies' supply chains because we know that the biggest portion of a company’s environmental footprint comes from how they source materials and produce our bikes and gear. Tackling these impacts is one of the most complex challenges for companies. But as many of them share the same suppliers and factories, there’s a huge opportunity to team up and drive down emissions in supply chains. A group of companies in our community have joined forces to co-develop an open-source Climate Action Training for factories. The goal of the training is to provide suppliers with foundational knowledge about greenhouse gas emissions data, climate target setting and potential solutions on how to reduce emissions.

What can individuals outside of the industry do to drive climate action?

There are many things that we can and should do in our day-to-day lives, like habits we can change and questions we can ask ourselves, our politicians and the companies we buy from. Although it is important for everyone to reflect on their behaviour, individual actions alone won’t get us to where we need to be, unfortunately. The big levers are the industry, the cycling organisations and the government. But if I had to pick one thing that all of us can do, I would say talk about it. Don’t accept the excuse that the bike is sustainable by nature, and help change this narrative. If you show that you care, you want to change, and you are happy to support the transition to a more sustainable way of producing and using bikes, then this helps the companies to make the business case and governments to put the right incentives and policies into place to build a more sustainable cycling world. We all need to make it a topic and become ambassadors for change.

See Shift Cycling Culture's Impact Report to learn more about our focus for 2023/2024, and how to engage.


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