Recently, I had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Sandra Brandt, the new Executive Director of Shift Cycling Culture, a global nonprofit foundation that supports and inspires the cycling sector to take action on climate. We love to see how this role combines Sandra’s two great passions: sustainability and mountain biking. Her professional background is in sustainable business model development; she managed environmental programs at Adidas and led the International Platform for Insetting, which is where we first met her. But she has also been long-obsessed with mountain biking. She even met her husband biking and together they started a company – Ridgeline – that leads mountain biking tours in Central Italy.
Before joining Shift, Sandra always wondered: “what is the cycling industry doing around sustainability? It seemed like the industry was hiding behind a narrative that the bicycle is environmentally friendly…but no one has been telling the whole story and was looking at the other side of the coin. Where and how are those bicycles being produced and how are we using them? How is this contributing to climate change and the places we love to ride? And what are more sustainable ways of producing and using our beloved bikes?”
Shift is helping the cycling world to learn more about their environmental impacts and what they can do to improve them. And Sandra says that “as an innovation-driven and manufacturing-heavy industry, the biggest impact and potential for action is within the upstream value chain: how the materials and energy used to build the bike frames and components, accessories, and clothing are sourced, but also how the products are being designed”.
In order to support this transformation, Shift offers knowledge and skills building programs and manages stakeholder initiatives, such as a CEO forum for CEOs across the cycling industry to discuss what leadership in sustainability should look like. The group launched in 2021 a Climate Commitment Campaign, appealing to companies across the cycling sector to disclose emissions and to put plans into place on how to reduce them by at least 55% by 2030.
Shift just launched a documentary film, Cracked Earth, capturing the lives of cyclists worldwide, living in areas where climate change is no longer a future threat, but a daily reality. Sandra says, “the aim of the film is to serve as a tool to bring people together around the topic and to encourage climate action.” In that spirit, anyone can organize a viewing.
And this year, Shift’s focus will be on supporting companies to engage with their supply chains and to tackle common challenges together. Their plans are to identify shared suppliers, evaluate methods for collective engagement, and support interventions such as climate action trainings.
When I asked Sandra about her favorite place to ride, she replied, “my backyard:” Ridgeline manages around 300 km of trails in the Apuan Alps and the Tosco-Emiliano Apennines. She is based in the valley between them, called Garfagnana. And she sees climate change at work there too. “As we manage the maintenance of our trail network for almost a decade now, we see the impacts of heavier storms affecting the landscape. But we also experience drier, hotter summers and dry riverbeds.” This recognition only fuels her work to collaborate with the cycling industry to protect the places they all love and rely upon.