Welcome to SHFT.com. Here, photographs of majestic landscapes stand shoulder-to-shoulder with quirky animated shorts, mini documentaries highlighting do-good innovators, and articles about the latest sustainable clothing line. Delicate flakes of organic maple sugar, high-end lighting fixtures crafted from salvaged cardboard, and kid-sized bamboo toothbrushes are all for sale.
SHFT sprang from a partnership between two friends, the independent film producer Peter Glatzer and Hollywood actor and documentary filmmaker Adrian Grenier in late 2010. At first glance, all the maple flakes and Icelandic music videos might seem part of a collection of rather erudite Internet memes, but the wider vision at play is what SHFT really is—a smart, obsessively curated, deeply thoughtful project with an ever-expanding mission to change the public’s perceptions about the environment.
Not long ago, gb&d was treated to a tour of the latest iteration of that mission—SHFT Studio, housed in a penthouse suite atop the luxurious, LEED Silver-certified Residences at W Hollywood. Shortly after, I caught Glatzer on the phone between meetings, to talk about wine, SHFT’s partnership with Ford, and why fear-based environmentalism doesn’t work.
gb&d: I’m curious how something like this starts. You had this idea of bringing sustainability into the mainstream in a more friendly, subtle way than what you were seeing from hardcore environmentalists. How did you decide the Web was your platform?
WHAT NOT TO MISS ON SHFT.COM ACCORDING TO ADRIAN GRENIER
SEE Fay Yu’s Photographic Dreamland
“The image of Fay Yu playing with bubbles in a grassy field is the kind of thing we love. Whimsical, childlike and beautiful. The essence of the work is that you need to stop and smell the roses. That’s a very SHFTy tenet.”
SHOP SHFT House Wine
“How could I not plug our wine? At $25, it will make you sing.”
WATCH The Big SHFT Van Jones
“Van Jones has to be one of the most inspiring badasses out there. He’s been a pioneer of green jobs for the ‘have-nots’ and has merged an environmental imperative with a way to keep capable, at-risk young people out of trouble and in jobs.”
Peter Glatzer: We were both coming from a very independent filmmaking background, and I would stress the ‘independent,’ where the creative control had always been in our hands. So it really came out of wanting to, for both of us, control the way we created our content and our messaging and have that independent vision. And we were both very intrigued by where media was heading at the time. This was six, seven years ago, mind you—so not only before new media skyrocketed and digital platforms exploded, but it was also before An Inconvenient Truth came out, before the sustainable space was even on the map.
gb&d: You would be hard-pressed to find a public service announcement on SHFT.com. So, because there is so much of that green PSA stuff out there, what kinds of curatorial questions are you asking yourself before you put up content?
Glatzer: We get asked a lot, ‘What are the five things that anyone should do to lighten their footprint or have a greener lifestyle?’ And I find that those questions really go against the grain of what SHFT stands for, which is that what’s right for me to do isn’t necessarily right for you to do. I think the overarching narrative of SHFT—you find this, I think, in everything that we’re doing, whether it’s our home base here at the W, or the shop that we curate very carefully, or the content that we make—is that the need for us to react to climate change issues can be tackled by tapping into the creative spirit that we all have as human beings. So our criteria are very elastic, because we want to be able to see just an artistic video or just a gorgeous piece of architecture. It may feel insignificant on its own, but in the context of the article or product it’s sitting next to, it actually rounds out something. We say no to things that feel daunting or angry, because one of the big things that promulgated founding SHFT in the first place was the idea that everything felt so dark and dreary and there was so much fear-based environmentalism going on: ‘If we don’t do this, then that will happen.’ And it’s true, but it doesn’t get you anywhere. It doesn’t move the culture. It doesn’t shift us into a place where we’re more aware or want to do more—it makes us afraid. We never wanted to do that.
gb&d: Since launching your house wine, do you guys have plans to put out other products that have SHFT’s brand on it?
Glatzer: Well, we’ll see! We’d never private-labeled anything before—why would we need the SHFT baseball hat, or a SHFT backpack? Even if it’s made sustainably, it’s the kind of thing that might sit in a closet somewhere. We were just anti-excessive stuff. The wine seemed like a logical first extension of our brand, because it was decadent and wine represents just a wonderful thing in life. And if there’s a narrative behind your wine that you’re sharing with people, it can spark conversations. We’re open to other things that fit that criteria for us.
gb&d: You also partner with some major corporations, like Ford and Virgin Airlines. Tell me about those partnerships and what you’re creating out of them.
Glatzer: Well, one of the things we noticed over the years since we started is that companies are waking up. They’re taking note of consumers pushing for change, but it’s also the triple bottom line where companies are saving money by mitigating waste. When we launched SHFT we thought, ‘Let’s build our own platform and find sponsors whose corporate messaging aligns with ours.’ A company like Ford is a really great example. They launched five electric vehicles, and when Adrian and I were approached to work with them, it just made so much sense. The company that brought the middle class the Model T, with the idea that everyone in the country should be able to afford and drive a car, was now doing five electric vehicles. The content we’re creating with them, The Big SHFT, is about innovators who are changing the way we live. It posits that we’re in a paradigm shift right now much like the Industrial Revolution. But unlike the Industrial Revolution, this surge in innovation and technology is taking the planet into account.