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Filmmaker Shaun MacGillivray: 5 Things We Must Do To Inspire The Next Generation About Sustainability And The Environment

I think it’s important for all people to know, whether you’re young or a bit older, that it’s never too early or too late to make a positive difference in the world. And you don’t have to do it alone. Making a small difference, even if it’s just in the community around you, can start […]

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I think it’s important for all people to know, whether you’re young or a bit older, that it’s never too early or too late to make a positive difference in the world. And you don’t have to do it alone. Making a small difference, even if it’s just in the community around you, can start a ripple effect encouraging others to make a difference too. That’s how the world changes.


I had the pleasure of interviewing Shaun MacGillivray. Shaun is the President and Producer of MacGillivray Freeman Films. He produced MacGillivray Freeman’s America’s Musical Journey, Dream Big, We The Marines, National Parks Adventure (highest grossing documentary of 2016), To The Arctic, Humpback Whales and many more. Hundreds of millions of people have seen our giant screen films around the world. Shaun also leads the business development and partnership team for MacGillivray Freeman working with destination marketing organizations, fortune 500 companies, associations, and non-profit organizations tell their stories from IMAX to IPhone.

Shaun grew up working with his dad, Academy Award™ nominated filmmaker Greg MacGillivray, on film shoots all around the world. Shaun graduated Magna Cum Laude from Emory University with a degree in Economics, then went on to receive a graduate MFA degree in Film Production from the University of Southern California where he specialized in editing, directing and producing documentaries. Shaun lives in Laguna Beach with his wife and family, plays a mean game of ping pong, and can’t wait to go on a RV trip with his family to the National Parks, when his youngest, Rosie (3), gets a little older.


Thank you so much for doing this with us! Our readers would love to “get to know you” a bit more. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?

Mysister, Meghan MacGillivray, and I grew up on location traveling all over the world. Looking back on it, I realize how lucky I was, but at the time, as a kid, I just thought it was fun when I was able to play the extra on set. Of course, there were other perks, like being able to meet incredible and talented individuals who were involved in our films and get a clear idea of what it takes to create a giant screen film. I saw the passion my dad had for it, and the support and help my mom gave him, and it really influenced my life.

Was there an “aha moment” or a specific trigger that made you decide you wanted to become an environmental leader? Can you share that story with us?

I remember when I was still a kid, my dad was filming in Palau and I came face-to-face with a 500-pound grouper that was seven times bigger than me. And another time, as an adult, I was on location for our 2012 film, To The Artic, and we followed a mama polar bear around for 5 days. We saw as she nursed her cubs, hunted for them, and even jumped and fought off a male polar bear that came over to eat her babies, she won. It was in those moments — a combination of the incredible places I’ve been, the animals I’ve seen, and even the people I’ve worked with — that really got me excited about the world we live in and I want to protect it the best I can. It’s something our company as a whole really values.

Is there a lesson you can take out of your own story that can exemplify what can inspire a young person to become an environmental leader?

I think it’s important for all people to know, whether you’re young or a bit older, that it’s never too early or too late to make a positive difference in the world. And you don’t have to do it alone. Making a small difference, even if it’s just in the community around you, can start a ripple effect encouraging others to make a difference too. That’s how the world changes.

Can you tell our readers about the initiatives that you or your company are taking to address climate change or sustainability? Can you give an example for each?

Our company offers cash benefits to those employees who carpool or bike to work. We also use eco-friendly products in the office, including the plates, silverware and cups we have in the breakroom and we recycle. And we started the One World One Ocean Foundation that focuses on protecting our seas. Our employees participate in beach cleanups and we’ve donated to likeminded organizations set on protecting our world and its oceans.

Can you share 3 lifestyle tweaks that the general public can do to be more sustainable or help address the climate change challenge?

I try to set a good example for my kids about this, but it’s not always easy. There are still some things I struggle with myself, but if I had to share three lifestyle tweaks, that I try to live by myself, they are:

1. Reduce, reuse, recycle. It may seem like old news, but there are so many companies out there now making this easier for people to do. Reusable drinking straws, water bottles, and even silverware help lessen how much plastic is being used. Try using reusable totes, instead of plastic bags, or shop at a bulk item grocery stores and bring your own cloth bags for grains, fruits and veggies. If you do purchase or use a product made of plastic, cardboard, tin or glass, recycle it.

2. Limit your energy use. You can help combat excess pollution by using less energy. Examples of how to do this include using energy-efficient light bulbs, unplugging electronics not in use, hang drying clothes, etc. There is also the option of carpooling with co-workers to the office, taking public transportation or biking.

3. Eat smart. Consuming more local and organic based foods, eating less meat, growing your food, and not wasting food are all ways to help reduce carbon emissions and eat for the climate, not against it.

Ok, thank you for all that. Here is the main question of our interview: The youth led climate strikes of September 2019 showed an impressive degree of activism and initiative by young people on behalf of climate change. This was great, and there is still plenty that needs to be done. In your opinion what are 5 things parents should do to inspire the next generation to become engaged in sustainability and the environmental movement?

Well, children typically mirror the good habits taught to them by their parents. If I set a good example for my kids, and show them ways to live more sustainable lives, hopefully, they do the same and teach their kids how to live green as well. The majority of our films are all about inspiring the next generation to be curious about the world around them. Our latest film Into America’s Wild talks about the importance of spending time outdoors. The more kids can connect with the world around them, the more they’ll care and want to protect it. Take your family to the beach, or a national park, or to a local community garden. Show them how they can help and make a difference. Show them, don’t just tell them.

How would you articulate how a business can become more profitable by being more sustainable and more environmentally conscious? Can you share a story or example?

There are many businesses that have made it their mission to live more sustainable and to keep environmental well-being top of mind. Of course, we all have to think about profit, but it’s possible to stand strong in your beliefs while still making a profit. Whole Foods is a great example of this, so is Burt’s Bees, just to name a couple. Companies that put this thinking into their values are the ones consumers fall in love with and who are loyal to.

None of us are able to achieve success without some help along the way. Is there a particular person who you are grateful towards who helped get you to where you are? Can you share a story about that?

I’m incredibly grateful for my dad, Greg MacGillivray. He’s taught me where hard work, kindness, and creativity can get you. We’ve been in the business for over 50 years now and it all started with my dad’s love and passion for filmmaking — but it’s become so much more than that. We went from surf films to becoming a leading independent producer and distributor of first-class premium content that spans from iPhone to IMAX. I’ve learned you get what you give in this life, and we’re successful because we put our heart and soul into everything we do.

You are a person of great influence and doing some great things for the world! If you could inspire a movement that would bring the greatest amount of good to the greatest amount of people, what would that be? You never know what your idea can trigger. 🙂

Getting up off the couch, taking your eyes off the phone and getting out into nature.

Do you have a favorite life lesson quote? Can you tell us how that was relevant to you in your own life?

Never stop learning. Every day is a chance to learn, improve, and grow!

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