“My connection with Pe’ahi begins as one of my earliest memories of watching giant waves from the 200 foot cliff. I really feel like I’ve bonded with this place, considering the fact that my entire life has been about riding that spot. It feels less like a goal and more like a spiritual pursuit. So many life lessons have been learned out there. With every big wave I face, I learn a little more about myself.” – Kai Lenny

As outdoor water people, don't all of us have a special place in our lives that reminds us of Kai’s words: a place where we return to over and over again to ground ourselves, to grow, or to just stand there in awe of the magnificence of nature? At Standup Journal, we like to think so.

And even if we don’t have one centering space like Pe’ahi is to Kai, perhaps we’ve caught glimpses of what he talks about while on the water, chasing one of our own pursuits like surfing, paddling, kiting or foiling. What draws us back is what makes us better, both in performance and as humans. We return to the water in order to replenish and remember who we are out there, disconnected from land, immersed in the joy of our favorite pursuit, soaked in the sunshine of the moment, rudderless and happy.

See Change Sessions: What Connects Us All?

So what do world renowned athletes like Kai, former policy aides, outdoor enthusiasts and mega brand CEO’s all have in common? How about a love for the ocean, concern for public health, and a vision for the future where big businesses can uphold environmental safeguards?

Welcome to A New Earth Project.

At a recent See Change Sessions climate action summit in Burlington, Vermont, big wave charger Kai Lenny arrived, surprisingly representing a packaging company called Atlantic Packaging. Kai’s presence was in support of a recent initiative by this company called “A New Earth Project”.

A New Earth Project is a strategic collaboration between outdoor enthusiasts and global packaging suppliers with a mission to rid the world's lakes, rivers, and oceans of plastic pollution. Their point of focus is the supply chain. In fact, Atlantic Packaging - the oldest privately held packaging company in North America with a history of advocacy - is doing everything they can within the sphere of their own influence to help mitigate the climate crisis. This vision includes collectively tackling plastic pollution by helping consumers, brands and packaging suppliers find state-of-the-art, sustainable solutions to plastic packaging. Their leadership and example hope to encourage other large and small businesses to do the same.

Start Where You ARE: Your Own Back Yard

At See Change Sessions, Wes Carter, President of Atlantic Packaging and grandson of its founder, explained how in post-COVID times, there is a new awareness surrounding packaging that is at an all-time high. As consumers flocked to their computers during the pandemic to place food, clothing and household orders, the packaging industry bore the brunt of that growth. Atlantic Packaging wants to capitalize on that growing awareness and momentum by launching several new products that are “New Earth approved”. These packaging items are 100% curbside recyclable. No exceptions.

“During COVID, I noticed how clear the water was and how close the fish were coming to shore. The marine life bounced back exceptionally quick. It made me think that a lot of issues that are deemed irreversible might, in fact, not be. It gives me hope. Life is a resilient thing.” - Kai Lenny

AP’s partnership with Kai Lenny - as well as other world renowned surfers like Kelly Slater & John John Florence - is to catalyze their mission to reduce the plastic that has been suffocating the packaging industry. A New Earth Project looks to harness the influence of great athletes like Kai to ignite a passion and build awareness around sustainable packaging.

“In order to make this change happen, we need to have a platform. That’s where Kai comes in,” says Carter.

Filmmaker Peter King introduced Kai to Wes Carter in Hawaii. Kai quickly came to understand Carter’s vision of educating the public through the popular surf culture and industry. As Kai explains, “As a professional athlete, we get so much stuff! I’ve always saved my packaging and reused it to stuff my board bags and protect my equipment when I travel.”

Wes Carter believes that by storytelling through unboxing surfboards, A New Earth Project can attract large numbers of viewers- even those big customers - by introducing them to new packaging alternatives. To begin, he brought his sustainable packaging designs and products to outdoor companies including surf brands like Firewire, Rusty and Pyzel. His aim was to influence the big product companies by telling the stories of these outdoor brands as a way to inspire more people.

Carter says, “We already have a seat at the table with those big corporations like Procter & Gamble, CocaCola, Anheuser-Busch and Kellogg’s. We’ve seen companies go 100% plastic free within one quarter (3-months), so we know it can be done.”

Does he think that this effort is going to solve the climate crisis? “No,” he says. “But this is a door to many other doors in the future.”

Carter’s other important focus includes contemporary changes being made to impact climate change through broad, sweeping legislation, specifically EPR-SP54 or the Extended Product Responsibility bill. This landmark bill was signed into law in California on June 30, 2022. By it, the Plastic Pollution Prevention and Packaging Producer Responsibility Act will impose fees and regulatory obligations on manufacturers of single use packaging and single use service ware.

The law not only targets manufacturers, but also sellers of all goods sold in California, and it will apply to the owner or licensee of the brand under which the covered product is sold. Under the law, producers of covered material - defined as certain single use packaging and plastic single use food service ware - are required to join a producer responsibility organization (PRO) by January 1, 2024 or be prohibited from selling, importing or distributing such covered materials in California. It is, as Carter says, “the wave of the future”.

Coming from Hawaii where conservation is taught as a way of life, Kai believes he can impact others through his surfing and social media platforms by sharing his passion for watersports. He says, “The art of trying to sell a product is not forcing it but by showing how I use it personally. That’s what makes it authentic.” He adds that regarding the growing awareness around packaging, “You have to believe in the product and I believe in what these guys are doing.”

The concept is doing what you can with where you are. The evolving partnership between A New Earth Project and Kai Lenny is a natural connection between water lovers (Carter is a life long surfer) who strive to take care of the planet. Kai explains more fully when he says, “The best way (to have influence on climate change) and make a large difference is by beginning in your own community. What started me on this
path was doing beach cleanups with my friends. If everyone did that, a good impact can be made.”

Kai’s beach cleanups evolved into larger campaigns including more people and foundations that historically spread across the Hawaiian islands. Remember Kai’s wing foiling campaign back in 2017 in partnership with 5 Gyres and Sustainable Surf where he foiled over 200 miles between the islands in order to inspire local beach cleanups and empower communities around ocean pollution? Here’s a local athlete, doing what he can in his home waters, using the sport that he loves so much. And now that influence has become stronger with A New Earth Project.

“The easiest way to make a difference is to try to figure out what is going on in your back yard and how you can help make a positive change. The rest will come naturally. Best of all, it just feels really good to give back to the place that gives you so much,” says Kai.

Thanks to athletes like Kai and business initiatives like Atlantic Packaging’s A New Earth Project, perhaps we can all take another look around and see where we might begin to bring positive influence. Aloha, Kai!