Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Wes Carter of Atlantic Packaging Is Helping To Change Our World
An Interview With Penny Bauder
I didn’t anticipate how people across so many different platforms would be so supportive of what we’re doing. Almost a day doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t reach out to me doing environmental work in the non-profit world or someone contacts me from the education system who wants to talk about introducing this to a younger generation. People in business want to collaborate. People in the outdoor industry — even well-known celebrities — want to support it. All of these different areas of our world have come into contact with what we’re doing. They really love it, think it’s unique, and they want to collaborate.
As part of my series about “individuals and organizations making an important social impact”, I had the pleasure of interviewing Wes Carter.
Wes Carter is the third generation leader of Atlantic Packaging, the largest, privately-held packaging company in North America. A University of North Carolina graduate with a degree in journalism, Wes recognized early on that Atlantic Packaging provided an opportunity where he could have a creative and challenging career while also contributing to the family business in a meaningful way. Today, Wes is the driving force behind the company’s sustainability initiatives and its commitment to making real and lasting change as it relates to plastic pollution. As a lifelong surfer, traveler and outdoorsman, Wes’s link with the global surfing community through his initiative, A New Earth Project, helps connect the pieces between the ambassadors of the ocean and the leaders in the packaging supply chain who can enact change. When it comes to social impact, Wes believes that we all have to take it one step, one day at a time. Like anything else, we have to build it in layers — all we need to do is start moving in the right direction.
Thank you so much for doing this with us! Before we dig in, our readers would like to get to know you a bit. Can you tell us a bit about how you grew up?
I grew up on the North Carolina coast splitting time between Wilmington and Wrightsville Beach. The backdrop of my youth was saltwater, surfboards and sun. My father has been an outdoorsman his whole life and introduced me to the joys of the outdoors early on. I was also an Eagle Scout and spent a lot of time in the woods camping, hiking and climbing.
You are currently leading a social impact organization that is making a difference for our planet. Can you tell us a bit about what you and your organization are trying to change in our world today?
Today, Atlantic Packaging is the largest, privately-held packaging company in North America. We primarily service large consumer packaged goods (CPG) brands across almost every industry vertical including food, beverage, automotive, medical, building products and e-commerce. Over the last 40 years, we have built a reputation as an organization that is highly consultative and works to solve complex problems through sophisticated packaging solutions.
We have a seat at the table with almost every major CPG company, and we want to use our influence to encourage and support the supply chain to migrate to more environmentally- friendly packaging. It’s good for business, good for the health of the planet, and good for the health of humans. We see our influence and position as a privilege and an imperative for responsible change to the packaging supply chain.
Can you tell us the backstory about what inspired you to originally feel passionate about this cause?
Growing up in coastal North Carolina, the ocean being such an intimate part of my personal story, and now having two young children have all played a significant role in my passion for this cause. I felt like Atlantic Packaging was in the position to have an impact on some really big environmental issues. I was also inspired by companies like Patagonia, and several close mentors who helped me understand our potential influence.
Many of us have ideas, dreams, and passions, but never manifest them. They don’t get up and just do it. But you did. Was there an “Aha Moment” that made you decide that you were actually going to step up and do it? What was that final trigger?
For me, it required working on myself first. I’ve spent the last five years with a really dedicated spiritual practice rooted in meditation and contemplative practices. I’ve focused on my own personal healing. Through these practices, along with lots of guidance from teachers and mentors, I began to realize how connected we are to the natural world. There was a period of real integration for me where I realized that I not only have a voice, but that I had the privilege and platform to use my voice for positive, collaborative change in the world.
In my “Aha Moment”, the passion became really obvious and simple. I think this is the real secret to the manifestation of anything positive. It starts with you. The universe, God, nature — however you associate your spirituality — is where the inspiration lies. The work was just sitting there waiting, but I had to be in a position to see it.
Many people don’t know the steps to take to start a new organization. But you did. What are some of the things or steps you took to get your project started?
I would say that I focused on one step, one day at a time. Just like anything else, you have to build it in layers. I’ve never gotten too focused on the endgame. It’s an intention…a direction. Just start moving in the direction you want to go, pay attention to the doors that open, embrace help and support from people you trust, and listen to your heart. I try not to rush. In my experience, the energy you bring has everything to do with how easeful and fun a new project can be. There is no magic formula other than just starting. An author told me one time, “If you want to write a book, start with a sentence.”
Can you share the most interesting story that happened to you since you began leading your company or organization?
That’s easy! It was surreal sitting on pro surfer Kelly Slater’s back porch overlooking Pipeline on the North Shore of Oahu while discussing plastic pollution and how our organization and his influence could have real impact on a cleaner marine environment. And again, that just happened. When I woke up that morning, I had no idea I would end up at his house, but it happened just like that. Very organic.
Can you share a story about the funniest mistake you made when you were first starting? Can you tell us what lesson or take away you learned from that?
Honestly, not really. A New Earth Project has been pretty synchronistic in its evolution, and I have just tried to stay open to whatever possibility and direction the project has chosen to manifest. I’ve never had a destination or a goal — only the intention to be a voice and vehicle for positive change in our industry, and hopefully one day, in the world. I always try to remember this is about “WE” and not “ME.” And, I know I will start making mistakes if that ever changes. The intention has to stay pure and honest. And I guess I would argue, that’s what I have learned along the way, the life way.
Anything good you can bring into the world starts with an honest look at yourself and a commitment to being the best “you.” That is real work, or at least, it has been for me. It’s all about staying grounded, and practicing humility and compassion in all aspects of life, including at work and at home. And the lesson that I try to always learn is around the power of human connection and collaboration. We humans are better together. We just are. But, we have to be honest and committed to our own personal work in order to bring our best, authentic self to the party. When we do, magic happens. That I know.
None of us can be successful without some help along the way. Did you have mentors or cheerleaders who helped you to succeed? Can you tell us a story about their influence?
My father has always been my greatest mentor in business and life. His support and influence on me is hard to put into words. My wife, Lindsey, and my two kids, Miller and Violet, are my biggest cheerleaders and really love the work I’m doing. They inspire me daily. I’ve had many mentors along the way, but in particular, Samantha Sweetwater showed me a path to personal healing and also showed me what was possible with my life.
Are there three things the community, society, or politicians can do to help you address the root of the problem you are trying to solve?
Yes! Demand sustainable products and packaging in all the products you purchase. Advocate for upgrades to recycling and curbside composting throughout the U.S. Political leadership around waste recovery and recycling in the U.S. has been abysmal, and we really need leadership at all levels of government to solve these complex pollution issues.
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?
A recent survey showed that 18–34 year old’s have more buying power than the Baby Boomers. The same survey showed that 70 percent of people valued sustainability in their products and packaging as fundamental to their buying decisions. For a major brand, that is incredibly revealing, and we have seen that our customers in food, beverage, and ecommerce want to serve their consumers and customers first and foremost. Furthermore, sustainability is a huge driver for consumer buying decisions. All companies in the supply chain should want to be valued as environmentally conscious. It’s just good business.
What are your “5 things I wish someone told me when I first started” and why. Please share a story or example for each.
- I didn’t anticipate how well our storyline would resonate with others. I felt like there was potential, but I wasn’t sure we would be able to articulate it. Part of the real magic of an initiative like this is that the more you learn, the more different avenues and directions open up. I’ve really embraced this flow.
- I didn’t anticipate how impeccable the timing of this initiative would be. It’s been an interesting intersection of a global pandemic keeping people at home along with a mature e-commerce infrastructure where people were getting more packages to their homes than they ever could have imagined. All of the sudden, packaging was no longer boring. I can’t say that I foresaw this, but I have embraced it. Some of the fun has been not knowing and just watching what has emerged.
- I didn’t anticipate how engaged the large brands we work with would be. They really love this initiative because of A New Earth Project and the really engaging content we’re creating. These brands are big into marketing, and they’re big into their brands. I’ve been pleasantly surprised at how well it’s resonated when these brands see a packaging company like Atlantic creating a brand that supports their brand and is also good for the planet.
- I didn’t anticipate how people across so many different platforms would be so supportive of what we’re doing. Almost a day doesn’t go by where someone doesn’t reach out to me doing environmental work in the non-profit world or someone contacts me from the education system who wants to talk about introducing this to a younger generation. People in business want to collaborate. People in the outdoor industry — even well-known celebrities — want to support it. All of these different areas of our world have come into contact with what we’re doing. They really love it, think it’s unique, and they want to collaborate.
- I didn’t anticipate how powerful collaboration can be. I’ve talked about it a lot but didn’t anticipate that everyone else would honestly feel the same way. It seems to be a snowball rolling down a hill, and it’s getting faster and bigger all the time. People are excited to collaborate, talk, and work together.
If you could tell other young people one thing about why they should consider making a positive impact on our environment or society, like you, what would you tell them?
You are nature, not something separate from it. Your overall health: physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual are integrated with the health of all living things. And as more young people around the world wake up to that undeniable fact, working to support the health of the planet will become incredibly obvious.
Can you please give us your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? Can you share how that was relevant to you in your life?
“You’re going to realize it one day — that happiness was never about your job, or your degree, or being in a relationship. Happiness was never about following in the footsteps of all of those who came before you, it was never about being like the others. One day, you’re going to see it — that happiness was always about the discovery, the hope, the listening to your heart and following it wherever it chose to go. Happiness was always about being kinder to yourself; it was always about embracing the person you were becoming. One day, you will understand. That happiness was always about learning how to live with yourself, that happiness was never in the hands of other people. It was always about you. It was always about you.”
This quote from Bianca Sparacino really sums up the single, most profound thing I have realized in navigating my adult life. For a really long time, I searched for meaning outside of myself while looking under every rock trying to find purpose, worth and connection. Because of incredible mentors, friends, my amazing wife and nature itself, I came to understand that spiritual and emotional healing was a real thing. As I created that healing in my life through many contemplative practices, all of the external needs I once valued became less important.
I wasn’t striving for any specific thing anymore. I found presence — real presence in the everyday. I slowed way down. Maybe that sounds strange for someone with a full life — both in terms of family and business — but I can promise you that busy does not equal happy. Overwhelmed isn’t the answer. I really think life is about finding your authentic self. Slowing down enough to listen to your inner knowing and discovering your unique gifts in the world is important. The world needs you. It needs your special uniqueness that only you can bring. And I believe we can best manifest those gifts when we find balance, health and connection. It always starts with you. Honestly it ends with you, too. We can support others and facilitate healing for others, and we should. But your happiness was and is always about you. This quote is an eloquent reminder of what I believe to be capital “T” Truth.
Is there a person in the world, or in the US with whom you would like to have a private breakfast or lunch with, and why? He or she might just see this, especially if we tag them. 🙂
Nikki Haley. I really respect her as a leader and think that she has a great opportunity to lead this country one day. A lot of the issues we have around climate change and pollution need a policy maker who understands them intimately. We need passionate, strong bipartisan leadership ending the surge of plastic pollution and saving this planet from the devastations of climate change which should be the least partisan issue in the history of the world. I feel like Nikki Haley is someone who can hear that message and bring both sides of the political spectrum together to really solve these issues. There is no greater legacy that our generation could leave for other generations than tackling this complex issue.
How can our readers follow you online?
On Instagram @wesmcarter and @anewearthproject. On LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/wes-carter-32a7a5b
This was very meaningful, thank you so much. We wish you only continued success on your great work!
Social Impact Heroes Helping Our Planet: Why & How Wes Carter of Atlantic Packaging Is Helping To… was originally published in Authority Magazine on Medium, where people are continuing the conversation by highlighting and responding to this story.