Earth Day: Three Industry Suppliers Striving to Make a Difference
Almost every surf and outdoor company today is taking environmental stewardship to new levels, using recycled and upcycled materials to manufacture products, supporting environmental programs, and instituting sustainable business practices.
Many companies are looking at all areas of their businesses to consider the environmental consequences, from the catalogs they produce, to shipping materials they use, to the bags that carry the products out shop doors.
In honor of Earth Day, SES spoke with three industry suppliers that are striving to make a positive environmental impact while growing their businesses at the same time.
Atlantic Packaging Launches A New Earth Project
Atlantic Packaging is the largest privately held packaging company in North America. Founded 75 years ago, today it supports the packaging needs of major consumer product companies across almost every manufacturing vertical including food, beverage, building products, medical, and e-commerce.
SES spoke with lifelong surfer and Atlantic President Wes Carter to discuss how his company is partnering with the surfing and outdoor industries through A New Earth Project.
As the president of Atlantic, Wes is the driving force behind the company’s sustainability initiative and its commitment to making a change. Wes says it was a personal epiphany he had that a lot of the plastic pollution was from packaging and he knew he could make a difference in that field.
The company has the size and reach to make a significant impact. Atlantic is headquartered in Wilmington, North Carolina and has 27 facilities around the country, with 2,000 employees. They also have pull with a big client base.
“We work with a lot of major consumer product companies to help them optimize their packaging and reduce their packaging footprint,” said Wes. “In addition to that, we’re looking to transition companies away from single-use plastics, primarily in that business-to-consumer part of the supply chain. We’re implementing and introducing a lot of creative fiber-based solutions in that space.”
As a surfer, traveler, and outdoorsman, Wes’ link with the surfing community helped connect the pieces between ambassadors of the ocean and the leaders in the packaging supply chain who can enact this change. He launched A New Earth Project in January 2020 to be the inspiration driving this movement into the future.
The full website launched today in conjunction with Earth Day featuring a catalog of about 50 sustainable packaging options, all available to medium and smaller-sized brands. It’s a Shopify website so brands can pay with a credit card, while larger companies can set up an account with Atlantic and get payment terms if they want.
In addition, A New Earth Project has just opened a 1,000 square foot showroom in Laguna Beach displaying all the products and packaging equipment.
Documenting The Journey
Wes came up with the idea to document the process through an eight-part television series called “Journey to a New Earth” that will premiere on Outside Television on April 22 and will also telecast on Fuel TV.
Wes believed that utilizing the surfing and outdoor communities to tell the story was a lot more interesting and compelling than simply documenting what a packaging company was doing.
“The series follows the journey of the last year with us collaborating with the professional surfing community in creating this initiative and working closely with people like Kelly Slater, Kai Lenny, Koa Smith, Carissa Moore, Vaihiti Mahana, Carlos Munoz, and other pro surfers who are really passionate about this,” he said.
“I really believe that the outdoor industry can have a significant impact on every other industry,” Wes added. “Every surf contest in the world is sponsored by a soft drink company. So, there’s already a natural collaboration that exists. And if you can start influencing the behaviors of the top 25 or 30 consumer products companies in the world, you can have a substantial impact, and that’s really the goal.”
Within the action sports industry, Atlantic is currently working with Firewire, Burton, Florence Marine X, spear gun company Riffe, and others. The company helped surf companies such as Firewire and Pyzel come up with more sustainable packing for shipping surfboards.
In other areas, Atlantic introduced a new type of paper product to replace the plastic bags that apparel is shipped in. It has also developed padded paper mailers to replace the plastic versions being used today. Other more sustainable product offerings will also be available on the website in the coming days.
Earthpack Makes an Impact One Bag at a Time
Earthpack is an Irvine, California-based packaging company that supplies reusable, recyclable, fashion-forward bags and boxes to retailers across the country. The company was founded in 1989 by Dave Bock, way before being environmentally conscious was a thing in the surfing industry.
Today, a staff of approximately 16 works in Earthpack’s headquarters and the company has independent reps across the country. Its major clients include Jack’s Surfboards, Hobie, Zumiez, The North Face, Vans, Burton, Volcom, the Los Angeles Lakers, and Grand Canyon and Yellowstone National Parks.
While Dave founded the company to supply recycled bags to surf shops, Earthpack has expanded its product offerings to include boxes, e-commerce mailers, labels and tags, and tissue with various eco-friendly options. The company also provides distribution services and inventory management.
Dave grew up as a surfer in Orange County and formed the company based off a business plan he wrote in college. The plan had to revolve around his hobby, include something that was charitable, and do something that would be positive for his community.
After the oil shortage in the 1970s, Dave wondered why people would make bags out of plastics, a derivative of oil. His business plan revolved around providing recycled bags to surf shops.
“I told shops if I could sell you this recycled bag for the same price, and I’m going to donate portions back to Surfrider, would you buy it? They said yes, and then I had to scramble to find a source who would do it right,” he said. “That was a process that cost a lot of money back in the day. There wasn’t a lot leftover profit, but I had a vision that if you develop something that’s cool, that’s different, that’s affordable, and that makes you feel good, then good things will come.”
His vision paid off quickly and his first accounts in May of 1989 were Huntington Surf and Sport, Jack’s, and Harbor Surfboards. He quickly added more shops and expanded his services to manufacturers as well.
Responsible Business Partner
Today, the company still takes its environmental stewardship to heart and tests a lot of the products before offering them to customers. They have a garden on the side of their headquarters and will bury bags and boxes in the ground to see how they biodegrade over time.
With years of experience in packaging and shipping, the Earthpack staff also advises partners on numerous issues such as how to efficiently pack pallets when ordering, how to load shipping containers to minimize cost, and similar details that can lead to savings and reduce the environmental impact.
With a lot of his business based around retail, the Covid shutdowns in 2020 were a shock, however, and the company’s sales dropped 70%.
“My wife just kicked me in the ass and said, ‘Retail’s not doing anything. What’s your plan?’ And as I looked at stacks of Amazon boxes at my front door, I knew we had to shift gears. Even though we had that shipping category, we just never hit it hard.”
Earthpack made 2020 about developing and relaunching their e-commerce line of poly mailers, craft mailers, and boxes.
That pivot, in addition to not cutting employees during the shutdown, paid off when business rebounded for industry brick-and-mortar and e-commerce.
The e-commerce category represented 1% of overall sales prior to 2020, then became 30% of the company’s business, Dave said.
“We ended 2021 with our largest revenue year and right now are looking at about 128% growth for 2022,” he said.
Elastic Offers B2B Commerce with Environmental Benefits
Elastic Suite is a B2B digital software tool that lets brands create custom catalogs online, thus eliminating the need for printed catalogs, leading to major cost savings, sales efficiencies, and environmental benefits.
SES spoke with Elastic’s Communications Manager Kenny Thomas and Marketing Manager Maddie Olhoeft to learn more about the company, its inception, and the impact it’s having on the environment.
250 Brands and Counting
Elastic is based in Denver and with additional offices in Seattle, Orange County, Barcelona, Paris, Milan, and Shanghai. Elastic has approximately 115 people working for it today, up from 65 a year ago.
The company’s products are being used by around 250 brands in the outdoor, surf, and sporting goods industries. Some of the biggest names include The North Face, Patagonia, Vans, Burton, Rip Curl, Boardriders, New Balance, Smith, Carhartt, Puma, Travis Mathews, and many others.
Elastic has been a pioneer in creating B2B technology to help brands sell products to retailers for more than a decade now.
“We’re really moving manufacturers and retailers from the traditional kind of sales method for wholesale marketing and merchandising to digital processes,” said Kenny. “We’re making a difference in the elimination of printed product catalogs and sales materials for merchandising and sales, which has great benefits. These printed product catalogs are huge budget item for brand manufacturers, and they’re not friendly to the environment.”
According to Kenny, one of the biggest hurdles was changing behaviors among buyers.
“It was this delicate dance with brands not wanting to upset their wholesale customers by changing processes, because a lot of them were set in their ways,” he said. “It was one of our original and largest flagship brands, The North Face, which took the leadership in doing this. They just decided that they were going to go 100% digital, but it was a process to bring their retailers along to that.”
“Now, we have this transformation that’s taking place across not just the outdoor industry, but the surf category as well, thanks to our association with SIMA,” he added. “They made a strong commitment to encourage the industry to become print free when it comes to B2B catalogs.”
Making a Difference
It’s one thing to make a product that will help the environment, but Elastic wanted to show the true impact of eliminating printed catalogs. The company recently partnered with the Environmental Paper Network to use the company’s Paper Calculator to create the first-ever estimate of the environmental impact of printing B2B sales catalogs. Elastic also provided a sustainability calculator for brands to estimate the positive environmental impact when transitioning from printed to digital catalogs.
“We knew we were making a difference, but we just didn’t know how much,” he said. “Now we can measure that impact and our brands can know on an individual level.”
Developing a Suitable Product
Josh Reddin, Elastic Suite founder, was the original architect of the product. While at BukWild, a Sacramento, California-based agency, he and the team built the first desktop version of the platform in 2009 for Spyder. Then they launched a cloud-based version in 2013 for The North Face and Oakley. Over the years, the product was refined and eventually grew into its own company, servicing many other clients.
Fast forward to today and the Elastic online catalogs are customizable and interactive with high-quality digital assets. Retailers can check current product inventory and order online instantly.
Kenny notes that the cornerstone feature is their whiteboard. Once a retailer has added all the items to their cart, they can create a picture of their retail shelf or wall to get a visual idea of what it will look like with all the products displayed and adjust the order accordingly.
Today, Elastic is hoping to have significant impact on other industries as well. “Printing these wholesale product catalogs is firmly entrenched across every manufacturing vertical that has deep and visual product,” Kenny said. “We’re looking at auto parts and auto accessories, cosmetics, and a lot of those industries. Being able to eliminate those printed catalogs is huge.”