Adrian Grenier is a familiar face on the big screen, appearing in hits like Entourage and The Devil Wears Prada. But the New Mexico–born, New York–based talent is more than just an actor. He’s also a steadfast sustainability activist and founder of the Lonely Whale organization—a nonprofit collaborative incubator that’s fighting for our environment’s health. The organization was founded upon many “aha” moments for Grenier, who is confronting the devastating impact of single-use plastic head on.
Whitewall spoke with Grenier about Lonely Whale, its new “Hydrate Like” campaign, and how we can clean up our act with Mother Nature.
WHITEWALL: You’re prominently known in the entertainment sector—as an actor, director, musician, and more. When did your journey with sustainability begin?
ADRIAN GRENIER: Growing up, I was lucky enough to have a mother that made me feel like I mattered, that what I did had an effect on the world. She also taught me the great discipline of cleaning my room. As I got older, my room expanded to the place outside of my own home—to my neighborhood and the world at large.
One of the tragedies of this modern time is that people don’t believe that they can actually make a difference, and that’s not true. Every decision we make has an effect on the world.
When I look out and I see injustice or environmental tragedy, I know that not only am I part of the problem, but I can also be part of the solution. Not only by changing my behavior, but as a citizen of the world in a country that requires civic engagement, I know that I can do what I can to change our policies and evolve our society to a place that can do better.
WW: And a good starting point for this is the elimination of single-use plastic, right? Through your nonprofit, Lonely Whale, we learned that 1,500 plastic water bottles are used every second and 91 percent of that plastic is not recycled.
AG: Yes. Lonely Whale has focused in on the plastic problem in the ocean. We started with the “Stop Sucking” movement, which is now global, and we are on target to have eliminated 15 to 20 billion plastic straws by the end of the year. In about three years, we have made a pretty substantial dent in the plastic problem.
Imagine I had said I didn’t matter, and I never started Lonely Whale. Imagine Lonely Whale didn’t believe it could actually make any changes. We would still have 15 billion plastic straws in the ocean.
Keep in mind that we only started experiencing plastic water bottles in the late nineties. Billions and billions of dollars have been used to market single-use plastic water bottles, but they’re absolutely one hundred percent unnecessary.
WW: How can someone can get involved with Lonely Whale?
AG: I’m inviting everybody to be a part of our movement. We’re one big pod; we like to do things a little bit different, a little bit cutting-edge, and a little bit more hip and modern. We’re not a big, cumbersome organization.
What we’re looking to do is find a little levity, a little inspiration, because any change we make has to be worth it.
We like to have a little fun while we’re making positive change. We also recognize that change is incremental, so we really invite everybody. We don’t shame anybody; we meet you where you’re at. Even if you just stop sucking and eliminate plastic straws, that’s great. Until you’re ready for the next step, that’s all you really need to do—make one simple change, and that will make a huge difference.
WW: When you started Lonely Whale, was there an “aha” moment? Was there a day when you realized that you had to do something, and you had to do it at a large scale now?
AG: The “aha” moment was really just a long time in development. It’s hard to say that there was one moment. You just look around. It’s everywhere. Plastic is everywhere. Every beach you go to, there’s plastic. It’s an offense to our way of life. I want to be able to say everybody has this “aha” moment every day, but you have to be willing to say “aha.”
It’s not easy to say, because there’s a lot of heartbreak when you do.
There’s a lot of sadness recognizing the overwhelming issue that we’ve all been participating in. We’re not innocent. It’s corporations. We’ve indulged them and they help contribute to our lifestyle.
It’s not simple enough to say, “Let’s blame the government, the corporations.” We are the government, the corporations. At least in this country, we have a direct government and we have a way to change it, and we can change corporations by how we spend our money. We use our voice.
As painful as it is, it’s important to say “aha,” and then speak through the discomfort and the tragedy and do the work so we can make the change.
WW: Can you tell us a little more about your new “Hydrate Like” campaign and what it entails?
AG: We’re asking people to reconsider how they hydrate, and to reconsider using single-use plastic water bottles.
We’re starting with “Hydrate Like a Mother.” The idea is if you’re a mother and you care about your kids, if you have a mother and you want to respect what she taught you, if you care about Mother Earth, then you “hydrate like a mother.”
It means I’m going to get my hydration from bottles that don’t pollute the planet, don’t destroy the ocean, don’t end up in the bellies of marine wildlife, that won’t last a thousand years, well beyond my time on this planet. They won’t destroy our beaches and our beautiful environment, and they won’t, overall, be a menace to the environment and life itself.
WW: When you travel, are there any type of decisions you make to choose how you’re traveling and how to become more sustainable when doing so?
AG: For now, it’s a lot more challenging on a daily basis to live as conscientiously as we might want to. Our whole system, our whole society, is skewed and conditioned and founded on certain negative things. You really do have to make a little bit of an effort to overcome this.
Hopefully, once we can change the systems, it will be much easier for everybody to participate. That’s the goal. We want to change the system so that everyday consumers don’t have to think about doing the right thing, it’s just baked into the consumer experience. It’s the same with travel.
But when you do travel, offset your travel. You can buy carbon offsets for your flights. Then you’ll need a medicine bag for all your toiletries. Instead of using plastic toothpaste tubes, I use glass jars. Deodorant you can find in glass jars. I use bamboo toothbrushes . . . And then, of course I have my water bottles in tow. I carry one for my coffee and one for my water. More and more airports are providing refill stations now, too, which is great.
I would say make as many changes as you possibly can, but also, don’t beat yourself up for all of the injustices and things you’re a part of, because we’re all part of it. Let’s recognize that change is going to be slow and give yourself a bit of a break.