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Investors take on plastic pollution

March 22, 2022

Back in 2018, the shareholder advocacy organization As You Sow launched the Plastic Solutions Investor Alliance, “an international coalition of investors that will engage publicly traded consumer goods companies on the threat posed by plastic waste and pollution.” Even casual readers of NERC’s weekly blogs are likely to be well aware of the danger to the environment posed by plastic pollution, given the prominent attention given to it in mainstream publications.

At the time of its inception, As You Sow’s Alliance consisted of 24 investment organizations with a combined $1 trillion in assets under management. As of January 14, the number of signatories has increased to 53 and the total assets under management at present exceeds $2.7 trillion, ratcheting up shareholder pressure on corporations to address the following measures:

  • Transition plastic packaging to be recyclable, reusable, or compostable
  • Disclose annual plastic packaging use
  • Set plastic use reduction goals
  • Develop alternatives to plastic for packaging purposes
  • Acknowledge responsibility and play a significant role in funding and facilitating collection and recycling or composting of packaging in markets where they operate (i.e. producer responsibility)
  • Support public policy measures on reducing plastic waste and broadening producer responsibility
  • Accelerate research on the potential for technology and innovation to provide solutions

Beginning in 2007, I spent ten years writing daily journalism for the now-defunct website, which was an important source of information for sustainable investors and other like-minded individuals and organizations. During much of that time it was extremely rare for environmental, social and corporate governance (ESG) shareholder resolutions to attract robust support; most filers considered it a success if their resolutions qualified for inclusion in the next year’s corporate annual general meetings.

This is no longer the case. As Alliance signatory Interfaith Center on Corporate Responsibility noted in its recently published 2022 Proxy Resolutions and Voting Guide, “Last year saw a record number of ICCR-member proposals — 23 — winning majority support, seven of which won votes in excess of 90 percent.” As You Sow itself states, “We believe our community of socially and environmentally concerned investors can have a positive impact due to longstanding relationships with many companies.”

As You Sow recently updated its campaign with an Investor Declaration on Plastic Pollution. In addition to updating the increased number of signatories involved in the Alliance, the Declaration states, “The inability to recycle or safely contain in landfills significant amounts of plastic packaging suggests that society needs to carefully assess the continued growth of plastic use, especially for single use applications. If governments and industry cannot manage to recycle even one-fifth of plastic packaging, it is unclear how they can make sufficient progress to keep plastic out of rivers and oceans if production of plastic triples by 2050.”

As You Sow has also published an Investor Call for a Global Treaty on Plastic Pollution, which invites sustainable investment organizations to join as signatories. It calls on United Nations Member States to “lay the groundwork for a global treaty to eradicate plastic pollution at the upcoming UN Environment Assembly meeting in February-March 2022. 

“We urge UN Member States to establish an Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee at UNEA 5.2 to develop an ambitious, global, legally binding treaty on plastic pollution,” it states.

As a Pre-UNEA Statement for a Legally Binding UN Treaty on Plastic Pollution reveals, an increasing number of businesses are joining the call for a global treaty. “This is a crucial opportunity to advance a global, harmonized, binding solution to plastic pollution,” As You Sow stated.

NERC has, of course, been on the front lines of efforts to effectively address the challenges of plastic pollution. In January, we called for public comments on our model legislation for minimum post-consumer recycled plastic requirements. “This bill proposes to require producers of certain plastics products to use a specified minimum amount of post‐consumer recycled plastic in the production of new future products,” the model legislation states.

By Robert Kropp, NERC Bookkeeper/Office Manager

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