Investors Demand Corporate Accountability on Plastic Pollution
By Romero Halloway
Corporate America is on notice – continue to ignore your poor environmental record and face the wrath, not of a bunch of granola-munching activists, but of your own shareholders.
While the ESG movement, which refers to ethical investing that evaluates companies based on their scores in three categories – environment, sustainability and governance, has been gaining steam for years, the greater public’s awareness of the scourge of plastic pollution has plastic producers feeling the pressure.
The most recent example is Dupont. In terms of sales, it is the largest chemical company in the world. Dupont attempted to persuade its investors to reject a proposal for the company to audit and disclose how much plastic the company releases into the environment on an annual basis.
Dissuasion failed – 81% of investors voted in favor of the shareholder proposal asking the company to keep track of its plastic footprint.
It is the highest level of investor support for an environmental resolution that was opposed by management, according to Sustainable Investments Institute, a trade group.
“This vote confirms a tidal wave of support by investors to confront a deadly contributor to the global plastic pollution crisis,” said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at nonprofit shareholder advocate As You Sow, which filed the proposal.
As You Sow is the organization responsible for introducing the resolution during the shareholder meeting and has been attempting to draw attention to various environmental problems created by large corporations through activist investing.
The organization began by concentrating its efforts to empower investors to put pressure on various companies to reduce carbon emissions. Recently, the group noticed a growing trend: as big fossil fuel companies face a future of reduced demand for their transportation and energy-related projects, they try to make up for falling profits by refocusing on petrochemical products.
On April 7, the company released a report titled “Plastics: The Last Straw for Big Oil?” that explores this transition and argues that ethical investors should focus just as relentlessly on the scourge of plastic pollution as they have on other environmental issues like climate change.
“In the face of crises like climate change and global plastic pollution, shareholders must scrutinize whether investments in the production of plastics and other petrochemicals will live up to inflated expectations,” said Lila Holzman, report co-author and senior energy program manager at As You Sow. “Investors are likely to find that companies’ reliance on plastics to recoup lost demand for fossil-based energy is problematic.”
Dupont is in the crosshairs because it has failed to disclose specific information regarding its production of plastic pellets. These pellets provide the foundation for a suite of plastic products and are estimated to be the second-largest contributor to ocean plastic waste in terms of weight.
Once produced by manufacturers like Dupont, plastic pellets are shipped to suppliers who use them to build various finished products for consumer use. As much as 10 trillion of these pellets are spilled at points throughout the supply chain, particularly of the marine and riparian variety, contributing to the presence of plastic in environments.
Other major petrochemical companies like Dow Chemical, Chevron Phillips Chemical, ExxonMobil Chemical, Eastman Chemical, Westlake Chemical, and Occidental Petroleum have formally pledged to publicly disclose spill data.
However, only Exxon, Dow and Chevron Phillips have begun providing data to date.
This movement to hold plastic producers accountable for the huge amount of plastics in our environment, our wildlife, and even our own bodies is just in the first inning of a long ballgame.
We applaud As You Sow for their leadership in corporate accountability around this issue and will continue to promote their work on this blog and elsewhere.
But we here at Littorary are working on an alternative solution.
Littorary is committed to making durable and sophisticated products that rival the convenience of plastics without the environmental burden. We believe technology and design innovations can revolutionize how Americans and the world consume products in concert with the health of the environment. Please stay tuned to our website, blog, and upcoming Kickstarter page as we unveil a product fully capable of providing the convenience and sustainability that will consign the concept of disposable plastics to the garbage heap of history.