Under pressure from activist investors, big brands agree to report and reduce plastics use – Grist Magazine

Plastic Grip (by Michael Kowalczyk, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED via Flickr).
Plastic Grip (by Michael Kowalczyk, CC BY-SA 2.0 DEED via Flickr).

Shareholder advocacy groups have already won plastics-related concessions from companies including Disney, Hormel, and Choice Hotels…Globally, two garbage trucks’ worth of plastic enter the ocean every minute, and plastics and petrochemical companies are planning to make even more of the material over the coming decades…

Wealthy investors and asset managers wield a lot of power over the major companies whose stock they own or control. Every year, shareholder advocacy groups hope to exert that power for good by filing shareholder resolutions — 500-word proposals that might ask companies to voluntarily reduce their greenhouse gas emissions, or to disclose more information on their resource use. 

Shareholders typically vote on resolutions between April and June during a period known as “proxy season,” named after the proxy statements that companies distribute to investors ahead of their annual shareholder meetings. These votes aren’t binding, but they can influence companies’ decisions and generate press around a particular issue.

This year, activist investors are notching wins even before the beginning of proxy season. Shareholder advocacy groups have already extracted a handful of plastics-related concessions from major companies — including the entertainment behemoth Disney, the food processing giant Hormel, and Choice Hotels, one of the largest hotel chains in the world. The companies’ new commitments include reporting on and reducing the amount of plastics they use in their packaging, as well as more closely monitoring hazardous plastic additives.

Activist investment firms like Green Century Capital Management — which manages over $1 billion in assets — must make a business case for environmental action. Douglass Guernsey, a shareholder advocate at Green Century Capital Management who helped negotiate the agreements with Disney and Choice Hotels, said the new commitments show that companies are waking up to the threat that single-use plastics pose to their bottom line. Between the prospect of more stringent state regulations, new lawsuits against plastic producers, and a global plastics treaty being negotiated by the United Nations, plastics are facing some potentially severe regulatory and reputational prospects over the coming years.

“It’s unnerving investors,” Guernsey said, and the scale of the problem is “just starting to dawn on corporate managers…”

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