Investors pressure Big Food to reduce plastic packaging use
A Plastic Solutions Investors Alliance comprising 25 investors managing more than $1 trillion in assets is asking Big Food and other companies to limit single-use plastic packaging, according to Bloomberg.
Organized by As You Sow, an Oakland, California-based nonprofit shareholder advocacy group, the group's statement was signed by Hermes Investment Management, NEI Investments, Impax Asset Management and Walden Asset Management, among others.
"We believe our community of socially and environmentally concerned investors can have a positive impact due to longstanding relationships with many companies," the statement read. "These materials can persist in the environment, partially degraded, for hundreds of years, which, as well as causing damage to marine life, could also have a material impact by exposing companies to reputational damage."
The group is asking companies such as Nestlé, Unilever and PepsiCo to reveal their annual use of plastic packaging and set reduction goals while switching to recyclable, reusable or compostable packaging when possible. Those three companies have already agreed to phase in packaging made from recyclable, compostable and biodegradable materials with more recycled content by 2025.
The investors also said they wanted to see companies keep promises in this area following the recent G7 meeting in Canada during which five of the Group of Seven nations adopted a blueprint meant to limit single-use plastic by 2040. The U.S. and Japan did not sign the document.
Food and beverage makers have been working to cut back on plastic and operate more sustainably, goals many consumers want to see them accomplish as part of a broader push toward sustainability. Biodegradable, edible and alternative packaging options are being developed to try and meet consumer demand and illustrate this commitment.
Bottled water, for example, may be more popular with consumers than soda, but the beverage category puts a huge strain on the environment. Producing plastic bottles takes three times the water that’s actually contained inside of them, and only about 30% of plastic bottles are recycled.
PepsiCo and Coca-Cola have come up with biodegradable plant-based bottles, and Danone North America and Nestlé have created an initiative to develop cardboard-based water containers. Boxed Water, Rethink Water and JUST Water are already using cardboard containers. Along with the positive public relations, using more sustainable packaging can sometimes save money and reduce a firm's environmental footprint, something consumers are increasingly concerned about.
But before savings can be realized, food and beverage companies have to phase out their current single-use plastic packaging and implement a new production regime, which can be expensive. It's unlikely that this coalition of investors will exert enough influence to get large food companies to change their packaging. The biggest influence is likely to continue coming from shareholders and consumers who will influence change by voting with their pocketbooks through the purchase of products that promote a sustainability halo.