Coalition overseeing $10tn in assets warns on financial risks of inaction
A coalition of investors that oversee $10tn in assets has called on companies including Amazon, PepsiCo and McDonald’s to drastically reduce their reliance on plastics, saying a failure to do so exposes them to financial risks. The 183-strong group has written to 30 of the world’s biggest grocery, retail and consumer goods companies to warn that continued production of plastics poses risks to public health, biodiversity, climate change and human rights. The coalition, which includes Amundi, Legal and General Investment Management, Aviva Investors, Axa Investment Management and Rockefeller Asset Management, is the largest ever formed to put pressure on companies over plastics. It has urged the businesses, which also include Tesco, Carrefour and Danone, to phase out single-use plastics, significantly reduce material consumption and implement re-use systems for packaging. Angélique Laskewitz, executive director at Dutch Association of Investors for Sustainable Development (VBDO), the campaign’s co-ordinator, said it was worrying that most companies in the consumer and food retail sectors were taking only limited action to mitigate the risks posed by plastics. “Investors are now sending a clear signal to these companies that they will face ever-increasing pressure if they do not act soon to substantially reduce their plastic footprint,” said Laskewitz. VBDO estimates that plastic pollution costs society more than $100bn a year. A study published in 2017 found that 8.3bn tonnes of plastics had been produced since the industry began to expand after the second world war. About four-fifths has been dumped as waste, while just 9 per cent has been recycled. A growing cohort of institutional investors has raised concerns about plastics and the damage to the world’s oceans, especially after David Attenborough’s Blue Planet television series. Some fund managers, including Axa IM and Lombard Odier, have launched funds to tap into the transformation needed when it comes to plastics and waste. The investors brought together this week say companies that fail to take action on plastics will be exposed “to financial risks that threaten value creation and investment returns, given the wave of action to tighten legislation around the world, the increasing number of lawsuits against companies, and potential threat to brand value.” The investors, who also want companies to phase out hazardous chemicals used in plastics, plan to establish targets for each company, following up with letters and calls. The investor coalition is also calling for companies to stop lobbying against policy proposals aimed at reducing plastic waste and pollution, including the Global Plastics Treaty and the EU’s Packaging and Packaging Waste Regulation, which is currently being overhauled.
Arthur van Mansvelt, senior engagement specialist at Achmea Investment Management, said lobbying efforts by industry associations were weakening efforts to tackle the plastic crisis. “The Global Plastics Treaty offers a historic opportunity to tackle the problem at source. We need companies supporting its ambition on prevention and reuse, not lobby against it,” said van Mansvelt. Danone, which is facing a legal action over plastic pollution, pointed to its website, where it says it has pledged to halve its use of virgin fossil-fuel packaging by 2040. Amazon said it was “committed to minimising single-use plastics in our packaging all around the world” and that it had eliminated the use of more than 1.5mn tons of packaging materials since 2015. Carrefour, McDonald’s and Tesco did not respond to a request for comment. PepsiCo declined to comment.