71. Plastic Disclosure Project
Plastic is a wonderful and versatile resource, providing many possibilities and conveniences. However, it is often treated as disposable, even though it is a permanent material that does not easily degrade. Today plastic represents approximately 12% of global waste, but a relatively higher share of the environmental damage. The impacts cut across our communities and ecosystems in many ways, including health, tourism, fishing, agriculture, water supply, waste disposal and direct impact on wildlife (APEC estimates that the annual cost of plastic pollution to marine industry in the Pacific region alone is over US$1bn). Government programs, laws, bans, taxes and campaigns have their roles to play in minimizing plastic pollution. However, a solution is needed that is quickly scalable across industries and territories, engages businesses and institutions in applying their ingenuity and competitive instinct to drive innovative solutions, tangibly felt by investors, governments and consumers.
The Plastic Disclosure Project is a "game-changing" way of tackling plastic pollution. In particular, by engaging businesses directly, and in a simple way that can benefit them, it can be rolled-out quickly, across industries and borders, without having to rely upon or wait for legislation, bans or taxes.
PDP achieves this by inviting organizations (companies and institutions such as hospitals, universities, parks, events and municipalities) to voluntarily report and disclose their plastic use and waste, similar to carbon disclosure. By annually reporting, managers can better understand where they can make improvements in their supply chain, recycling systems, embrace the use of more recycled content, strive for new designs, and implement new material use - solutions reveal themselves when plastic usage becomes measured and better understood. This approach is sympathetic to resource-constrained industries, and also reduces pressure on municipalities dealing with landfill challenges and low recycling rates. PDP's positioning here, of encouraging better management through measurement, can also prompt innovation in the way that plastic is collected, reused and improved upon, and stimulate job creation and economic development. Thus, municipalities, economies and the environment all benefit, simply by having plastic recognized as a valuable resource, rather than wasted in the form of plastic pollution.
However, the take up of PDP is driven more by the direct benefits to disclosers themselves: Where plastic is designed, used, reused and managed properly, organizations can reduce their costs and improve efficiency (As You Sow recently reported US businesses lost $8.3bn of value in wasted packaging in 2010 alone). They can also help meet waste targets (e.g. UC Berkeley is using PDP as part of their zero-waste-to-landfill program), raise customer satisfaction (e.g. Lush Cosmetics is using PDP to further improve the environmental footprint of their products), engage with their employees, deepen supplier partnerships, reassure their investors and insurers, and impress regulators and other stakeholders. This becomes a form of differentiation and competition, and will quickly spur other businesses and industries to follow-suit. PDP will facilitate this competition by providing comparative reports, and sharing leading innovations and case studies. Our early adopters are receiving positive attention, which attracts their competitors and other industries to PDP.
An additional supporting catalyst is the growing base of socially responsible asset managers and investors, who are interested in seeing more complete sustainability disclosures as evidence of well-managed organizations. This growth is evidenced by our own research that confirms this topic would be of interest to investors, and the growing participation in responsible investment vehicles, use of socially responsible investment metrics, and the development of more sustainability indices and ratings.
The PDP’s role as driver for creating a “mindset” change in the way we treat plastic is what will lead to its success once scale is achieved in terms of its integration within programs, operations and goal-setting. The impact can be widespread as this new way of management and recovery of plastic as a resource can greatly reduce plastic waste’s presence in the environment. By including plastic use in yearly voluntary reporting, investors and other stakeholders, including customers, will be able to make better investment and purchasing decisions. Simultaneously, companies will be able to make better operating choices that can benefit the long-term well being of both the companies and the communities in which they operate.
The PDP was announced at the Clinton Global Initiative, and the United Nations Environment Program’s (UNEP) Global Partnership for Marine Litter plans to make it a pillar of their 2013 program. PDP has also drawn the interest of the World Bank’s new Global Partnership for Oceans. Some of the key constituent stakeholder groups are socially responsible investment associations including the Association for Sustainable and Responsible Investment in Asia (ASrIA), UNEP Finance Initiative, Sustainable Investment Research Institute Australia (SIRIS), Responsible Investment Research Association India (RIRA), as well as the Taiwan Plastic Industry Design Center. This list is growing as groups become aware of PDP and the disclosers to date, including environmental consultants who already assist their clients with carbon or water footprint analysis, and have been keen to add plastic footprinting to their portfolio. NGOs, city municipality leaders, Rotary Clubs and student organizations are also key stakeholders in introducing the PDP to their respective communities. They respect the program as an enabling tool for stakeholders around the world to use, bringing a standardized methodology to the process of plastic footprint management.
Why it should be recognized:
The Plastic Disclosure Project should be recognized by SSV because it is the only approach to tackling plastic pollution that is global, scalable, leverages existing systems, easily implemented, fosters adaptation and innovation, and engages companies and institutions in a way that rewards them for their creativity and competitive instinct – truly game-changing.
As a result, it will achieve dramatic results: improving organizations' costs and efficiencies, strengthening their relationships and reputation, raising their ability to attract investment and insurance coverage, and ensuring compliance with ever-tightening regulations; reducing stress on municipalities' landfills and waste management systems; encouraging innovative practices in recycling, reuse and new design; prompting job creation and economic development, and saving the environment!
As PDP grows, we will enter a virtuous cycle: Each individual discloser will enjoy the benefit of conducting PDP, and will repeat it annually. Annual reports by industry will share trends and best practices, and encourage further improvement and new disclosers. This will raise investor and stakeholder awareness, and greater understanding of investment risks and opportunities related to plastic. Whole industries will be encouraged to monitor and reduce their plastic footprints. This becomes a self-sustaining "ecosystem" of participants, and showcased solutions.