As plastic continues to pollute the earth, companies around the globe are making changes to save the planet.
The Blue Planet Effect: moving towards a world without waste
I had always considered myself a friend of the environment. I religiously recycle our household waste, have an annual family membership to the Zoological Society of London (ZSL) and even water my hydrangeas with the bath water!
The fact that I drive to the zoo in my diesel guzzling car and place plastic covered fruit & veg alongside my free range eggs never entered my mind until I, like millions of others, watched David Attenborough’s ‘Blue Planet II’. The devastating impact of plastic on the oceans was shocking and many, including myself, began to evaluate the environmental impact of the decisions we as consumers make.
Of approximately 9 billion tonnes of virgin plastic produced, almost 7 billion tonnes has become waste. When these man-made materials break apart to pieces smaller than 5 millimetres they are referred to as microplastics. These tiny particles find their way into water, soil and air and ultimately into our food chain via the water we drink and the fish we eat, with studies now stating that by 2050 there will be more plastic in the ocean than fish. Recently sea creatures living in the Mariana Trench, the deepest place on earth, have been found with plastic in their stomachs whilst scientists have also found an abundance of microplastics in Arctic snow, evidence that we are now contaminating the most remote corners of the planet.
It is easy to find such news overwhelming. What can I, one single person in a planet of 7.7billion individuals, do to change the future for my children? Is buying my fruit from the local market really going to have an impact?
Well the more I read, the more positive I feel about mankind’s ability to make a difference. Consumer attitudes are shifting and the zero-waste movement has gained a huge amount of traction in the last year. The public’s call for environmental action is not going unheard, with increasing pressure being put on governments and companies to find alternative solutions, particularly to single-use plastics.
Approximately 40% of all plastic produced is single use and most can be found in packaging. The UK Plastics Pact brings together businesses from across the plastics value chain who have committed to the goal of eliminating unnecessary single use plastic by 2025. Those who have signed up include Tesco and M&S, an example of how corporations are working together to find a solution to the plastic waste problem.
A path to sustainable businesses
Many companies are looking to innovate beyond plastic packaging and embrace alternatives, recognising the growing opposition towards single-use plastics amongst consumers will create clear winners and losers. By 2020 Generation Z will account for 40% of consumer’s globally. This is a generation who use their collective power to advocate brands that reflect their values and challenge those who do not, meaning companies who do not connect with this demographic will quickly lose their market share.
Two examples of global brands increasing their corporate social responsibility are Hasbro and Coca-Cola. In 2018 Hasbro, the largest toymaker in the world in terms of stock market value, announced it will begin phasing out plastic from new product packaging in 2020, believing they will be able to eliminate virtually all plastic in packaging for new products by 2022. Coca Cola believe they have a responsibility to help solve the world’s packaging problem and launched their ‘World without waste’ programme in 2018, planning to collect and recycle the equivalent of every bottle or can they sell worldwide by 2030.
Moving away from linear manufacturing in which single use plastics are made, used and thrown away to a circular economy that reduces our need for new plastic could be the answer. A circular economy, which sees waste turned into reusable resource, has huge potential for innovation, job creation and economic growth. Companies are recognising new sustainable business models can make good financial sense with Unilever claiming in 2016 that their zero waste efforts saved them over $225 million creating many new jobs in the process.
Power to change
As brands increasingly promise sustainability, holding them accountable to their words will be essential – and could become the status quo. ‘Greenwashing’, where companies portray themselves to be greener than they actually are, is undoubtedly an issue and only recently we saw H&M called out for doing just this with their ‘sustainable’ Conscious collection. This is something that I for one will be watching with interest as I do believe we live in a time where profit and sustainability can coexist with both industry and the environment prospering.
As more companies consider sustainability as part of their long-term business strategy there has also been a rapid growth of interest in Responsible Investing. While not a new concept it has often been viewed as a strategy for people who put morals above profits, however evidence now suggests there is no reason to expect a broad-based Socially Responsible Investment will underperform a traditional stock portfolio. As Manager of Investment Research & Guidance, I have personally been pleased to see this development over the last couple of years.
In the words of David Attenborough ‘Never before have we had such an awareness of what we are doing to the planet and never before have we had the power to do something about that.’
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