Amazon shareholders have rejected an attempt by environment-focused investors to force it to detail the impact of its plastic packaging.
The vote, however, may mark only a brief pause in an ongoing campaign by the activists to get 10 major public companies to dial back their use of virgin plastic.
Seattle-based Amazon disclosed late in the day May 28 that about 64.5 percent of its shareholders voted against the resolution, which was a fairly modest request asking the firm to report how much plastic gets into the environment from its massive e-commerce operations.
Environmental investors are still pushing resolutions at nine other major retailers and consumer product makers to push them to use less virgin plastic.
The green groups have already scored what they say are some victories.
Keurig Dr Pepper, for example, agreed in April to cut its virgin plastic use in packaging by 20 percent by 2025. Others, including Walmart and Target, said in early May that they will present detailed plastics plans this year, in return for the green shareholders dropping their resolutions.
The plastics debate mirrors, in a lower-profile way, the stepped-up shareholder activism in corporate boardrooms, like the May 26 vote at ExxonMobil Corp. that saw climate investors surprisingly unseat several board members.
In the case of Amazon, the company argued that the report the green groups wanted was not needed.
It pointed to its commitments to have 50 percent of its shipments be net-zero carbon by 2030, to use more recycled content in its plastics packaging and to support recycling infrastructure.
But the green investors, including Berkeley, Calif.-based As You Sow, want more specific plastic packaging plans from the e-commerce giant.
They pointed to announcements from PepsiCo Inc. to substitute recycled content for 35 percent of virgin plastic in its beverage division and by Unilever to cut plastic packaging use by 100,000 metric tons by 2025.
As You Sow said the 35.5 percent voting in favor was an encouraging result for the first year of the vote and argued that, in general, anything over 20 percent in favor gets attention from company executives because it indicates support goes beyond environmentally minded shareholders.
"A central reason we filed the proposal was the company's unwillingness to sit down and talk with us," said Conrad MacKerron, AYS senior vice president. "We hope this strong vote result leads to a good faith dialogue with the company on the scope of its plastics use and how it can move to recycle the majority of its plastic waste in the short term and reduce overall plastic use in the long term."
For the environmental shareholder groups, the push for plastics reductions is a change in strategy, deemphasizing recycling in favor of urging companies to cut back on plastic.
"Improved recycling, the focus of much of As You Sow's earlier work with companies, is not sufficient to stem the tide of plastic pollution engulfing oceans and must be coupled with reductions in plastic use, material redesign and substitution," the group said.