Advocates for plastics pollution shareholder resolutions see the results of votes this year as a sign of growing investor concern over the issue, pointing to majority and near-majority support for their proposals at companies like Amazon and Phillips 66.
In late May, for example, 49 percent of Amazon shareholders voted for a resolution asking the online retail giant to detail efforts to cut back on single-use plastics. If you discount company-controlled shares in the vote, it was supported by nearly 60 percent of investors.
Likewise, investors representing 37 percent of ExxonMobil shares backed a call at its May 25 annual meeting to study its financial risks the resin maker faces, if the world moves significantly away from disposable plastics packaging.
That came after 50.4 percent of Phillips 66 shareholders backed a similar resolution in mid-May.
Green shareholder groups said they put new focus on plastic resin firms this year, after the release of the Minderoo Foundation's Plastic Waste Makers Index identified the companies who are the biggest suppliers of plastic to single-use packaging markets.
"The new element this year was filing directly with petrochemical companies identified as major producers of resins [in single-use markets]," said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at As You Sow, which led efforts on some of the more than 15 resolutions filed. "We view those efforts as highly successful so far.
"It's still rare to get an outright majority on any proposal, but especially one that has been filed for the first time, when investors are often more cautious about support," MacKerron said. "We view the majority vote at Phillips 66 as a powerful indicator of the priority placed on resolving plastic pollution by socially conscious as well as increasingly mainstream investors. The 37 percent vote at ExxonMobil was also quite encouraging, given the size of the company."
AYS and other shareholders also submitted a similar resolution this year at Dow Inc., but the company blocked it at the Securities and Exchange Commission around a technical issue based on share ownership, MacKerron said in an email interview.
Green investors are likely to try again if talks with Dow don't make progress, he said.
Many of the resolutions this year at consumer product makers like Coca-Cola Co., PepsiCo Inc. and Kraft Heinz were ultimately withdrawn, after the companies reached agreements with the green investors. Coke, for example, unveiled goals around reusable packaging.
A vote is still upcoming at grocery chain Kroger Co., after 45 percent of shareholders backed a plastics resolution last year. And the results of a May shareholder vote at McDonald's Corp. should be released soon, MacKerron said.
For next year, As You Sow is exploring shareholder resolutions around microplastics and flexible packaging, he said.
"Flexibles are a strong current concern and part of our dialogue with several companies," MacKerron said. "It's not yet clear if there's an appropriate shareholder proposal ask. We will be studying that."
"We have tentative plans to expand focus to microplastics, so we will likely be engaging tire and apparel/textile companies to see if filing proposals could help move them to action," he said.
Another environmentally minded investment fund that's focused on plastics waste issues, Green Century Capital Management, said it would look at resolutions around plastic reductions and refillable packaging next year.