Plastic pollution shareholder resolutions got less support this year at major public companies like Amazon and ExxonMobil, a development that green investors say reflects rising anti-ESG sentiment around plastics issues.
Those same green investment advocates, however, also argue that the picture is nuanced. They say there are plenty of signs shareholders remain concerned about risks companies face from regulations, litigation or moves away from single-use plastics.
But amid congressional hearings and more public questioning of environmental, social and governance initiatives broadly, support for plastics ESG proposals fell this year.
A resolution at Amazon, for example, asking the company to set a plastics packaging reduction goal was supported by 32 percent of shareholders at its annual meeting in May, down from 49 percent last year.
As well, a shareholder proposal asking ExxonMobil to report on the financial impact of less long-term global demand for single-use plastics, along the lines of the Pew Breaking the Plastic Wave report, got 25 percent support this year, down from 36 percent last year.
And a similar proposal this year asking Phillips 66 to study the impact of less virgin plastic demand received only 11.8 percent support.
That's well off the 50.4 percent support in 2022 for a related resolution that asked Phillips 66, which owns part of resin maker Chevron Phillips Chemical, to study shifting to a business model based on more recycled plastic production.
"The ESG pushback definitely had an impact suppressing plastics votes but also votes in most other ESG topic areas," said Conrad MacKerron, senior vice president at shareholder advocacy group As You Sow, which pushed plastics resolutions at each of those firms.
A June report from the Sustainable Investments Institute said shareholder votes for ESG resolutions fell sharply from a 2021 peak and were at their lowest level since 2017.
ESG critics in business and Congress say they're not good for financial bottom lines and are a backdoor way to put political agendas into boardrooms.
Green investment groups, however, argue ESG can help companies identify and respond to emerging concerns, reduce risk and make operations more sustainable.