Greg Fleming, president and CEO of Rockefeller Capital Management, believes the investment industry is taking a much harder look at the environmental impact of plastics.
In the same way his peers have highlighted financial risks from climate change, Fleming says investment houses are "becoming more proactive" in asking questions in areas like plastic and its connection to fossil fuels.
"We regularly get on the phone with companies that we own to discuss the pace at which they're transitioning away from virgin resin," Fleming said in his keynote address at a Sept. 14 online conference, "ESG and the Global Plastics Supply Chain."
"We talk to companies that use plastic packaging about steps they're taking to update their packaging to more sustainable materials," he said. "We talk to packaging makers about linking executive compensation to transition targets. … We talk to recyclers about the pace of their investment in sorting technology."
In a series of wide-ranging panels at the event, organized by the think tank Planet Tracker, representatives of investment firms like Morgan Stanley and Citi said they, too, are asking those questions.
At times, discussions took a very environmental-sounding turn. Financial executives said they wanted to press big brands and plastics firms about reusable packaging, getting rid of "problematic plastics" or using more recycled content.
But at other times, the executives acknowledged complexities.
They said they don't have the same detailed data tools for analyzing plastics that they have for evaluating the climate impacts of their investments.
"I think plastics, as we've discussed, is a much more complex material flow," said Courtney Thompson, executive director of the global sustainable finance group in Morgan Stanley.
"In the carbon space, we're a proud member of P-CAF, the Partnership for Carbon Accounting Financials," she said. "I think it remains to be seen if there will be a specific initiative around plastic flows, but we think there's a huge opportunity there."
Still, Fleming said investors are looking for new opportunities in companies that are "at the forefront of the plastics transformation."
He said that includes identifying companies benefiting from the "tailwinds" of changing government policy, changing consumer preferences and changing technology.
"Taxes on virgin resin in Europe and plastic pollution bills being considered by U.S. states may accelerate the transition to post-consumer recycled content and alternative materials," Fleming said.