Last month, more than 290 organizations and business leaders came together in support of something called the New Plastics Economy Global Commitment. That's a lot of firepower to assemble in support of one goal. By way of comparison, there are only 28 member states in the European Union, 50 states in the United States, and 193 countries in the United Nations.
The raw numbers indicate one essential element of interest in terms of corporate social responsibility: whatever the New Plastics Economy is, it's good for business.
With that in mind, let's take a closer look at the New Plastics Economy and one of its charter members, Johnson & Johnson.
Plastics are fundamental to our everyday life. Yet, they are one of the most wasteful examples of our existing linear, take-make-dispose economy. With 8 million tons of plastic entering the ocean each year, we urgently need to rethink the way we make, use and reuse plastics.
Only 14 percent of plastic products are currently recycled, according to a 2017 report from the New Plastics Economy. Experts with the initiative foresee a recycling ceiling of around 70 percent and say tackling the remaining 30 percent would require a "fundamental design and innovation" approach. The New Plastics Economy pivots on the now-familiar concept of the circular economy:
Catalyzing change through collaboration in this global material flow will not only create a more effective plastics system, but will also demonstrate the potential for a wider shift from a linear to a circular economy—an economy in which plastics never become waste.
With a market-based target in hand, the New Plastics Economy anticipates that innovations will be focused on a global scale, to "re-define what’s possible and create the conditions for a new economy."
Part and parcel of the program is an evidence-based approach and an effort to engage stakeholders at every level, from students and academia to governments, NGOs and trade associations.
In a recent press release, the company notes that its history in awareness predates the corporate social responsibility movement:
In 1947, decades before the concept of sustainability became popular, then Johnson & Johnson Chairman and CEO General Robert Wood Johnson wrote in his book, Or Forfeit Freedom: “We must use our resources wisely, avoiding waste of both raw materials and scrap, while we seek substitutes for things already in short supply.”
Johnson & Johnson already has a running start on product innovation that reduces waste, through its Earthwards program:
Since its launch in 2009, the Earthwards program—which encompasses consumer items, medical devices and pharmaceuticals—has seen the number of recognized products steadily rise. In the program’s first year, there were only three Earthwards-recognized products; by 2016, that number had jumped to 93.
Johnson & Johnson Consumer Inc. is pledging to use more recycled materials in packaging; reduce reliance on the single-use model; and ensure that 100 percent of plastic packaging be reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.
Evidence is mounting that consumers will respond to messages about sustainability and social action. The CSR movement has certainly gone mainstream when publications like Entrepreneur feature headlines like this one...
5 Reasons Why Sustainability and Social Issues Attract Customers
Consumers want to feel good about the companies they buy from. What's your company doing to help that happen?
People who support specific causes are more likely to spend their money at businesses that share their interests. Use social media and other opportunities to educate and entertain people about your cause as well as your products and services to build brand awareness and increase revenues.
As the New Plastics Economy gains steam, look for companies like Johnson & Johnson to ramp up their efforts to educate and engage consumers—and build more shelf space, too.
Photo (screenshot): via Johnson & Johnson.
Tina writes frequently for TriplePundit and other websites, with a focus on military, government and corporate sustainability, clean tech research and emerging energy technologies. She is a former Deputy Director of Public Affairs of the New York City Department of Environmental Protection, and author of books and articles on recycling and other conservation themes. She is currently Deputy Director of Public Information for the County of Union, New Jersey. Views expressed here are her own and do not necessarily reflect agency policy.