Plastic Footprint Part II: Mitigation Metrics That Matter
The critical connection between plastic mitigation and corporate leadership
by: Leticia Socal | May 24, 2023
Part I of this blog series showcased the benefits of executing a baseline plastic footprint analysis. Now it is time to understand that the risks at stake are equally valuable.
Part II outlines the key metrics corporate leadership will find interesting when planning and budgeting for their plastic mitigation strategy. Once the scope and execution of a plastic footprint has been mapped, planning internal buy-in to implement mitigation actions is essential. Acting now is vital for corporations due to timely institutional changes and because circular plastic is still in its pioneer stage. Early and effective action will establish participants at the forefront of development and influence acceptance in the circular economy.
Costs of Non-Involvement?
Although variable and obscure, the costs of opting out of a plastic survey is risky and can be detrimental in its ever-changing landscape. According to The Minderoo Foundation, conservative, near-term (2022-2030) estimates of corporate plastic liability (US only) land at around $20 billion. This liability estimates ranges from bodily injury, property damage, and loss of shareholder value. And it’s not limited to the cost of liability from “misleading consumer statements” and greenwashing, expected to be penalized with “significant fines and sanctions.” 
Beyond liability, operational costs are considerable as well. A study by Pew Trust foresees companies operating at business-as-usual in the 2040s accruing $100 billion in virgin plastic taxes and/or responsible disposal fees with extended producer responsibilities (EPR) .
Comparatively, companies that chose to act today towards reducing their plastic impact and building a solid baseline would incur a fraction (~0.5%) of the costs of greenwashing litigation or an EPR non-compliance fee. Familiarizing leadership with this topic’s go-to advisory policymakers, insurers, investors, and corporate leadership would be wise to add to your to-do list.
The intangible costs are also notable, as seen in Part I of this series. Refusing to collect sustainability data on your products’ life cycle and overall footprint excludes vital product information from your operation—closing doors on opportunities to expand consumer messaging, innovate product design, diversify market offerings, and differentiate from the competition. Without knowledge, there is little to prepare for – plastic footprinting is a unique approach to understanding potential supply chain vulnerabilities (i.e., deforestation on ingredient plantations) and exposure to public criticism (political opinion on local vs. international labor).
Is the Market Demanding More Sustainable Products?
Making operational changes can be disruptive, laborious, and expensive. If cash flow is suffering, it’s easier to justify implementing product changes that take away time and energy from sales. Business owners typically want low-risk and high ROI. Fortunately, the data highlighting the impacts of performing an analysis or “pedicure” on your products and/or business is positive. A 5-year study by NYU showed that sustainability marketed products grew more than seven times faster than their conventional counterparts, selling at a 39% higher premium . The sustainability market can be considered recession-proof since this study was collected amidst the COVID-19 global pandemic . With all things considered, sustainability marketed products have continued to grow throughout the worst economic downturn since the Great Depression . This raises the question, is now the right time?
Who’s Holding You Accountable?
Failing to act before an official and legislative change is mandated will no doubt decrease the market effectiveness and opportunity to set yourself apart from competitors before it is streamlined and mandated. There is still time to perform a footprint analysis and implement changes before the United Nations (UN) Plastics Treaty is ratified in June and December 2023 .
If your company is one of the 18,000 that has disclosed to CDP (formerly Carbon Disclosure Project) for climate change, water quality, or forests in the past or funded by investors with a vested interest in public disclosure, thinking about your plastic impact may come down to bargaining with your financial support. In 2023, the CDP disclosure questionnaire piloted a new set of plastic-related voluntary questions under the Water Quality survey in a growing global response to plastic pollution disclosure and responsibility. These investors are forcing the hand of their companies, thus opening the floodgates of data needed for policymakers to make viable mandated solutions that drive actualized change . This top-down pressure will only increase as the Plastics Treaty makes headway. In the wake before US-mandated disclosure breaches the horizon, familiarizing your business with the conduct of disclosure is both wise and forward-looking.
The world is at the precipice of significant change—the role of plastic materials is at a tipping point, shifting in its value and applications. The United Nations Environment Programme approaches plastic circularity with three easy steps: eliminate, innovate, and circulate . The role plastic footprints play in larger mitigation measures and Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) targets is just one step towards a more circular, efficient, and cost-saving operation, whether applied to events, concerts, products, or company offices or operations. Although new and sometimes misinformed, multiple data sources frame plastic mitigation and circular innovation as a sound investment, both operationally and financially. Now that you have the data to assure leadership to buy into plastic initiatives, congratulate yourself for being a thought leader towards corporate change with visible impact.
Understanding your impact is the first step towards change, and there are multiple options available for companies actively planning to meet their ESG targets.
Our global teams are ready to work with you – let’s connect, begin setting targets, assess and mitigate your plastic footprint.
 The Price of Plastic Pollution: Social Costs and Corporate Liabilities
 Breaking the Plastic Wave: Top Finding fo Preventing Plastic Pollution
 2020 Sustainable Market Share Index (nyu.edu)
 Risk of Global Recession in 2023 Rises Amid Simultaneous Rate Hikes
 The Great Lockdown: Worst Economic Downturn Since the Great Depression
 Plastic Treaty progress puts spotlight on circular economy
 Businesses encouraged to disclose plastics footprint through CDP for the first time
 Plastic Treaty progress puts spotlight on circular economy
About the Author
Leticia Socal is a chemist and seasoned plastic industry professional with over 15 years of experience spanning R&D, intellectual property, market research & strategy. Leticia is a certified TRUE Zero Waste advisor and a Blue Consultant. She holds a Bachelor of Science in Industrial Chemistry, a Master of Science in Materials Engineering, and a Ph.D. in Polymer Science.