Around the globe governments and businesses are looking for solutions to solve the issues caused by plastic pollution. But these issues run long and deep and addressing them requires all hands on deck. The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global Commitments aim to achieve this.
Primarily focused on plastics, this set of initiatives looks to transform the way plastic is designed, used, and reused with the ultimate goal of a circular economy where plastics never become waste or pollution. Today, many companies who have made these commitments are finding that meeting their goals is much more challenging than initially anticipated.
Where Sustainability and Environmental Change Stand Today
The current state of sustainability and environmental change in today's world is both urgent and complex. Over the years awareness around the topic has risen, and progress has been made although this has been accompanied by significant challenges.
Globally, companies are moving beyond just discussions around sustainability and truly working to implement it into their products, services, and supply chain practices - an expectation being pushed by all stakeholders.
Beyond increasing regulatory standards, investors and consumers are also looking for change, not wanting to work with companies that aren't prioritizing sustainability. In Specright’s recent sustainability survey, results showed that more than half (58%) of consumers indicated they are willing to spend more money on products that are deemed sustainable or environmentally friendly.
Trends toward more sustainable and resilient business models are becoming less and less niche, yet companies in every industry still struggle to see progress toward their sustainability goals.
The Ellen MacArthur Foundation and The Global Commitment
As mentioned before, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation, established back in 2010 after alarming research was discovered about the harm of plastic pollution, aims to accelerate the transition towards a circular economy where resources are used for as long as possible.
To encourage organizations to do so the foundation laid out its Global Commitment framework, giving companies a clear set of initiatives they can implement to help meet the organization's overarching goals.
In collaboration with the UN Environment Programme, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s Global commitments have brought together over 1,000 organizations from across the world, looking towards the common goal of tackling plastic pollution. Today, the Global Commitment is the largest voluntary effort to tackle waste and plastic waste in the world.
Companies taking the commitment have been challenged to come up with innovative solutions for reducing their single-use plastic, through the discovery of new materials, implementation of unique business models, and more.
What The Global Commitment Has Shown Us So Far
Recently, The Ellen MacArthur Foundation released its The Global Commitment Five Years In paper, displaying the progress that has been made and where the pieces are still missing. The results are unfortunate, yet not shocking to most.
The paper revealed that despite much progress that has been made, the Global Commitment and its signatories will likely not meet its 2025 goals. Despite numerous positive efforts towards change and reducing plastic waste, the data shows that to truly eliminate plastic waste and its pollution reinforcement of these efforts must be pushed to the next level.
Governments and organizations need to implement regular and policy measures to hold organizations accountable, making pollution reduction a must for companies. With the passing of global regulations and measures, countries may be able to make final pushes towards a circular economy by 2025, but change has to happen now.
On the bright side, the Global Commitment over the past 5 years has shown us that businesses that are willing to reinvent their business models to be more sustainable can drive change. But change can no longer wait, with the state of today's pollution crisis and only 3 years left to meet commitments.
The Biggest Hurdles Preventing Change and How Companies and Consumers Can Work to Overcome Them
Research conducted by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation has shown that some standout barriers have prevented progress in meeting goals over the last five years. The following list looks at the most significant barriers and how your company can work to overcome them, in an attempt to meet goals by 2030.
- Elimination of Single-Use Plastic Models
At the core of the numerous challenges preventing organizations from meeting their global commitments is single-use plastic. Single-use plastic models are the number one contributor to plastic waste and are significantly stunting the success of Ellen MacArthur’s global commitments.
It would be great if we could eliminate plastic packaging altogether, but the reality is that most products cannot get from point A to point B without some sort of packaging. With this being said it gives companies an exciting opportunity for innovation and the use of reusable packaging.
Just shifting to recyclable packaging materials won’t be enough to meet global commitments, the levels of global virgin plastic used must be reduced altogether. By switching to reusable packaging, businesses have the opportunity to strike both economic and environmental benefits.
Companies that can implement reuse or return packaging models will signal a strong commitment to corporate responsibility and their global commitments. This change opens a new door and allows companies to differentiate themselves with new and sustainable solutions.
- Reducing Flexible Plastic Packaging Waste
Flexible packaging refers to any package made of flexible or readily pliable materials. They are commonly used in wrappers, pouches, and other consumer products due to their adaptability - think about food and beverage packaging.
Benefits aside, flexible packaging is the largest growing type of plastic packaging and is currently the top barrier preventing 100% reusable, recyclable, or compostable packaging.
Flexible packaging commonly shows up in high-leakage regions where adequate processing infrastructure is limited—the result: excess amounts of flexible packaging ending up in oceans at exponential rates. And, even for flexible packaging that is collected, because of its makeup and design, it is partially challenging to recycle and process.
All this considered, companies should begin to innovate away from flexible packaging, through material substitutions or new packaging design. With insight into packaging materials and design, there is an opportunity for companies to eliminate unnecessary packaging or even redesign products to match different packaging models.
- Building Better Infrastructure to Empower Circular Packaging
The reality is, that without adequate infrastructure for the collection, sorting, and processing of these materials, plastic will continue to end up in landfill.
Research from the Ellen MacArthur Foundation currently shows that of all plastic packaging produced approximately one-third ends up in the environment and more than half is landfilled or incinerated. A lot of this is due to the lack of infrastructure improvements to process these plastic materials.
In the future, measures must be taken to scale the required infrastructure so all plastic materials can be recycled. Businesses may begin to see this reflected through Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policies which can speed up the process of investment in such infrastructure.
Across the nation, EPR regulations have risen to enforce policies around waste management and reduction, promoting curricular economic solutions. This considered, businesses should work to redesign their business models to meet EPR standards and stay up to date with any changes in their geographic location.
The Value of Data in Driving Sustainable Change
Driving sustainable change across organizations will look unique to every company, but one thing is for certain, access to DNA-level data will be influential in doing so. Insight into data about a company’s waste, pollution, and emissions across its entire supply chain is necessary to execute sustainable modifications strategically.
Research from our 2022 ESG and Sustainability Report demonstrates the value of visibility into specifications when it comes to making critical changes to meet commitment standards.
More specifically, by implementing effective specification management practices, companies can ensure that their products and materials are in line with the circular economy principles and goals of the Ellen MacArthur’s Global Commitments.
As stated before companies still have the opportunity to meet their sustainability goals but it is going to require them to be all in. By taking a Spec-First approach to data management Ellen MacArthur’s Global Commitments will become within reach.
To learn how to bring your sustainability goals to the next level with Specright request a demo.