Newest Corporate Survey to Focus on Plastic Use

Back in September, we told you about a new project aimed at measuring and reporting corporate plastic use.

The Plastic Disclosure Project (PDP) landed in the news again yesterday with a story in the New York Times that offered more details on the initiative.

In October, the Times reported, companies will begin receiving surveys asking about how much plastic they use, how much is recycled and whether they are taking steps to reduce use.

The PDP, modeled after the annual questionnaire sent from the Carbon Disclosure Project on greenhouse gas emissions, is designed to get companies thinking about the mountains of plastic they use every year, the vast majority of which is not recycled.

The PDP is backed by investors, according to the Ocean Recovery Alliance, the Hong Kong-based organization that will operate the project. Credit Suisse was an early supporter and has committed to including plastic use in their analysis of portfolio companies.

The Alliance will send the surveys to industry participants who sign on to the PDP to voluntarily report their plastic use, the group said on its website. The focus will initially be on listed companies in the consumer goods sector but they also hope smaller, privately-held companies will join the fray. 

Reducing plastic use is certainly a laudable goal, and only time will tell whether the PDP will deliver the results its creators hope for. But the looming launch of the PDP begs the question: Is another corporate survey the right solution to this problem?

Companies are already inundated with a bevy of sustainability surveys, and judging from the insights offered by our GreenBiz Intelligence Panel late last year, some may be experiencing a bit of survey fatigue.

More than half of Intelligence Panel members told us last November that their companies fill out between five and 25 surveys a year from socially responsible investment groups and others. One small company noted that it spends nearly as much time responding to surveys as it spends implementing its sustainability program.

"Customer surveys are the most important, but it would be of great value if industries, or consortia, or other groups would collaborate to create a shared survey," said another panelist. "The range of questions (from 'what is the weight of chemical x in your product' to 'what have you learned from your sustainability program and what would you do differently') is mindboggling, and because they always require input from subject matter experts throughout the company, they can be very time-consuming to complete."

When I interviewed Alcoa's chief sustainability officer in late June about the company's participation in the The Global G4 Consortium, Kevin Anton told me Alcoa gets bombarded with sustainability questionnaires. He said that he hopes the GRI framework will one day replace all the various surveys for supply chain-related information.

Offering up another solution to fight survey overload, VOX Global's Jen Anderson suggested the creation of some sort of central repository for environmental, social and governance data.

"If companies could enter their data into one source," she wrote, "one that would fill out all these forms and feed all of these firms, it would free up a handful of people to actually focus on enacting the sustainability efforts that will make a difference in improving this data."

Image CC licensed by Flickr user Kevin Krejci.