Good marketing is the force behind climate change

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A new report finds that 20 different companies are responsible for producing more than half of all the single-use plastic waste in the world.

I’ve got nothing cute or fun to add, really.

This alarming new study, published in the Plastic Waste Makers Index by the Minderoo Foundation, finds that 55% of single-use plastic waste can be traced directly back to just 20 companies. The report also shares the top 100 polluters, which are responsible for 90 percent of all single-use plastic waste generated globally.

A reminder, from the Guardian:

Single-use plastics are made almost exclusively from fossil fuels, driving the climate crisis, and because they are some of the hardest items to recycle, they end up creating global waste mountains. Just 10%-15% of single-use plastic is recycled globally each year.

Here are the top 5 bad boys, ranked in order of disgrace (being no. 1 is a bad thing):

  1. ExxonMobile

  2. Dow

  3. Sinopec

  4. Indorama Ventures

  5. Saudi Aramco

The whole list is surprising to me for a couple of reasons:

  1. If we can so easily point to the groups responsible for plastic waste, it seems like it would be easy to demand specific and quantifiable change from these groups imminently. What’s going on here? (Lots, I’m sure.)

  2. I mostly focus on sustainability in the food and consumer goods sectors. It is surprising to me that none of the groups I’d expect (PepsiCo, Coca Cola, Nestle) make the list of top offenders (they aren’t even in the top 100). (In fact, I hardly recognize any of the companies on the list).
    This doesn’t mean that these food-focused groups deserve a pass, but it does make me think that it’s much easier to get away with this kind of pollution when you’re not even the biggest crook involved.

  3. This shit is so boring. I think because the presence of these companies in my everyday life is mostly intangible (because I’m naive), it’s hard to feel impassioned or as outraged as I do by, say, a non-recyclable granola bar wrapper. Whether it’s fair to say or not, the fight against plastic pollution has a marketing problem .

As the Guardian points out, it’s not just the companies listed that are responsible for plastic pollution, but also their enabling financial backers, which include Barclays, HSBC, Bank of America, Citigroup and JPMorgan Chase.

The report found that Barclays Bank lent more than $3 billion to single-use plastics polymer producers in the past 10 years or so. Could I please have some of that money?

I don’t have much else to add, except to say that these findings are pretty bonkers, if you will.

But, let’s talk about ExxonMobil, Public Enemy No. 1, for a sec. A separate recent study finds that the company employs Big Tobacco's propaganda tactics to blame individuals for the climate change it has caused. LOL OBVIOUSLY.

The fossil fuel industry uses these tactics and succeeds, in part, because it resonates with American individualism: We are all so stubborn and value our “freedoms” as individuals.

By making it seem as though it is the responsibility of every individual to clean up this mess, we resist (we don’t want to be told what to do) and then blame gets volleyed around, reframed as none of us are doing enough. This is all distracting from the actual problem, which is ExxonMobil and its 19 BFF polluters.

What we really need is to get these Exxon/Tobacco marketing people on the right side of history. We just need a ton ton ton ton TON of money to pay them to do so. I genuinely think this could solve the problem, you? (Read this for some insight into how some people are cool to work on the side of evil.)

Something else to read: I found this take from the former COO of Timberland pretty interesting. It goes on for too long, but basically he says that all the environmental impact measuring and sustainability reporting that companies do (and are self-congratulatory about) are not enough — they, too, are basically marketing. Instead, he calls for changes in regulations and investment incentives, and, maybe most overwhelmingly, the focus of capitalism. A brief excerpt:

A decade after publishing “The Sustainable Economy,” the lead author, Yvon Chouinard—Patagonia’s founder and an authentic environmental pioneer—is no longer especially optimistic.

He recently lamented, “It’s all growth, growth, growth—and that’s what’s destroying the planet.”

Other prominent sustainability leaders have also soured on the promise of measurement and reporting. According to Auden Schendler, the senior vice president of sustainability for Aspen Skiing Company and author of the book Getting Green Done, “Measurement and reporting have become ends to themselves, instead of a means to improve environmental or social outcomes. It’s as if a person committed to a diet and fanatically started counting calories, but continued to eat the same number of Twinkies and cheeseburgers.”

Most boring newsletter to date? I’d say!