Plastic pollution and corporate accountability: toward harmonized disclosure metrics

Published: 25 Nov 2022
Author: Delphine Garin, Manager Plastics & Packaging, WBCSD
Type: Insight

The negotiations on an international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution are starting in Punta del Este, Uruguay – with the first session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-1) kicking off on 28 November.

This global instrument will set a global objective to end plastic pollution that countries will commit to reaching. As companies will play a key role in implementing the global instrument and as they have already started reporting their progress towards plastics circularity (such as through the Global Commitment led by the Ellen MacArthur Foundation), we should take the opportunity to discuss the potential of a harmonized set of metrics to enhance transparency and disclosure by public and private sector actors on action to mitigate plastic pollution. And for business, it is a chance to align on global corporate accountability. 

To proactively contribute to the discussions, we published the white paper Enabling Corporate Plastics Disclosure: Opening the debate for the adoption of universal metrics, developed by WBCSD Sustainable Plastics & Packaging Value Chains project members Environmental Action (EA), Quantis and South Pole. With this paper, we aim to  

  • Provide a better understanding of the plastics-related metrics that companies are using to measure and report on plastic inputs on global markets and outputs into the environment under circularity approaches and the purposes for which these metrics are used; and 
  • Open the debate on the harmonization of plastics-related metrics for disclosure purposes –to develop a global accountability framework that would allow tracking corporate progress on their targets (adjacent /integrated into country-level reporting). 

Increasing pressure to disclose  

The urgency to address plastic pollution puts increasing pressure on companies to disclose their efforts toward circularity to external stakeholders so that no plastic ends up in the environment. In addition to reporting for internal decision-making (like WBCSD’s Circular Transition Indicators), companies will be increasingly required to disclose externally to stakeholders such as regulators, governments, investors, civil society and consumers. 

No need for new metrics but for harmonization 

Companies can use many plastics-related metrics in different contexts and for other purposes – internally, to identify hotspots and inform their decisions to improve circularity, or externally, to report progress toward a commitment (such as the EMF Global Commitment) or comply with regulatory obligations. Some of these metrics cover plastics inputs (what is put on the market), outputs (the fate of the waste created) or both. However, there is no global and standardized guidance on plastic disclosure and the diversity of definitions, metrics and methodologies waste time and resources and lead to incomparability of data. 

Bringing convergence under a global accountability framework 

The negotiations on the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution will address the reporting provisions to measure progress toward the goal that the global instrument will set. This offers a great opportunity to align corporate reporting under a global corporate accountability framework. Such a framework would enable tracking aggregate corporate progress on the targets (adjacent to or integrated into country-level reporting). 

Our new paper proposes to align existing metrics that could be included in a global corporate accountability framework. These metrics are based on two levels: 

  1. Generic metrics that are applicable for any actor irrespective of its position within the plastic value chain, and
  2. Metrics that are specific to some actors of the value chain.  

Additional modeled metrics for end-of-life scenarios are also proposed, as they allow further understanding of the materials' circularity potential. 

Opening a multi-stakeholders debate  

We call for a debate and proactive coordination to create a global corporate accountability framework – in the context of the negotiations of the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution. This debate needs to involve multiple stakeholders: 

  • Organizations working in the field of sustainability reporting: to drive convergence on the plastic-related metrics that best reflect corporate progress towards the goal of ending plastic pollution.  
  • Business: to test the metrics, analyze data gaps and ensure companies can effectively use the metrics. 
  • Policymakers and country delegations involved in the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution: to discuss what reporting metrics make sense and how to integrate reporting provisions in the international legally binding instrument on plastic pollution that aligns both the public and private sectors. 

We aim to publish this paper ahead of each of the 5 Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INCs) meetings until the end of 2024 with integrated inputs from different stakeholders that WBCSD would periodically convene to reach a consensus by the end of the negotiations on this proposed global accountability framework. 

With this paper, we call for concerted action. Now is the time to develop this global corporate accountability framework to align countries and the private sector to measure and report progress to end plastic pollution successfully. 

Stakeholders interested in joining our debate and providing feedback on the white paper can do so by filling out this consultation survey.

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