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300 C-Suite Execs Share Insights on Overcoming Challenges to Build a Circular Economy

Although circularity goals have risen to the top of executives’ agendas, the path to a waste-free world remains less clear. Fortune magazine’s latest white paper, produced in partnership with Dow, aims to help sustainability leaders and practitioners understand the current challenges and collaborate on circular solutions.

In a year of sweeping corporate commitments to sustainability, setting zero-waste goals is a top priority at the very highest levels in business. In fact, 70 percent of business leaders see recycling and waste reduction as integral to their business operations.

Although circularity goals have risen to the top of executives’ agendas, the path to realizing a waste-free world remains less clear. That’s why Fortune magazine’s latest white paper, produced in partnership with Dow, is critical to implementing and scaling sustainable solutions.

Launched in June 2021, The Path to a Plastics Circular Economy explores how organizations connected to plastics are working to foster the development of a circular economy — where plastics are treated as a resource, rather than waste that accumulates in the environment.

Gathered through a survey of C-suite executives — as well as interviews with key leaders from organizations including Procter & Gamble, Sealed Air, Closed Loop Partners and Dow — the research reveals critical insights from enterprises across an array of industries, from construction and manufacturing to government and healthcare. These learnings demonstrate the level and breadth of sustainability-focused commitments companies are making.

Three significant findings from the interviews with 300 C-suite executives include:

  • 68 percent of executives surveyed say that waste reduction has had a “substantial” or “very large” influence on their organization’s strategic direction over the past two years.

  • 56 percent of respondents cite difficulty collaborating across the value chain as one of the top three obstacles to the development of a circular economy for plastics.

  • 70 percent of C-level executives say they have been treating recycling as a higher priority since the beginning of the pandemic. By comparison, only 59 percent prioritize the broader concept of climate change, and 57 percent cite reducing air pollution as a prominent goal.

Put all this together and a trend emerges — there’s a growing appetite to transition plastics to a sustainable circular economy. Whether it’s driven by an intrinsic belief in doing the right thing, a desire to be on the right side of history, or recognizing possible reputational risks, corporations are increasingly demonstrating a newfound willingness to pursue sustainable solutions.

Reflecting on the report’s findings, Jeff Wooster — Global Sustainability Director for Dow Packaging and Specialty Plastics — said, “Executives see the importance of doing something more sustainable for the future. They’ve figured out that it’s not only the right thing to do, but also that a sustainable business model is in fact essential to their enterprise.”

Yet, there remain steep challenges to realizing a comprehensive circular economy, particularly when it comes to recycling infrastructure. The Recycling Partnership’s recent Paying It Forward report found that 40 percent of US citizens lack equitable recycling access. Which is why many companies are putting in the work to reach a circular economy — from transitioning products to more recyclable materials to building better recycling infrastructure.

For its part, Dow is committed to accelerating its own sustainability goals. By 2030, Dow intends to curb plastic waste by allowing one million metric tons of plastic to be collected, reused or recycled through its direct actions and partnerships, enabling 100 percent of Dow products to be sold into reusable or recyclable packaging applications by 2035. Morever, Dow is funding the Recycling Partnership’s work in Baltimore to scale investments in equitable recycling access, to help close an important gap in circularity.

Fortune’s research into circular plastic strategies aims to help executives, sustainability leaders and experts in the field better understand the current challenges and ultimately collaborate on solutions to achieve circularity. Working together, organizations and communities can build a collaborative path toward net-zero waste and carbon emissions to achieve transformative industry sustainability goals.

To learn more, read this article with key analysis from the research.

We are optimistic about our world’s future: Dow is taking action to address the full scale of challenges; collaborating with partners to improve the industry’s processes; and through innovation helping communities become more sustainable.




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