Lego going sustainable, shifting away from petroleum-based bricks

30 Jun 2015

LEGO is investing €135m as part of its drive to find sustainable materials, aiming to bring an end to its current practice of making petroleum-based plastic bricks.

The toy company, which made miniature architects and builders out of all of us at some stage in our adolescence, announced the investment as part of its drive to become a sustainable company by 2030.

It is creating a Lego Sustainable Materials Centre in Denmark, hiring 100 people, and searching for substitutes for materials it currently uses in the creation of its popular bricks.

This isn’t the first sustainability story surrounding Lego in recent months. Last October, Greenpeace’s stunning campaign to pressure Lego into ending its multi-million dollar 40-year partnership with Shell was ultimately successful.

And now, the company’s 2030 ambition on sustainable materials is well underway and, when you consider the make-up of LEGO bricks, you can see why the company is taking action.

All in all it’s just another brick in the wall

Each brick is made up from acrylonitrile butadiene styrene (ABS), a plastic derived from petroleum products. For every ton of ABS, you need around two tonnes of petroleum.

Now LEGO is “accelerating” its focus on materials following a host of other changes, including the reduction of packaging size and investing in offshore wind farms.

“Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow,” said LEGO Group owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen.

“We believe that our main contribution to this is through the creative play experiences we provide to children. The investment announced is a testament to our continued ambition to leave a positive impact on the planet, which future generations will inherit.

“It is certainly in line with the mission of the LEGO Group and in line with the motto of my grandfather and founder of the LEGO Group, Ole Kirk Kristiansen: ‘Only the best is good enough’.”

Too big a job to go it alone

LEGO hopes to partner up with other organisations to both find, and source, materials that it considers sustainable enough for inclusion in its product.

This is no easy task, though, with the new centre – expected to be completed by the end of next year – expected to find suitable, safe replacement materials for the 60m LEGO pieces the company made last year.

Not just that, the machinery all over the world that makes LEGO bricks will need a substance that works in their format, and it has to be as durable as current bricks to satisfy consumers.

In the company’s announcement, it explained the difficulty in terming something ‘sustainable’. That encompasses numerous things such as the composition of the material, how it is sourced and what happens when the product reaches the end of its life.

“When we search for new materials all of these factors must be considered,” says Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO and president of the LEGO Group. “It is a daunting and exciting challenge.”

LEGO Taj Mahal image, via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt was a journalist with Silicon Republic