Lego Drops Oil-Free Brick Goal

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by KnowESG
KnowESG_Lego Drops Oil-Free Brick Goal
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Lego, the renowned toymaker, has opted to backtrack on its high-profile endeavour to eliminate oil-based plastics from its iconic building bricks.

This surprising decision was made due to the discovery that the alternative material they experimented with actually led to a surge in carbon emissions. This development underscores the intricate dilemmas that companies encounter as they navigate the path towards sustainability.

Two years ago, the world's largest toy manufacturer unveiled a prototype brick crafted from recycled plastic bottles, aiming to replace the current oil-based ABS (Acrylonitrile Butadiene Styrene) used in approximately 80 per cent of their annual production.

Regrettably, Niels Christiansen, the CEO of the Danish family-owned company, disclosed to the Financial Times that adopting recycled polyethylene terephthalate (RPET) would have ultimately resulted in a higher carbon footprint. This was primarily due to the need for new machinery and the significant energy demands associated with RPET.

"In the early days, the belief was that it was easier to find this magic material or this new material," Christiansen explained, expressing the initial optimism for a sustainable solution. "We tested hundreds and hundreds of materials. It's just not been possible to find a material like that."

This change in Lego's strategy underscores the challenging choices that businesses encounter on the sustainability front, where objectives such as eliminating fossil fuels and reducing carbon emissions sometimes clash.

Initially, Lego had set an ambitious goal to eradicate petroleum-based plastics from the roughly 20 materials used in its playsets by 2030. They made substantial progress in 2018 by substituting oil-based polyethylene with a plant-based variant for various components, including trees and bushes. Additionally, they are on track to phase out single-use plastic bags for packaging their bricks by 2025, opting for paper containers in many sets.

However, the formidable task of replacing ABS, the plastic responsible for the bricks' durability and ease of assembly, proved to be a formidable challenge. Lego's Head of Sustainability, Tim Brooks, explained that RPET, while softer than ABS, required additional additives to match the safety and durability of the existing plastic. Moreover, the energy-intensive processing and drying of RPET posed significant hurdles.

Lego's new approach is focused on gradually incorporating more bio-based and recycled materials into each component of ABS. Christiansen emphasised that it's not an instant transformation from 0 to 100 per cent sustainability but a stepwise process where elements are based on either bio or recycled materials, whether it's 50, 30, or 70 per cent.

However, this approach may complicate communication with consumers initially, as it may be challenging to quantify emissions reductions for individual sets.

Nonetheless, Lego's CEO is confident that this shift in strategy is the right course of action and will enable them to meet their 2032 targets, including a 37 per cent reduction in emissions compared to 2019 and the exclusive use of sustainable materials.

To fund this commitment, the company plans to triple its annual spending on sustainability to $3 billion by 2025, even if it impacts profit margins, as they do not intend to pass on the higher costs of sustainable materials to consumers.

Lego's perspective has evolved from a strict focus on sustainable materials to encompassing a broader goal of reducing emissions and exploring circular materials that can be recycled and reused.

Another significant initiative aims to facilitate the reuse or recycling of the billions of Lego bricks that currently reside in children's bedrooms. Lego's Replay programme launched in the US and Canada and soon to arrive in Europe, encourages people to donate their bricks, which are then cleaned, sorted, and provided to charities.

Soon, Lego hopes to unveil a commercial offering where individuals can earn money by returning their old sets, which will then be refurbished and packaged as new sets. This shift towards a circular business model reflects their commitment to the principles of reusing rather than just recycling, marking a significant shift in their thinking and approach.

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Source: Financial Times

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