Let me tell you straight: LEGOs are pretty amazing. They last forever. They’re practically invincible (any parent who’s nearly lost a foot on one knows that). They’re not too pricey. They promote creativity and problem solving, and can be used collaboratively or solo. They kick ass for boys and girls.
And they are unbelievably successful. There are 62 LEGO bricks for each human on the planet. The LEGO bricks sold in a single year would circle the earth five times.
Hear that? FIVE TIMES.
Another cool thing about LEGOs is that you never have to upgrade. All sets fit together, which means the durable building sets can be used over and over without replacing them. There are different kinds of sustainability, and as a company, LEGO already has longevity on lockdown.
And now, LEGO is getting even more sustainable. This summer, LEGO announced they’re looking for ways to make the plastic they use to make their toys from a more environmentally friendly material.
As a company, LEGO has already shown a commitment to the environment through other initiatives. The Danish toy titans have made their packaging smaller. This reduction saved both on cardboard production and on transportation costs, reducing CO2 emissions by 10,000 tons. The company also invests in wind energy and has divested from a previous partnership with Shell.
But when LEGO assessed their overall environmental impact, they found that the good stuff they were doing for the environment wasn’t enough to offset the biggest chunk of their carbon footprint—the production of the petroleum based plastic, which is used to make each brick.
Believe it or not, it costs a lot of petroleum to make a single LEGO plastic brick. 70,000 metric tons of petroleum were used in 2014 to make 60 million bricks. Petroleum-based plastic is a non-sustainable and environmentally problematic material.
What they found was that their secondary carbon footprint was a big issue, and that was mainly due to the production of the plastics they were using. Even after all that they had done to reduce their primary carbon imprint—with energy sources and packaging and shipping efficiency improvements—the great petroleum plastic elephant was still in the room.
I give LEGO props. They could rest on their laurels: after all, they’ve made some pro-environment moves, and they make a product that lasts. Also, oil prices are currently on the decline, so there’s less of an economic reason to find new ways to make LEGO bricks. Many companies who use petroleum-based plastics will start looking for alternative materials only when prices climb.
But profit and positive changes for the environment don’t have to live separate lives. And by starting now, LEGO is preparing for the long-term future—which is particularly savvy.
It’s good business for LEGO to be seen as an environmentally friendly company. But this announcement, and the research that LEGO is doing, will be smart on a social level, too. LEGO is huge, and therefore has the potential to help other businesses find new plastics, which can open up whole new manufacturing possibilities. They have a long term commitment to innovation in this sphere.
The new, sustainable LEGOs have been promised for 2030, which is kind of a long way away, but it’s a clear step in the right direction. The company is devoting research time to explore multiple avenues to a new material—one that behaves like LEGO plastic but is made from sustainable material. They’re staying open to the possibility of using all sorts of materials, but are particularly looking at agricultural waste (like corn stalks). And with their economic influence in the market, this bodes well for the future.
I’m excited to see what LEGO and science do next! Maybe they could build a LEGO brick that doesn’t cause the stabbing you in the foot, or find a way to get the “Everything is Awesome” song out of my head….
Emily Rabbitt is a freelance and fiction writer in the Washington, D.C. area. She is a Massachusetts native, iced coffee enthusiast, and marathon runner, and tries to be a good citizen of the planet. Follow her on Twitter: @rabbitterun.