Lego produced more than 60 billion bricks last year, all made from plastic. Acrylonitrile butadiene styrene, to be exact. Now the world’s biggest toy company wants to replace that material with a more sustainable substance within 15 years, and is investing 1 billion Danish Krone (or about $150 million) in developing a more environmentally-friendly material for its iconic blocks and pieces, or “elements” as it calls them.
Lego began manufacturing interlocking toy bricks in 1949, but for the last 52 years (since 1963), Lego pieces have been made from its current formula, producing more than 6,000 tons of plastic every year. Now it’s stepping up its mission to be more environmentally responsible by finding an alternative to plastic.
“Changing the raw material could have a large effect on Lego’s carbon footprint, especially considering that only 10% of the carbon emissions from Lego products come from its factories,” notes TIME. “The other 90% is produced from the extraction and refinement of raw materials, as well as distribution from factories to toy stores.”
“This is a major step for the Lego Group on our way towards achieving our 2030 ambition on sustainable materials,” CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp stated. “We have already taken important steps to reduce our carbon footprint and leave a positive impact on the planet by reducing the packaging size, by introducing [Forest Stewardship Council] certified packaging and through our investment in an offshore wind farm. Now we are accelerating our focus on materials.”
Part of the investment will establish a Lego Sustainable Materials Centre in Denmark, opening in 2016 and employing more than 100 specialists. Lego has been growing greener gradually, beginning with a partnership in 2013 with the WWF to develop more sustainable materials. Last October Lego ended a 50-year relationship with Shell over the oil giant’s drilling in the Arctic following protests by Greenpeace and other environmental activists.
In fact, Lego announced in 2012 its goal to find an alternative to plastic by 2030, but it’s now acknowledging that it will require help from external partners and experts.
“The tests and research that we have already completed have given us greater insight into the challenges that we need to resolve in order to reach our ambition, and we are now investing significantly more resources in preparation for the next phase in the search for alternative materials,” administrative director Jørgen Vig Knudstorp stated.
Its announcement also admits that there is no one definition of what, exactly, would constitute a sustainable Lego brick: “There is no common definition of a sustainable material. Several aspects influence the sustainability of a material. It is to a high degree determined by its source, chemical composition, its use (in a product) and management (at end-of-life), and the impact it can have in both environmental and social areas.”
“Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow,” Kristiansen added. “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.”
Below, a snapshot of Lego’s sustainability goals from 2015-2020: