The owner of LEGO, the massive Danish toy company, has purchased a US solar power builder, in a continuation of the company’s investment in sustainability. Holding company KIRKBI now has the majority stake of Enerparc US, a solar power project developer, in addition to its various other investments including wind assets and real estate.
Though the company has a long way to go, LEGO is clearly making an effort to work towards complete sustainability. In 2017 the company announced that it runs entirely on renewables, having met the 100% target three years ahead of schedule, and has installed solar power on its own property.
But that’s not enough – what about the plastic? Generations of people across the planet still have boxes and boxes of tiny plastic LEGO bricks tucked away in storage somewhere, and the company continues to produce millions more. The New York Times reported that the company emits approximately one million tons of carbon dioxide each year, most of which is from the raw materials used in its factories. And the company is incredibly dependent on these materials, using petroleum-based plastic for almost all of its products. LEGO can buy all the solar power project developers that it wants, but it needs to address its own contributions to environmental waste and toxicity.
Last year, the Danish toymaker introduced its first sustainable pieces, using polyethylene made from sugar cane husks, and announced that it is committed to using renewable sources or bioplastics by 2030 for all of its toys. LEGO made a major switch in materials once already in its history. When the company began in the 1930s it was building everything out of wood. The company then invested in a plastic injection molding machine in the 1940s, and the iconic plastic LEGO brick as we know it was born. The willingness to invest in a new material is a key part of the company’s mythology and is perhaps a part of why it is again willing to make a change.
The problem with LEGO’s 2030 target is that its researchers are struggling to find a suitable replacement for the ABS (acrylonitrile butadiene styrene) plastic that it uses. The sugar cane bioplastics it’s using for a small (1-2%) amount of pieces are too soft to be used for the standard building blocks. Nonetheless, the company will continue trying. LEGO has teamed up with the World Wildlife Foundation and the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance to raise awareness regarding sustainability and promote bioplastics.
LEGO’s endeavors are an important demonstration of the impact a company can have through investment in sustainability. Major companies have a responsibility to re-examine their own practices and environmental impact, regardless of however difficult that may be.