More than 60 billion LEGO pieces were produced in 2014. That's a lot of little plastic blocks getting lost between couch cushions, rolling under the front seats of mini-vans, and being chewed on by young children. More importantly, to produce this many bricks, it takes more than 6000 tons of plastic each year, which, when combined with the packaging materials, results in a hefty carbon footprint.
But that may all change by 2030. The LEGO Group recently announced their plan to become more environmentally conscious by investing 1 billion Danish Krone—almost $150 million dollars—to construct the LEGO Sustainable Materials Centre, and recruit more than 100 LEGO employees to focus specifically on the project at the company’s headquarters in Denmark. The decision to increase the company's efforts to achieve full sustainability by the 2030 benchmark was made at a General Assembly meeting in May.
The LEGO Group began their drive towards sustainability back in 2003, and since 2006, has published a yearly report documenting their progress. In 2014, the LEGO Group partnered with the Forward Stewardship Council to shrink the size of the LEGO set boxes in order to reduce their carbon dioxide emissions and cut back on the amount of cardboard used, saving around 6000 tons.
LEGO Group is already working with the World Wildlife Foundation (WWF) through the Climate Savers partnership to find alternative, sustainable materials for both the bricks and the packaging.
One problem LEGO Group will face in creating a more sustainable model is that “there is no common definition of a sustainable material," CEO and President of LEGO Group Jørgen Vig Knudstorp said in a press release. "Several factors influence the environmental sustainability of a material—the composition of the material, how it is sourced, and what happens when the product reaches the end of its life.”
Right now, 70 percent of the plastic used to make LEGO pieces is ABS, a thermoplastic resin. Although there are sustainable plastic alternatives, few would allow new LEGO pieces to blend in with the old ones—one of the company's requirements when searching for a replacement.
As challenging as the transition will be, as a leader in the toy industry, LEGO’s dramatic shift towards sustainability will hopefully lead other toy manufacturers to soon ditch the plastic and opt for greener materials.