Lego sees itself as a stakeholder driven brand, and to that end has formulated four promises: the play, partner, people and planet promise. “We want to make a positive impact on the world.”
This was the primary message delivered by Søren Kristiansen, Director in Materials Department at Lego at the World Bio Markets conference last week in Amsterdam. He noted that mapping the way forward was no easy task: “It’s an adaptive challenge, as things change and are moving,” he said. “And as a family-owned business, continuity is very important.”
Lego was founded in 1932 by Ole Kirk Kristiansen as a general wood manufacturer, but soon moved into toy making. While the first Lego bricks were made from wood, the company had switched to plastic by the early fifties. As a result: “Lego bricks are very durable; they are handed down and played with by different generation. All the bricks have been compatible since 1958. We want them to stay in play,” said Kristiansen. The popularity of the toy bricks comes with a feeling of responsibility, he said. “Our approach is built on the idea of leaving a positive impact – not just on having less bad impact.”
An environmental impact assessment of the value chain showed that 10% of the company’s impact was associated with manufacturing and 15% with the consumer and disposal phase; however, 75% of its impact was related to the manufacturing process and the materials used.
“We therefore first worked on the 10% related to our own business. We are working to become self-sufficient in energy – we have invested in a wind farm – reduce packaging and improve waste handling systems. We have also partnered with the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) as part of our Climate Savers partnership,” said Kristiansen.
Lego is collaborating with numerous partners to reduce its impact in other areas as well. In an effort to develop more sustainable bricks, the company is currently building a Sustainable Materials Center, which will comprise 4,000 square meters of research facilities and employ about 100 people when it opens in 2018. The ambition is that all LEGO’s core products are made from sustainable materials in 2030, something which will have a huge effect on the environmental impact of the company.
“By sustainable materials, we mean materials regarding which there is no compromise on safety or quality, and that give the same play experience. Durability is key,” explained Kristiansen. “We do not have a 100% solution yet,” he stressed. “Going into sustainability needs us to rethink the requirements. Also, issues such as the need for dual suppliers must be addressed.”
The Lego play experience is directly related to the materials used and has everything to do with what Kristiansen called ‘controlled friction’. To develop new materials with the same strength, clutch power and color fastness for each of the Lego fractions is a considerable challenge. “We need to understand how key properties are matched by polymers. To match the values that need to be delivered to the properties that make that happen. This means we go back to the monomers, to trace whether these are sustainable, or can be made sustainably. Why do the current materials work? We have 50 colors. We have more than 3600 types of Lego elements. We will accept no compromise on safety or quality. So, yes, we are going slowly, but surely. But we are committed to making a real difference.”
To achieve this goal, Lego has created an effective and robust organization, adapted business models and engaged with partners and stakeholders. “We have innovation ‘funnels’ to select our collaborative partners,” said Kristiansen. The company is working closely with universities, labs and businesses on the development of new, sustainable polymers for the bricks of the future.
The first 100% sustainable Lego brick prototypes – four elements – have now been produced.
Søren Kristiansen: “We still have a long way to go. We need planning, and more planning – we don’t want to implement right way. We have to be sure. It has to work,”
“What is extremely important is that the family that owns the business completely supports these efforts. Thomas Kirk Kristiansen, fourth generation and chairman of the board of directors of the Lego Foundation, is very excited about what we are doing,” he concluded.