Green manufacturing, brick by brick

In many ways, the LEGO® brick needs little introduction; right now you’re probably visualising our trade mark two by four brick or even a classic 1980’s spaceman minifigure. 

Maybe you already knew we’re one of the world’s largest tyre manufacturers, or that every person on the planet on average owns more than 90 LEGO bricks?

However, what I find most exciting is that we produce over 3,000 different shapes in more than 50 colours, we manufacture to tolerances of 20 microns (2/100ths mm), mould 105,000 elements a minute, have in four years never had a product recall, and renew more than 60% of our product line ever year.

We are serious about play and we are just as serious about innovation and manufacturing.

In 2009 we made some long term commitments to the environment under our Planet Promise (one of four business promises including our People, Partner, and Play Promise). Our long term ambitions include sending zero waste to landfill, and generating 100% renewable energy and are translated month by month into the real business of cutting waste, raising recycling rates and improving energy efficiency.
In 2012 we took the decision to invest DKK 3bn (EUR 400m) in a large offshore wind farm of the coast of north-west Germany and in 2013 we joined the WWF Climate Savers partnership, the first in our industry to do so. Through these efforts we committed to becoming ‘net carbon positive’ in 2016 and 100% renewable by 2020.

We don’t see these as ‘add-on’ or marginal activities; rather they are our ‘entry ticket’ to doing business in the 21st century. We see environmental sustainability as not only being good business or the right thing to do – it’s something that our stakeholders expect and we deliver value to them by making it mainstream.

Consumers are increasingly expecting sustainability as an ‘and’, not an ‘or’. Products should be safe, offer a great experience, be well designed, high quality and sustainable.

We see a similar picture with our own employees – that being a sustainable company isn’t the main reason they joined LEGO - they expect their employer to be challenging, engaging, have competitive pay, and be sustainable.

Our recent ‘Design for Disassembly’ project to address recycling at end of life provides an example of how sustainability adds real value to our business.

We took a DUPLO chassis (used by very young children to create vehicles), and found that by removing the metal axles and attaching the wheels with secure plastic plugs we could improve recyclability by using only one material; ABS plastic.

We added value by improving recyclability, reducing the embodied energy of the product, speeding up manufacture, and reducing cost.

This simple concept also created value that was perhaps less easy to measure. It became a concrete example to use in communication with our designers on the multiple benefits of considering environmental impact. It was a simple project to highlight environmental impact reduction with our stakeholders. And it was a communicable project to engage our employees across the business and show that sustainability win/wins can be found anywhere.

Through this one project we demonstrated that environmental sustainability can provide value in many different ways; both tangible and intangible.

Our next challenge was to find the biggest opportunity for impact reduction and value creation.

In 2013 we undertook a study that showed over 75% of our environmental impact was outside our factory gate in the supply chain.  Further to that, on a recent visit to our Danish factory, a Japanese car company executive remarked that our respective businesses were remarkably similar; a real car is just a kit of thousands of parts – albeit not assembled at home by children.

These two insights made us think both about our supply chain, and what we could learn from other industries.

Through our WWF partnership we have therefore committed to testing a number of pilot projects with our suppliers in 2014 to jointly reduce our environmental impacts and deliver mutual value.

We still have much to do. Our 2013 responsibility report out this month shows we have achieved a 30% improvement on energy efficiency since 2009, but that we also grew by 11% in 2013 and used 9% more energy in absolute terms. 

We are reaching more and more children across the world with high quality, long lasting play experiences and we do this with less relative environmental impact than ever before. But we mustn’t lose sight of the fact that as we grow we create environmental impact, and although our own green manufacturing is part of the solution – we can’t solve the challenge on our own.

Written by Tim Brooks, Senior Director Sustainability, LEGO

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