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Toy giants aim for a sustainable future

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Loved by children across the world, toy creators LEGO are taking sustainability seriously, looking to reduce their carbon emissions to protect the planet for their current audience. The Danish toy giant signed up to the WWF Climate Savers programme in 2014, and achieved an 11.5% reduction in energy use between 2013-2016.

LEGO Group committed to balance its energy consumption with renewables, something it achieved in 2017. At the time, LEGO Group’s chief financial officer, Marjorie Lao commented:

‘Climate change is a major challenge facing the planet, and the LEGO Group has a responsibility to minimise our impact on the planet – the planet that our children will inherit.’

Achieving carbon neutrality involved serious investment, with LEGO group putting money into the expansion of the Burbo Bank wind farm off the Merseyside coast, to increase generating capacity by 250MW. It also owns a significant share of the Borkum Riffgrund 1 in the waters of the Netherlands. 

Incidentally, it also creates LEGO wind turbine sets, to inspire future generations.

Kicking the plastic addiction

Energy use is far from being the only part of the toy manufacturing industry which needs to apply some long-term sustainable thinking. The toy industry is one of the most intensive of all when it comes to its use of plastic.  

A 2011 study found plastic toys accounted for around 90% of the market[1], with plastic used more intensively than for other consumer goods. Unfortunately, around 80% of these plastic toys are destined to end up in landfill, incinerators or the ocean.

Some smaller toy producers are using more traditional materials or recycled plastics. However, the demand for alternative to cheap and malleable plastics remains pressing.

But there is some progress. LEGO is investing millions into finding sustainable materials that work well for its products by 2030. Crucially, it is looking for its product to look and feel no different, which is why it's dug deep into research and development funds and employed 100 staff to get the search under way in earnest. 

Finding non petroleum-based alternatives is the aim, and there are a number of possible options currently available, including bio-polymers, natural fibres mixed with recycled plastic, and entirely biodegradable plastics. 

Playing nicer in Thailand

Sustainability is at the heart of the Plan Toys operation in Thailand, which has built a toy business out of plant products – quite literally. 

Sustainably-sourcing wood from rubber trees after they've been used to produce latex products, the wood is dried without chemicals, dyed with water-based colours, and used to create a range of durable toys such as its best-selling dancing alligator. Even the packaging is made from recyclable cardboard, and printing done using soy. 

That's not all. The factory is powered entirely by solar PV, there's a biomass power plant for waste products. Play Toys is also reforesting degraded land, and commissioned a Life Cycle Assessment (LCA) on all its product range. The dancing alligator, turned out to be carbon negative. Widely available online, these carbon neutral products are part of a growing trend towards sustainable toys.

Arguably, it might be easier to quickly effect such direct sustainable approaches in smaller firms with modest distribution networks, but LEGO's example shows how bigger firms can channel their sizeable budgets towards greener production processes. As people increasingly look for more sustainable products, it makes business as well as environmental sense to do so.

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