LEGO builds change through its youngest stakeholders
Pester-power is that relentless energy that marketers love to ignite in children in order to influence their parents’ buying behavior. In an effort to transform pester-power into a force for good, LEGO marketers are giving kids a platform for using the beloved bricks to express their vision for a better world.
"A few years ago we got this letter from a 9-year-old in Maryland that read, ‘When I grow up, I want my kids to grow up in a healthy world," said Jennifer DuBuisson, senior manager, environmental sustainability at LEGO. In response to hundreds of such letters that the LEGO Group receives daily from children eager to share their ideas, the LEGO Group started its Build the Change initiative.
"We want to make a positive impact on the world our children will inherit," said DuBuisson, who briefed me on the family-owned Danish company’s sustainability efforts before my serving as a volunteer judge for the community engagement event.
Launched in collaboration with museums in Denmark in 2007, Build the Change events are held around the globe with support from local partners. The partner in this case was Earth Day Texas, an annual conference that drew more than 130,000 attendees in 2016, making it the world’s largest Earth Day event — a fitting venue for a public play opportunity with one of the world’s iconic toy brands.
As my kids and I dived into the pile of plastic bricks, ostensibly to create our own model of a sustainable city, we soon got lost in play for the joy of it. Around our table and 10 or so others stood families from every cultural background, each of us searching for the perfect piece to bring our vision to fruition. Knowing that we were sharing in an experience identical to that of families from Japan to Dubai was unifying — and a reminder of the secret to the toy manufacturer’s extraordinary success: The LEGO Group is a truly global company.
With LEGO's valuation of $15 billion and ranking as a top 100 brand, its international popularity underscores the power of paying attention to your target customer. The company’s CSR strategy also represents a global best practice for corporates interested in aligning sustainability with core values.
Building blocks of values-centric CSR
"Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. They are our No. 1 stakeholder and we need to ensure that we are working to meet their expectations of our products and our company," said DuBuisson. That focus extends to about 100 million children in 140 countries through the combined efforts of the LEGO Group, LEGO Education and the LEGO Foundation, according to the LEGO 2015 Responsibility Report.
Of course, even highly philanthropic and engaged consumer products companies must wrestle with the paradox of creating waste with every sale. For this reason, the LEGO Group aims to bake environmental stewardship into its blocks from its manufacturing processes to end-use education.
"Taking apart the problem and looking at the pieces of our environmental value chain,” said DuBuisson, “we identified where our impacts were coming from: 75 percent was upstream (suppliers); 10 percent was in production; and 15 percent was downstream."
Focusing on central upstream and production concerns, in which most of the impact is concentrated, the LEGO Group set a series of goals related to climate change and resources. Its first commitment was to achieve 100 percent renewable energy by 2020. To get there, the parent company (KIRKBI A/S) invested in a wind farm off the coast of Germany, which supplies 320,000 German households, and another wind farm in the U.K.
Other climate goals involve lowering emissions and increasing energy efficiency in each of the five factories owned by the LEGO Group — in Denmark, Mexico, Hungary, the Czech Republic and China — by the end of this year. Over 90 percent of the production will directly supply the China market.
In terms of resource commitments, the LEGO Group has achieved 100 percent FSC packaging in building construction and marketing materials; is in the process of establishing a Sustainable Materials Center; and last year reached a record of 93 percent recycled waste in its facilities.
"Last year the LEGO Group set forth an ambition that by 2030 we will use sustainable materials in all of our core products, including the elements, packaging and building instructions. This ambition is supported by a multitude of internal teams and [$150 million in] investments," said DuBuisson.
With a strong governance structure in place and a proactive sustainability agenda, all of these measures are intended to enhance the sustainability of its products while preserving their durability and quality, right down to the "clinking sound" that its young customers have come to expect when they dig into a pile of LEGO bricks.
From child’s play to children’s rights
The LEGO Group doesn’t stop at giving kids a voice through its products. It also acts as a voice on behalf of children who don’t have one. For example, the company has adopted the Children’s Rights and Business Principles developed by UNICEF, the U.N. Global Compact and Save the Children — the first comprehensive set of principles to guide companies on the range of actions they can take in the workplace, marketplace and community to respect and support children’s rights.
From advocacy and philanthropy to conscious marketing, the LEGO Group’s efforts on behalf of its youngest stakeholders gives me a fresh perspective on those piles of plastic that have become a permanent fixture on my living room carpet. They’re so much more than a mess on the floor — they’re also tools to teach my kids about designing a better world. All that stands between the bricks and a visionary creation is a little imagination.
The same could be said for any company embarking on its own sustainability strategy. So long as there’s a willingness to see the world through the eyes of critical stakeholders, any company can lay a meaningful foundation for sustainable transformation one building block at a time.