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Lego sets stricter emissions reductions requirements for suppliers

The toymaker’s partners will need to share reduction targets starting in 2026.

Lego image of construction site

Lego has tested more than 600 different materials as options to fossil fuels-based plastic, including bio-polyethylene, which it uses to make botanical elements and Minifigure accessories. Source: Lego

Lego, the world’s largest toy company, will require suppliers to set near-term emissions reduction targets by 2026, a move it says is necessary to keep its net-zero goals on track.

The toymaker has committed to cutting its carbon footprint by 37 percent by 2032 and reaching net zero by 2050. Close to 99 percent of Lego’s emissions come from Scope 3, which covers the activities of its supply chain.

Lego’s new Supplier Sustainability Program, announced July 3, requires its biggest suppliers (representing about 70 percent of its overall emissions) to share data about emissions generated by the production of goods and services they sell to Lego, starting in 2024. They’ll need to share reduction targets starting 2026. Lego declined to provide additional details.

"Sustainability is a license to operate and a requirement of how we do business, including how we select our suppliers," said Carsten Rasmussen, chief operations officer at Lego, in a statement. "We have ideas and we have a pathway; we cannot do it alone."

Public supplier requirements are uncommon for toy industry

The new program builds on an initiative Lego launched in 2014 to measure and address the environmental impact of its closest partners. As of the company’s sustainabilty progress report in December, that initiative included 158 suppliers. 

The practice of encouraging suppliers to set emissions reductions targets — or at least for announcing them publicly — is relatively rare outside the retail sector. Walmart’s Project Gigaton, announced in 2017, became the exemplar for retailers seeking to push emissions cuts, water conservation and waste management within their supply chains. That program aimed to cut 1 billion tons of greenhouse gases by 2030; it met that goal in early 2024

Companies in other sectors, especially those setting science-based emissions reductions targets that include Scope 3 pledges, are also pushing suppliers to do more. Pharmaceutical company AstraZeneca, for example, will require 95 percent of its suppliers (by spend) to have emissions reduction targets by fiscal year 2025. Microsoft is asking its largest supply chain partners to use "carbon-free" energy by the end of the decade.

"What I am seeing is a lot of companies are starting to set or phase in requirements, but you’re not seeing announcements, because they don’t want to promise something that they might not be able to deliver," said Anne Clawson, principal at consulting firm Cascade Advisory.

Expectations and supplier programs are not common among toymakers. Mattel, the company behind Barbie and Fisher Price, hasn’t announced a Scope 3 target. "I believe Lego is the first to articulate supplier requirements to reduce," said Chloe Davison, principal emissions, waste and circularity consulting with another firm, Glaze Sustainability. 

The toy industry’s biggest challenge: plastic

Lego hasn’t disclosed its emissions numbers for 2023, but for 2022 it reported a total footprint of about 1.6 million metric tons, up from 1.5 million metric tons in 2021. The industry produces an estimated 26 million metric tons of greenhouse gas emissions annually, and it uses close to 1 percent of global plastic production.

Finding alternatives to plastic is one of Lego’s highest priorities, although those two agendas — reducing plastics and cutting emissions — don’t always align. In September, Lego stepped back from a commitment to make its bricks entirely from recycled plastic because switching wouldn’t contribute to emissions reductions. 

So far, Lego has tested more than 600 materials as options, including bio-polyethylene, which it uses to make botanical elements and Minifigure accessories. In 2023, 18 percent of the resin it purchased for its bricks was made from renewable or recycled sources that are mixed with virgin sources. 

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