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Speaking Sustainably

What you should know about Greenpeace's Lego campaign

A few years ago, we wrote about Greenpeace targeting Mattel. Through its “Ken dumps Barbie” campaign, Greenpeace was able to “force” Mattel to avoid using controversial packaging sources at that time (mainly Asia Pulp and Paper).

This year, Greenpeace has set its sights on another manufacturer of children’s toys: LEGO, that venerable institution of childhood, the one that helped us learn how to build, then destroy, all sorts of objects. I can’t think of a pediatrician’s office or day care center I visited when my children were young that didn’t have a LEGO table and building blocks. To coincide with the release of "The LEGO Movie," Greenpeace created its own LEGO movie called "Everything Is Not Awesome." This 1:46 minute video has over 5.5 million views.

Technically though, it isn't really going after LEGO, but after the oil companies. In fact, it notes on its website that “LEGO has pledged to phase out the use of oil and replace it with a sustainable alternative by 2030.”

So this begs the question, why doesn't it just go after oil companies directly? Well, it has protested against Shell, but I’m sure you hadn’t heard much about those efforts before the LEGO initiative. It seems Greenpeace hasn't had much success going that route. Greenpeace garners awareness through creativity that grabs the attention of popular media and gets traction on social media. It’s easier to do this by leveraging a surprising, well-loved target like LEGO.

More importantly, what Greenpeace is trying to do is get the attention of "Concerned Parents," the mainstream sustainability segment that we at the Shelton Group describe as making up about one-third of the American market. Greenpeace is “asking parents and LEGO fans to stand up for the Arctic and call on LEGO to cut ties with Shell.”

The strategy certainly has garnered attention (5.5 million views is impressive), and over 866,000 people, or roughly 16 percent of viewers, actually have signed the petition. But based on the fact that "The LEGO Movie" is currently the second highest grossing movie of the year, I’m not sure that Greenpeace has struck a strong chord with parents.

The problem may be that the issue is so far removed from the targeted product. The campaign targets LEGO’s supply chain, not a hazard directly associated with its products. That doesn’t create the same alarm as toxic content or some other health hazard.

Additionally, LEGO has made public pronouncements toward sustainability — with goals that even Greenpeace acknowledges. So it’s possible some parents see this action by Greenpeace as unfair.

LEGO appears to be standing its ground. LEGO’s response to the matter seems to sum up the view that it is being unfairly targeted: “We firmly believe that this matter must be handled between Shell and Greenpeace. We are saddened when the LEGO brand is used as a tool in any dispute between organizations.”

The lesson here for other marketers is that high-profile successes (such as a kid’s movie based on your product) can put you on activists’ radar screens — particularly if your product or supply chain aligns with its agenda. But if you’re doing the right things, and directly and transparently address the concerns, you can withstand the storm, and attention eventually will shift to other issues.

So before launching any major advertising campaign or high-profile tie-in partnership, it’s a good idea to get your sustainability house in order and carefully consider all aspects of your business, including your supply chain.

Top image of a Lego tree by Katie Walker via Flickr

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