How a donation program helps fill a gap in Lego’s sustainability efforts

Lego Replay expands the product lifecycle and lends a hand to non-profits for children.

Lego

On its path towards sustainability, Lego has faced a tiny, brick-shaped hurdle.

The brand’s iconic multi-coloured bricks, popular among children (and many adults), are made to last. In fact, so durable are the pieces that the company says many customers hang on to them for years before handing them down to the next generation. Their longevity comes from the materials Lego uses in the manufacturing process – many of which are not considered sustainable.

As of 2019, the company still used more than 20 types of plastic, including a petroleum-based substance known as ABS that is notoriously difficult to replace. However, in 2018, it launched a dozen sustainable “bio-elements” made from plant-based materials, a number that has since grown to around 80 different pieces – although that represents just 2% of the 3,600 elements available.

Globally, the Denmark-based toy manufacturer continues to focus on reducing its environmental footprint, advancing by five years its previous goal to make its product and packaging 100% sustainable by 2030. It recently announced plans to invest US$400 million over the next three years towards creating more sustainable products and replacing the single-use plastic bags in its packaging with sustainably-sourced paper bags starting in 2021.

But as it continues to work towards long-term sustainable solutions, the company is using the durability that its products are known for to reinforce its commitment in the short-term, while supporting non-profits that align with its brand mission.

Last month, the company brought Lego Replay, a program through which it accepts and donates previously used Lego bricks, to Canada after a year-long pilot in the U.S. Since launching Stateside, some 30,000 families have donated more than 100 tons of brick for reuse, and Lego hopes to export the concept to other global markets in the future.

Through the program, Canadians can donate to children’s non-profits by mailing their previously used Lego bricks to the company at no cost (by downloading a shipping label from its website). Once received, the elements are inspected and cleaned and then given to partner organizations that support skills development and learning. In Canada, the brand is working with Right to Play, True North Aid and the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.

Lego Replay aligns with one of the company’s founding principles, known as “Lego System in Play”: the idea that all Lego elements fit together in multiple ways, and that those bought years ago will fit perfectly with new bricks that become available. That promise “inspires endless play possibilities that supports the principles of circular design – a product made of quality materials that can be used and reused,” says Denmark-based Tim Brooks, VP of environmental responsibility for the Lego Group. “We want to keep our bricks in play for as long as possible.”

Finding ways to make all Lego elements from sustainable materials is not an easy feat and will take time, Brook says, since all new pieces must adhere to certain standards of quality and durability. “By encouraging the donation and reuse of Lego bricks through the Replay program, we are extending the creative life of each brick, helping to reduce our environmental footprint  and reinforcing our commitment to sustainability.”

In Canada, two of the partner non-profits support Indigenous communities. Toronto-based Right to Play works to empower children who face adversity, reaching 2.3 million children per year across fifteen countries, including many Indigenous communities in Canada. And True North Aid, established in 2009, supports northern and remote Indigenous communities across Canada through humanitarian support. Meanwhile, the Nova Scotia Department of Education and Early Childhood Development is responsible for children’s education in the province.

In each case, Brooks says the company hopes Lego Replay will “help to instil lifelong skills for their future development through high-quality learning experiences as well as play.”

In the U.S., Lego promoted the launch of Replay through social media, earned media and radio. It has taken a similar approach to launching the program north of the border, according to Brooks.