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Greenpeace Challenges Lego on Shell Gas Station Set

| Monday July 7th, 2014 | 1 Comment

Shell LEGO Greenpeace criticGreenpeace is an expert at raising awareness about critical environmental issues but the organization is not infallible, and it may have picked a losing battle with its latest target: the Lego Group. Last week, Greenpeace accused Lego of “keeping bad company” by renewing its longstanding brand co-promotion of “Royal Dutch Shell Lego” playsets.

Triple Pundit, for one, has published dozens of articles critical of Shell, so we get Greenpeace’s “bad company” reference. However, the Shell tie-in forms a miniscule part of the Lego Group’s profile, and it is difficult to imagine another toy that is so widely and universally loved as Lego’s building blocks and playsets. That surely puts the Greenpeace effort in danger of experiencing an across-the-board backlash, and the end result could be simply to foster a run on Lego’s Shell-branded products.

We can practically smell the tubes smoking with online orders now, but that’s not the only thing that Greenpeace may have miscalculated.

Lego: Only the best is good enough

The Lego Group was swift to defend its brand against the Greenpeace effort. On July 1, the same day that Greenpeace posted its action call online, Lego President and CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp issued a statement on the Lego website. He reiterated the company motto — “Only the best is good enough” — twice while making the following point:

…The Greenpeace campaign focuses on how Shell operates in a specific part of the world. 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.

We expect that Shell lives up to their responsibilities wherever they operate and take appropriate action to any potential claims should this not be the case. I would like to clarify that we intend to live up to the long term contract with Shell, which we entered into in 2011.

In terms of miscalculations, that last sentence seems to take a lot of wind out of Greenpeaces’s sails. If the idea is to get Lego to drop Shell like a hot potato, that’s not going to happen any time soon.

You could still make the argument that the Lego statement reflects a deeply retrograde take on supply chain issues, which undercuts the company’s “only the best” standard.

However, if you take a look at Lego’s recent supply chain actions, that criticism doesn’t hold water.

Lego, energy and the supply chain

Greenpeace has a history of picking high-profile targets and Lego certainly fits that bill, but given the company’s green track record there’s a good chance that the Greenpeace effort may come off as nitpicking.

As Greenpeace itself acknowledges, in addition to its generations-long record of fostering creative play, the Lego Group has staked out some significant sustainability turf in recent years.

Especially worth mentioning is the company’s foray into wind power. An early supporter of the new WindMade certification label, in 2012 Lego put down $532 million for a 32 percent stake in a massive DONG Energy wind farm. When completed in 2015 that project alone will provide for Lego’s projected energy needs through 2020.

Lego is also no slouch when it comes to supply chain issues: Just last year the company launched a new greenhouse gas partnership with the World Wildlife Federation to address supply chain issues including greenhouse gas emissions. While the commitment is fairly vague and aspirational, it is an important step toward setting more concrete goals.

That move dovetails with the company’s strategy for a massive expansion of the Lego brand in Asia and also with the launch of its new Legends of Chima storyline, which revolves around environmental and shared resources themes.

As for the future, Shell and Lego have co-branded on and off since 1966 according to our new favorite website, brickipedia, but if Lego’s commitment to supply chain issues continues to gather force, this longrunning relationship may have run its course.

Image credit: ER0L via flickr.com

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  • R&E

    Thank you for the piece above as it does encourage some critical reflection on Greenpeace’s actions and the responses from both Lego and Shell. I think it exposes significant environmental and CSR contradictions and moral misalignment for Lego, and I think Greenpeace have picked up a key issue around the ethics of marketing and use of brands with children. It has been found that what general society and industry believe is ethical for marketing through toys differs, and I think that this is a very good example of that. Would a conscious consumer, concerned about the future of the planet and children, buy this Lego toy? The main issue is what this toy is doing, promoting the Shell brand and normalising carbon based energy to children. Considering Lego’s commitment and investment into renewable energies which I applaud, and your point that Shell is a “miniscule part of the Lego Group’s proflle”, why don’t they drop the Shell brand and create a non-branded energy station which includes solar panels, wind turbines and alternative fuels alongside petrol? Shell could still sponsor the non-branded energy station – but why would they do that? They want future generations to buy Shell petrol. Your piece for me highlighted some strategic CSR considerations, moral alignment, the ethics of marketing and the use of other industry brands.