Lego’s Challenge: A Case Study in Sustainable Innovation

In the press recently there was an announcement by Lego, that they are stopping their attempt to use recycled bottles for its iconic bricks. When the analysis was done it did not reduce their carbon emissions as hoped.

This case study offers valuable insights for businesses navigating the complexities of sustainability.

The Challenge of Sustainable Materials

Lego’s journey began with a vision: to transform recycled PET bottles into the raw material for its colourful bricks. After extensive testing in 2021, including over 250 variations of PET materials and numerous other plastic formulations, Lego developed a prototype that met its stringent quality and safety standards. This prototype was a significant milestone, with a one-litre PET bottle providing enough material for ten 2 x 4 Lego bricks.

Despite the initial success, Lego found that the production process for these PET bricks didn’t reduce carbon emissions as expected. This was a crucial learning point for them, and us, emphasising that sustainable materials must be evaluated not just for their source but for their entire lifecycle impact.

The Importance of Scope 3 Emissions

Lego’s experience highlights the complexity of scope 3 emissions, which include indirect emissions from activities such as procurement and product use. These emissions often form the bulk of a company’s carbon footprint and are usually difficult to measure and manage.

Lego’s commitment to reducing its carbon emissions by 37% by 2032, alongside its investment of over $1.2 billion in sustainability initiatives, demonstrates the importance of addressing these emissions in its business and sustainability strategy.

The Value of Measurement and Understanding

Accurate measurement and understanding of the environmental impact are crucial. Especially in Scope 3 where they were trying to address a big issue for them. Lego’s testing process shows the importance of not just innovating but also thoroughly assessing the sustainability of new materials and processes.

This approach ensures that businesses can make informed decisions and adjust their strategies as needed.

The Need for Early Intervention and Course Correction

A lesson for all businesses undertaking interesting and significant sustainability projects is how Lego was willing to change course when faced with this unexpected outcome.

Not only that, they started early in the development of sustainable solutions, which allows for time to correct course if necessary.

It’s a reminder that sustainability is often difficult, requiring flexibility even for the big players.

Innovation as a Cornerstone of Sustainability

Despite the setback with PET bricks, Lego remains at the forefront of sustainable innovation. The company is exploring a range of alternative materials, including other recycled plastics and e-methanol, a green alternative composed of waste carbon dioxide and hydrogen.

Lego’s use of bio-polypropylene for certain set parts further illustrates its commitment to finding innovative solutions.

The Positive Message: Learning and Growing from Challenges

Lego’s story is not just about a setback; it’s about resilience and commitment to sustainability.

It is also a real case study which shows a business sharing its failures for others to learn from.

Lego’s experience is an example of the complexity of sustainability. As businesses, we can learn from Lego’s approach to embrace the challenges, continuously measure and understand our impact, and remain flexible and innovative in our strategies.


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