FILE PHOTO: A LEGO Windsor Castle replete with the upcoming wedding between Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, is seen at Legoland, in Windsor
FILE PHOTO: A LEGO Windsor Castle replete with the upcoming wedding between Britain's Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, is seen at Legoland, in Windsor

Lego’s billionaire owners want to ditch plastic

By Christian Wienberg Time of article published Sep 8, 2018

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INTERNATIONAL - The chief executive officer of Lego A/S says it’s difficult to know the financial implications of a plan -- backed by one of Denmark’s richest families -- to no longer make toy bricks from plastic.

“It’s hard to say,” Niels B. Christiansen said by phone from Lego’s headquarters in western Denmark. “I’m not even sure that we currently yet can live up to the quality that we want. But it’s an agenda that we want to drive and an agenda that our owner is behind. We want to become a leader on this.”

Controlled by Denmark’s billionaire Kirk Kristiansen family, Lego brought in Christiansen as CEO in October. The family is behind a plan to make all of Lego’s colorful building blocks from sustainable materials, such as sugar cane, by 2030. The shift, which was announced in March, is part of a global effort to fight plastic pollution and the threat it poses to marine life in particular. For now, the Danish company has started to offer small plant-based Lego sets as gifts in connection with large purchases.

Christiansen says it’s not yet clear whether the shift can be brought about without hurting profit margins. The feeling at Lego is that there’s been a “breakthrough” on the path away from oil-based plastic production, but there are still many unknowns, he said. The company says the new plastic will be based on sustainable materials rather than fossil fuels.

“I think it’s too early to say whether it will be necessary” to sacrifice profit to achieve the company’s sustainability goal, he said. “But we won’t compromise on our quality.”

Christiansen, who used to run Danish engineering giant Danfoss, was brought in by the Lego family to help trim the organization after years of rapid expansion left it overly complex and difficult to steer.

On Tuesday, Lego reported another decline in first-half revenue and profit, which it said was due to a weak dollar. Adjusting for currency swings, Lego said profit grew from a year earlier amid signs things are starting to stabilize.

Christiansen wouldn’t say whether any potential increase in production costs would be passed on to customers, in connection with the planned shift to plant-based toys.

(180804) -- ZAGREB, Aug. 4, 2018 (Xinhua) -- Photo taken on Aug. 4, 2018 shows Batman and Batmobile models built with Lego bricks at an exhibition in Zagreb, capital of Croatia. The exhibition titled "Invasion of the Giants" features more than 100 large Lego models from all over Europe. (Xinhua/Borna Filic)
“We have high quality products that offer a building experience as well as a playing experience and can be used for many, many years,” the CEO said. “Our prices are based on that rather than on whether the product is made from one thing or another.”

Lego is also trying to adapt its toy offering to a generation that’s spending more time on screens than on other forms of entertainment, such as building Lego structures.

An oversized Lego action figure from Marvel's "Avengers: Infinity War" is displayed on the convention floor during Preview Night of the 2018 Comic-Con International at the San Diego Convention Center, Wednesday, July 18, 2018, in San Diego. (Photo by Chris Pizzello/Invision/AP)

“Many of our competitors are eager to know” just how many products Lego will digitize, Christiansen said. “I prefer not to be too specific. But it’s one of the areas we’re investing in. So it’s safe to say there will be more.”


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