LEGO, whose toy building blocks are known for charming children’s constructions, will end its five-decade marketing ties with Royal Dutch Shell under pressure from Greenpeace, which says the oil company is guilty of vast pollution and has been exploiting LEGO to improve its image.
Greenpeace began a campaign in July to bring public pressure on the Danish toy manufacturer to end its contract with Shell, the Anglo-Dutch energy giant, and so far has gathered slightly more than 1 million signatures – short of its goal of 1.25 million – on a petition to pressure LEGO.
Much of the focus of the Greenpeace campaign was Shell’s planned work in the Arctic. In January, it canceled plans to drill there for oil this year, but in August, it submitted to U.S. authorities a new plan for offshore oil exploration in the Arctic Ocean off the northwest coast of Alaska in 2015.
Since 1966, LEGO has produced sets of its construction toys that include blocks and other items featuring Shell’s logo and other petroleum-related items. As recently as 2014, it manufactured kits featuring miniature Grand Prix articles, including racecars and a finish line.
Greenpeace says Shell’s public relations agency acknowledges that the partnership provides $638 million worth of public goodwill value to Shell by blurring the fact that the oil company is guilty of “dirty oil drilling,” including the Arctic. The partnership also increases the oil company’s sales by 7.5 percent, Greenpeace says, and customer loyalty by fully 52 percent.
The Amsterdam-based environmental group didn’t explain how those figures were reached.
When the Greenpeace campaign began, LEGO complained that the focus of its pressure shouldn’t be on the toy company but on Shell itself. Finally, though, on Oct. 10, LEGO CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp said that “as things currently stand, we will not renew the contract with Shell when the present contract ends.” The contract began in 2011, but its expiration date and value were not disclosed.
Greenpeace’s campaign included some vivid videos, including one viewed more than 6 million times on YouTube that shows an exquisite Arctic scene built from 120 pounds of LEGOs being drowned in oil. The video is called, “LEGO: Everything is NOT awesome,” a play on the title of a song promoting “The LEGO Movie,” which came out earlier this year.
Greenpeace UK Executive Director John Sauven said the campaign “did touch a bit of a raw nerve about the partnership between the two companies that people thought was completely inappropriate.” He said he hoped LEGO’s decision would inspire other Shell partners to reconsider those ties.
A Shell spokesman who withheld his name called the relationship with LEGO successful and productive, but added, “We respect the right of individuals and organizations to engage in a free and frank exchange of views about meeting the world’s growing energy needs.”
By Andy Tully of Oilprice.com
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