UPDATED: Lego A/S will invest 1 billion Danish krone ($152.3 million) and hire more than 100 employees as it looks for sustainable materials to replace ABS used in its bricks, by 2030.
The Billund, Denmark-based toymaker announced the investment June 16.
The company will create the Lego Sustainable Materials Center at its headquarters. The effort will include current Lego employees, but the company also expects to recruit more than 100 materials specialists during the coming years.
Lego spokesman Roar Trangbæk said the company will hire people with a broad range of skills.
“Definitely material experts, such as chemists. But also people who are going to work with networking,” he said.
Lego said the project is “dedicated to research, development and implementation of new, sustainable, raw materials” to make the bricks and other toy products, and packaging materials.”
In a statement, Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO and president of Lego, said: “This is a major step for the Lego Group on our way towards achieving our 2030 ambition on sustainable materials. We have already taken important steps to reduce our carbon footprint and leave a positive impact on the planet by reducing the packaging size, by introducing [Forest Stewardship Council] certified packaging and through our investment in an offshore wind farm. Now we are accelerating our focus on materials.”
The company will establish Lego Sustainable Materials Center during 2015 and 2016, and the project will include satellite functions located at Lego operations around the world.
Lego officials first said they wanted to find alternative materials in 2012. In a Plastics News story in 2014, Allan Rasmussen, senior project manager at Lego, said the company had tested some bricks using an impact-modified polylactic acid, a bioresin.
But Lego will use a broad, long-term approach to finding the right plastic material, Trangbæk said.
“We are searching for any of the materials that will meet our needs. We are not ruling anything out at the moment,” he said. “It's important that it doesn't compromise what Lego is known for, which is quality, durability and safety.”
It's a major challenge. The bricks have to work with the billions of Lego bricks already being used worldwide. Lego has been using ABS since the 1960s to make its iconic, interlocking bricks. Last year, the company made more than 60 million elements.
The colors have to match. And importantly, they have to remain clicked firmly together until pulled apart by the child — or the legions of adult Lego enthusiasts.
It's also a huge plastics industry story: Lego operates more than 5,000 molds on more than 1,000 injection molding machines in Denmark, Mexico and Hungary. Lego is building a plant in Jiaxing, China, that is expected to begin full production in 2017.
In recent years, Lego officials has been working with outside companies and experts on the sustainable materials research, for the bricks and packaging. Lego has signed a partnership with the World Wildlife Fund to assess the overall sustainability and environmental impact of the bio-based materials.
Lego owner Kjeld Kirk Kristiansen said officials understand the company's important role of making toys that promote creativity.
“Our mission is to inspire and develop the builders of tomorrow. We believe that our main contribution to this is through the creative play experiences we provide to children,” Kristiansen said in a statement. He called the investment “a testament to our continued ambition to leave a positive impact on the planet, which future generations will inherit.”