On October 9, Lego announced it was ending a marketing partnership with Shell after a Greenpeace internet video highlighted the link between the two companies (and I’m not going to give the insidious video more credence by linking it in this post). The partnership allowed Shell branded stations to give free, Shell branded Lego sets to customers filling up with more than 7 gallons of fuel. After the previously mentioned video went viral on the internet, Lego announced that it would no longer allow Shell to offer these Lego sets to customers. While much has been written criticizing the cowardice of this move, few have highlighted its hypocrisy. Never fear, The Primer to the rescue!

Much time could be spent on the hypocrisy of Greenpeace alone. Several articles have been written about the fact their senior executives commute via airplane over 250 miles to work, that one of their founders disavowed and left the organization, citing, “a trend toward abandoning scientific objectivity in favor of political agendas,” or their leader getting caught on camera admitting one of the group’s most alarmist (and often repeated) climate change claims was a mistake, just to name a few. However, such previous revelations do not speak to the true hypocrisy of the Lego incident. No, friends, the true offense here lies in the fact that Legos don’t exist without petrochemicals manufactured from fossil fuels.

Perusing Lego’s website does not provide immediate information on the exact nature of the materials used to produce Legos, other than noting they are high quality plastics (which they certainly are!). There is also a lot of great information on their environmental sustainability in relation to energy use, as well as the extensive efforts they go through to ensure the maximum product safety and quality for children (which we agree with and applaud them for!). However, a quick internet search did turn up a letter Lego wrote to a child safety focused website, in which a company representative wrote the following:

“The majority of LEGO elements are made from ABS plastic (Acrylonitrile-Butadiene-Styrene), a high-quality plastic that meets our extensive list of safety and quality specifications. The colors and materials in ABS plastic do not rub off or leach and, in fact, meet the same material standards for safety that are required of plastic eating utensils. Tires and elastic materials found in some LEGO sets are manufactured from Styrene-Butadiene-Styrene (SBS), a material commonly found in vehicle mud guards and shoe soles.”

Acrylonitrile uses propylene as a building block. Propylene is a base petrochemical and can be manufactured using propane from natural gas liquids or naphtha, a byproduct of oil refining, as feedstock materials. Butadiene is a base petrochemical obtained by steam cracking using butane, which is also found in natural gas liquids, as a feedstock. Styrene is made using ethylene and benzene as starting materials. Ethylene uses ethane from natural gas liquids or naphtha as a feedstock and benzene is a byproduct from oil refining. So in short, no petrochemicals, no Legos.  

As Lego notes, their products (which are derived from petrochemicals) are extremely safe and of exceptional quality. Our industry applauds them for their commitment to such principles and is honored that our products are essential for ensuring adherence to these tenets. Unfortunately, in relation to the Shell case, Lego’s leaders caved in to the baseless and shallow demands of the “fear and loathing” industry, otherwise known as the extreme environmental lawyers and lobbyists of Greenpeace and other similar organizations. In doing so, they have stained their timeless brand by becoming guilty of the same hypocrisy Greenpeace exhibits on a regular basis. They have also led many to question whether or not this decision was simply a bad PR move, or if they have become consumers of the substances Hunter S. Thompson vividly wrote about in his novel from which this blog post derives its name.

Brendan Williams

Posted by Brendan Williams

Brendan Williams is the former Executive Vice President of AFPM. To learn more about AFPM, visit AFPM.org.