Greenpeace breaks another brick in the wall

In general I love Lego. It’s a good interactive toy in the old way of being interactive – i.e. you build things instead of looking at a screen. For the most part it’s inexpensive. And it’s kept my children quiet for many a long hour. The main downside is pieces get lost and tend to turn up just where you are putting your bare feet. Ouch!

The company that makes Lego also elicits admiration. It’s stuck to its Danish roots, reinvented itself with great merchandising and links to popular brands, notably Star Wars. It might be run by a former management consultant, but you wouldn’t guess it.

That’s why I feel depressed and a little angry that Lego has capitulated to Greenpeace over its partnership with Shell. As part of a deal with the oil giant, if you buy a Lego set with a petrol station it has the Shell brand on it. Greenpeace objected to this as part of its campaign to stop Shell drilling in the Arctic. And it mobilised all its creative energy to put pressure on Lego to break this partnership – from mass lobbies with people dressed in Lego outfits, to parody videos.

This is a well-worn tactic by environmental NGO. They pick an issue and work it aggressively. While Greenpeace is fairly responsible and tends to check its facts (something that some other groups are not so good at), it is not concerned about infringing companies’ copyright and welcomes decisions to fight these campaigns, claiming bullying by “big business”. An attempt a few years ago by Nestlé to stop a Greenpeace campaign featuring KitKats rebounded on the Swiss food giant.

Lego clearly decided that it is was not worth the aggro to resist Greenpeace, and so this week has caved in saying “we will not renew the co-promotion contract with Shell when the present contract ends”. And in doing that gave a massive PR victory to Greenpeace and showed that it put a expediency ahead of principles.

Because – and here is the critical issue – Lego is made from plastic. And what is plastic made out of? Oil? So unless Lego is going to start making its bricks from wood, or hemp or something that does not involve the use of hydrocarbons it will continue to be an ultimate customer of Shell. If Lego is opposed to Shell’s activities, then it should boycott Shell, specifying that its plastics are made from oil only extracted from “environmentally friendly” places (where are they?). But I don’t think it is going to.

Greenpeace is opposed to the extraction of hydrocarbons. If you agree with them, support them. But if you do not and if you as a business rely upon hydrocarbons as a key feedstock for your business, as Lego does, then it is your duty to explain to your customers why you do not support Greenpeace and why you will resist its attempts to change your strategy. Lego has gone for the path of least resistance.

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