How Greenpeace Forced A Lego-Shell Breakup

After three months of demonstrations from environmental activist group Greenpeace, Lego says it won't renew its long-standing partnership with Shell.
Posted at 4:19 PM, Oct 09, 2014

"Play well." That's the meaning behind the name of the Danish toy brand loved by millions of children around the world ... Lego.

But all is not well in the kingdom. In fact, Lego has recently been the focal point of a conflict between the environmental organization Greenpeace and Royal Dutch Shell, the international oil company commonly known as Shell.

You might be wondering what the connection is here. Since the 1960s, Lego, the world's largest toy company, has been selling and giving out Lego sets in gas stations around the globe. 

Some are even Shell-branded. More than 16 million of those sets have reached the hands of children in 26 countries. (Video via YouTube / JANGBRiCKS)

In July, Greenpeace announced it would begin to target Lego in a global campaign to end the toy company's more than 50-year partnership with Shell. Greenpeace believed Lego was putting "cash before kids" by continuing to partner with Shell. 

Critics allege Shell "is trying to piggy back on the credibility of other brands. It's a good PR strategy if you can get away with it. But ... if you can't get away with it ... it does damage them a lot," John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK told The Guardian.

And Lego is a brand that prides itself on its credibility. According to its 2013 Responsibility Report, Lego recycled 90 percent of its waste and increased its energy efficiency by 6.7 percent, all while protecting what it calls "childen's right to grow."

Shell, on the other hand, most recently made headlines back in 2013 when it was criticized for blaming sabotage for multiple oil spills from its pipeline in the Niger Delta. Audrey Gaughran of Amnesty International felt it did so "to avoid criticism for its failure to prevent oil spills."

So, once launched, it didn't take long for outspoken fans of the beloved brand to react to Greenpeace's vocal — and frankly, visual — attack on the long-standing partnership between Lego and Shell, which centered on Shell's current Alaskan Arctic drilling attempt.

The campaign included the most popular YouTube video Greenpeace has ever made, depicting more than 250 pounds of snowy arctic Legos — including adorable polar bears and even Santa Claus — being slowly drowned by leaking black oil. (Video via Greenpeace)

At first, Lego attempted to dodge Greenpeace's efforts, considering itself a type of scapegoat. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, CEO of the LEGO Group, issued a statement saying: "We firmly believe that this matter must be handled between Shell and Greenpeace. We are saddened when the LEGO brand is used as a tool in any dispute."

However, after just three months of the five-pronged Greenpeace campaign, which included 1 million protest emails in Lego's inbox, Lego announced Tuesday that while it will not terminate its existing contract with Shell, it will not renew it. 

Greenpeace certainly cites Lego's decision as a victory, even placing banners on its website saying: "Lego dumped Shell. Everything is awesome again!"

There's conflicting information on the expiration date of the Lego-Shell contract. Some state that it will end in 2014. Whatever the time frame, Greenpeace is quickly moving on to other targets, including the museums, art galleries, music festivals and sports events that Shell still partners with. We expect more oil-soaked YouTube campaign videos soon.