In an age where we are more atuned than ever to environmental sustainability, it is easy for many businesses to have a great reputation, particularly where their product or service is closely related to delivering environmental benefits.

But what about the many businesses whose core business isn’t as closely linked?  I’ve looked into how Lego continues to one of the world’s most trusted businesses, despite churning out billions of plastic toys each year.

Creating trust in your business and a positive reputation is a complex issue, particularly for businesses that aren’t solely dedicated to working in the green sector. 

After all, it’s based on how human beings perceive you, and that’s an unpredictable thing if ever there was one. 

You’d think, that in our times of awareness about green issues, that companies that act most sustainability would have better reputations, and those that churn out plastic products would be seeing their reputation sink. 

But how much we trust businesses and organisations is a little more nuanced than that. 

Let’s take Lego as an example.  

It came second place in RepTrak’s 2019 list of the world’s most reputable companies, coming in just after Rolex. It’s the ninth year in a row that Lego has maintained it’s position in the top ten.

And yet it produces a crazy 75 billion pieces of plastic for its Lego sets every year.  I believe that at least 46 per cent of those are scattered across my four year old’s bedroom floor. 

So how does a company with an incontrovertible track record in churning out plastic toys maintain its reputation as trusted brand in this age of increasing environmental sensitivity by consumers?

The reason, perhaps, is that it’s partly what they do, and a lot about how they do it.   The combination is a powerful one that means that people around the world continue to hold Lego in such high regard.  Here’s my thoughts on why…

1. We know we are buying a reliable product

Have you ever bought a Lego set where the pieces didn’t quite stick together, or there were some bits missing? I haven’t – in fact we find there are more pieces than necessary just in case.  Lego always comes right on their promise to delight your kids with a great product, and apparently their customer service is excellent too. 

2. They make a product that lasts for ages

In our throwaway world, Lego seems pretty much indestructible – due in a large part because of the plastic in it.  In fact my son plays with some Lego that my mum bought with her first pocket money in 1964. It’s a bit battered but it works.   It’s the Patek Phillipe of kids toys. Perhaps an alternative strapline should be: “You never really own a box of Lego, you just take care of it for future generations of parents to stand on.”

3. They charge a premium

This sounds strange but because Lego is pricey, we don’t just chuck it in the bin once our kids aren’t looking as, (ahem), some parents do with Kinder Egg toys.  Their prices actually mean they are in a position to do more R&D into sustainable alternatives. As a Sharon George who is a lecturer in sustainability at Keele University says in an FT article: “I really hope Lego can do something innovative because if anybody can, they can, because of their prices.”

4. They have made a public commitment to being greener and begun to back it up with evidence

You may know that they are now making some pieces from sustainable plastics, but still only a tiny 1 or 2 percent.   They have made a commitment from moving away from plastic by 2030. A long way away indeed but they’ve put a date on it and backed it up with the announcement of their plant-based pieces, by way of evidencing that.

5. They own their need to improve

They haven’t shied away from the issue.  Tim Brooks, their Head of Environmental Sustainability says, in the same FT article, “We make a toy for children. We can’t make a toy that harms their future. If we aren’t doing a good job on the environment, then we have short changed them.”

6. They link their value to another key cause – children’s education

Lego pitches itself as more than just a toy. Chief Executive Officer of the LEGO Group, Niels B. Christiansen, commented on the RepTrak results saying:  “What is important about the ranking is what lies behind it; that children and parents all over the world understand and acknowledge our aim to positively impact the world for future generations, and to deliver play experiences that help children develop those essential skills they need for the future.”

So, when we look at the evidence, Lego is still, basically, a major producer of plastic toys, but and their reliable product and open and transparent PR, backed by efforts to change at the very highest level mean that, from most of us, they have earned our forgiveness at least for a while. 

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