The LEGO Group brought new sustainable elements to the Natural History Museum, introducing children to ‘plants from plants’. Brick Fanatics went along to find out more
This year marks the beginning of a new chapter in the LEGO story, as traditional plastics are phased out in favour of materials that come from sustainable sources. The LEGO Group’s journey towards lessening the company’s impact begins with botanical elements, or as the pithy strapline puts it, “plants from plants”. It is at the very appropriate venue of the Natural History Museum that the brick purveyors have chosen to share the news with the most important of audiences – children.
Adult fans have probably already heard the news, as websites such as Brick Fanatics were given a taste of the new sustainably produced elements during a presentation in Billund. But getting the message out to children and families is a different task entirely, so on August 3, the Billund crew have brought the bricks to one of London’s leading educational visitor attractions.
“We’re just trying to connect children to nature through play at the museum, trying to connect people to nature, wanting them to care about the planet,” Beth Stone, the Natural History Museum’s Head of Learning and Audiences, tells Brick Fanatics. “So this seemed the perfect opportunity and a really great summer activity for children to do.”
At this three-day summer event, children get to check out the special activity that the LEGO Group has arranged at the Natural History Museum. To start things off, each group of children gets a brief talk about sustainability and asks a few questions. Once they have attentively listened, a brief video introduces the new plant from plant elements, and explains what they are here for – building a sustainable super hero.
In keeping with the LEGO Group’s belief that learning should be done through play, the way that children are being introduced to elements made from sugarcane manufactured plastics is to get them hands on with the new pieces. Using traditional elements to make key connections, they will build a super hero and imagine what positive environmental powers the character might have.
Tim Brook is Vice President of Environmental Responsibility at the LEGO Group’s Sustainable Material Centre, and explains to Brick Fanatics the thinking behind the activity. “We obviously had all the new elements together, but the part of LEGO is that ability to build, the endless possibilities, the creativity… how do we take these and make something that is engaging? And that’s where the super heroes came from, we know kids love super heroes, would they like environmental superheroes? Could we inspire them to build and learn something about the materials in a way that isn’t forcing it down their throats?”
Once the children have constructed their coniferous crusader, they place the character in a green, nature infused environment. To confirm their achievement, they receive a special certificate and set of stickers featuring Plantus Maximus and his plant based hero buddies. The LEGO Group actually turned to hardcore fans to come up with additional super hero concepts.
“Our fans have got better ideas than we have on building sustainable superheroes, so that was just the idea to try engage as many people as possible – saying this is what we’re doing, what do you think?” says Tim. These super heroes adorn the various marketing materials that communicate the plants from plants message to consumers, and can be seen in various online campaigns.
It is not just botanical elements that are made from the new plastic compound, but the easily digestible strapline of “plants from plants” means that the green pieces are the leading the promotional push. “We make about 150 different shapes out of polyethylene, there’s the minifigure fishing rod, the dragon wings, car brushes, street sweeper brushes, anything that’s soft and flexible. Also, of course, what we call the botanical line. When it comes to the sustainability stories it can be hard to explain what we’re doing and the technical story behind it, but we are able to say we’ve got a plant that’s made from a plant,” says Tim.
To coincide with this event, the LEGO Store and shop.LEGO.com are running promotional activities, including giving boxes of the new elements away free with qualifying purchases. It means that LEGO fans are getting to grips with the new pieces and learning about the new initiative. In Berlin and New York, the LEGO Stores are running the same build event that is taking place here in London.
Plenty of children will get the message over the weekend. “The tickets were free, but they went very very quickly,” says Beth. “We’ve created a quest around the museum, trying to help Plantus Maximums find out about the natural world, taking you on a journey around the museum, thinking about issues facing the planet. That quest ends in a mini-build opportunity as well, to help create a more wildlife friendly city.”
“So one thing we want to do is of course make an element from a material that is environmentally neutral as possible,” Tim adds. “Then the second part of that is hopefully we can – it sounds very high level – make a difference in some way. If you can spark a boy or a girl to go away and research more about materials, or engineering, or about the environment, or about the rainforest, then they go on and do something as they grow up, that’s fantastic. That’s what it is all about.”
It means that children, and families, can make a full morning or afternoon’s worth of visit to the venue to enjoy these activities. By the end of it, children will hopefully have had some fun with LEGO bricks, but also have a greater appreciation for the impact that humans have on the natural world. It is this impact that has led the LEGO Group to deciding to make all products from sustainable materials by 2030.
“It all comes back to our purpose – inspiring, developing the builders of tomorrow,” Tim confirms. “Part of that is inspiring children to learn through play and we think it is important that we make a product that doesn’t harm the environment. Kids will be the adults of the future, if we have somehow despoiled the planet for them, that’s not a great deal.”