Lego announced on Thursday that it would not be renewing its marketing contract with Shell, after Greenpeace campaigned for several months for the Danish toy maker to end its decades-long partnership with the oil giant.
As part of its push to call on Lego to end the contract, Greenpeace created a video that depicted a pure, wholesome Arctic landscape, built from Legos, that slowly flooded with oil as various characters wept and drowned.
The video, entitled LEGO: Everything Is NOT Awesome—a reference to the company’s recent feature film—went viral, leading to a spat between viewers and YouTube after the website briefly pulled the video for an alleged copyright issue. Other videos, petitions, and creative protests followed, resulting in a three-month campaign and over one million emails to the toy maker "showing the incredible strength and unstoppable power of our global movement," as Ian Duff, a Greenpeace UK Arctic campaigner, stated.
Lego’s environmentally friendly stance—and its goal to find an alternative to the crude oil it currently uses to create its toys—is part of the reason Greenpeace targeted the company. Jørgen Vig Knudstorp, Lego CEO, acknowledged the environmental rights group’s role in convincing the company to ditch Shell, although he insisted that the organization should target the oil giant directly rather than its partners. "[A]s things currently stand we will not renew the co-promotion contract with Shell when the present contract ends," Knudstorp said in a press release on Thursday.
Lego has built play Shell sets since the 1960s. As part of its highly lucrative, £68 million-deal with Shell, the toy company’s products were also sold at gas stations in 26 countries.
"It’s a huge blow to Shell’s strategy of partnering with beloved brands to mask its plans to drill in the Arctic," Greenpeace activist Fran Grobke said after Lego’s announcement. "And it's the perfect start to the next phase of our campaign to keep Shell from plundering the Arctic’s pristine waters."
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John Sauven, executive director of Greenpeace UK, told the Guardian that he hopes Lego’s move will inspire Shell’s other partners to reconsider their contracts with the oil company, particularly those whose platform is antithetical to Shell’s drilling plans—such as London’s Science Museum, where the company sponsors a climate change exhibition.
"Clearly 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 as we’ve shown, if you can’t get away with it, that social license is taken away. It does damage them a lot," Sauven told the Guardian.
In January, Shell suspended its plan to drill for oil in the Arctic over the summer, citing economic conditions and internal problems. But on August 28, the company again submitted an offshore drilling plan to U.S. officials that could allow it to start searching for oil in Alaska by 2015.
"It’s a massive victory for the million people globally who called on LEGO to stop helping Shell look like a responsible and caring company—rather than a driller intent on exploiting the melting Arctic for more oil," Duff said, although he added that urgent action was still needed to protect the region from continued drilling.
"Arctic sea ice is melting at an unprecedented rate, but instead of seeing the huge risks, oil companies like Shell are circling like vultures," Duff said. "Time is running out to save the Arctic, and the time for urgent action is now."