Lego ditches Shell after Greenpeace viral video

Block party: Greenpeace has turned Lego’s trademark yellow people against the company.

Greenpeace’s campaign against Shell’s Arctic drilling has forced Lego to end its 50-year partnership with the oil giant. But are environmentalists really just going for the soft targets?

Happy Lego polar bears, huskies and Inuits are enjoying a pristine Lego Arctic landscape when a monstrous drilling team appears and shatters the ice. A greasy Lego businessman smokes his cigar as thick oil seeps from the ground and drowns everything. In the background plays a heartbreaking version of The Lego Movie song, ‘Everything is awesome’.

So goes Greenpeace’s ‘Everything is not awesome’ video, made in protest against Lego’s 50-year-old partnership with the oil giant, Shell. It has racked up over 5m views since its release three months ago and has put the Danish toy maker under increasing pressure. This week Lego gave in, and said it will end its partnership with Shell.

Greenpeace is celebrating a great victory. It says that Shell had been using Lego to ‘neutralise controversy over its climate impacts’. By getting people to associate Shell with something so innocent, it thinks the company was masking its environmentally-damaging nature and was trying to ‘piggy back’ on Lego’s credibility.

Activists hope that Lego’s decision will make other companies think twice over partnering with major fossil fuel companies. The London Science Museum has also been criticised for letting Shell sponsor its climate change exhibition, as the company is a major contributor to global warming and was responsible for a devastating oil spill in Nigeria in 2008.

Yet the video’s real target is Shell’s attempts to drill for oil in the Arctic. Shell first tried in 2012, but after early tests found an oil spill containment system was ‘crushed like a beer can’. Under pressure, US regulators revoked the company’s drilling licence. Since then, Shell has resubmitted plans and could be exploring for Arctic oil again, near Alaska, next year.

Picking on the little guy?

Greenpeace says it is delighted its video ‘touched a raw nerve’ about a partnership ‘that people thought was completely inappropriate’, given that ‘energy companies are destroying the planet for today’s children’. The video shows that people with an effective public awareness campaign and a strong message can make a difference in saving our planet.

Yet Lego’s chief executive says he is ‘saddened’ that the toy has been used as a ‘tool’ in Greenpeace’s dispute with Shell, and that Lego has been unfairly scapegoated. He says Lego takes its environmental responsibilities very seriously but now its message and green efforts will be tarnished. The video is targeted at parents, but it will upset children and spoil an innocent toy for them. The real enemy is the fossil fuel industry and Greenpeace needs to directly attack it. It has an incredible $5 trillion worth of assets, and this campaign will have barely given it a scratch.

You Decide

  1. Should Greenpeace have targeted Lego when the real target is Shell?
  2. ‘Activists must stop at nothing to save the planet and fight fossil fuel companies’. Do you agree?


  1. In pairs, think of how you might use a children’s toy to make an environmental or political message. Make a short plan of how it would work, and share with the class.
  2. Research Shell’s environmental impact and make an awareness poster for students your age.

Some People Say...

“There is no way environmentalists will ever overcome the giant fossil fuel companies.”

What do you think?

Q & A

Why should I care about a toy?
The production of toys can have a big impact on our environment. An earlier successful Greenpeace video campaign called ‘Ken Dumps Barbie’ targeted the harmful packaging used for Barbie toys. Yet the main issue is whether toys should be politicised in this way, given environmentalists’ real problem is with fossil fuel companies like Shell, not Lego itself.
What other campaigns are there against fossil fuels?
Many students are campaigning to get their universities to sell their investments in fossil fuel companies. This week, Glasgow University agreed to sell £18m of its shares, and a total of $50bn of assets has been shed by US universities. These are just two examples of how mass movements can show their dissatisfaction with CO2 intensive energy.

Word Watch

Shell-themed Lego toys are sold in 26 countries, making Shell a major contributor of $68m to Lego’s global sales.
In 2008, a 55-year-old oil pipeline ruptured, spilling thousands of gallons of oil into fishing grounds, destroying around 15,000 people’s livelihoods. While Shell offered these people a £30m settlement, community leaders say the figure should have been closer to £300m.
Although plastic is produced from oil or natural gas, the company is looking to make its production greener and hopes to reduce its carbon footprint by 30% by 2030. The company is based in Denmark, one of the greenest countries in the world.
This is a colossal sum — almost twice what the entire UK economy makes in a year. While Lego is a huge company, it is valued at around $16bn, whereas Shell is valued at around $268bn.

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