Beloved brick maker Lego is considering a rental service as part of a drive to improve sustainability in a world where hatred of plastic is threatening their attractiveness as a toy.
Tim Brooks, Lego's VP of sustainability, told the Financial Times (paywalled) that it was just an idea at the moment and admitted there are still issues to overcome, such as the increased complexity of Lego kits.
Brooks said of kits that contain hundreds of pieces: "What are the chances of giving them to an eight-year-old child and getting them all back again?"
We were sent an updated statement from Lego which was a bit less enthusiastic:
For the past few years we have been working hard to find new ways to make our products and packaging more sustainable. For example, we have switched to using plastics from sustainably grown sugar cane for our plant elements, reduced the amount of packaging we use and taken steps to use recycled materials in our packaging. As part of our efforts we are exploring hundreds of different ideas, but we have no plans to launch a "brick rental" service any time soon.
Lego is searching for an alternative material to replace the plastic used in its bricks. So far, however, it has failed to find anything that provides the right click, or what the company calls "clutch power" – enough resistance to keep bricks together but not so much that a child cannot prise them apart again.
Rental business models have, of course, taken over much of the IT industry with the replacement of data centres with cloud contracts. Car companies have seen a similar shift – younger consumers either rent a car per journey via Uber or the like, or lease a vehicle in exchange for a monthly fee.
Reg chats to a Brit brickie
Lego is a bit late to the party since there are already a couple of firms in the UK that will rent you Lego. We spoke to Lucilla Carr, who founded welovebricks.com five years ago.
She said: "People rent all sorts of things now from handbags to gym membership. I started it because my son had an insatiable appetite for the kits. It was the only thing he would sit still for, he could do it on his own and was totally absorbed. The trouble was it was becoming a ridiculously expensive habit. At the time we had a subscription for Lovefilm DVD, so I decided to do the same for Lego."
Carr said 80 per cent of the business was with boys aged eight to 10, although they were surprised at the range of other customers. The company supplies grandparents, foster carers, schools (especially those with ADHD pupils) and a children's home, but also young professionals and "a stressed doctor in the West Country". Punters pay a monthly subscription and get a freshly cleaned kit through the post.
Maybe Lego is missing a broader point. Its bricks are already paragons of reuse – bricks bought today will work with any produced since 1959 so some are likely onto their third generation of users.
In the US, Lego has launched a pilot project called Replay. It is asking people to send in under-used Lego bricks which will be cleaned up and sent to schools and nonprofits across the country. ®