“Lego Group Releases Sustainable Treehouse Set,” by S.M. O’Connor

Since The LEGO® Group released its first LEGO® elements made of plant-based polyethylene in 2018, namely trees, leaves, and bushes, sustainable elements have increasingly been included in LEGO® sets.  The LEGO® Ideas Tree House (Set #21318) contains the highest number of sustainable elements ever in a LEGO® set and is another important step to fulfill The LEGO® Group’s sustainability ambitions.

With over 3,000 elements, this is one of the largest LEGO® Ideas sets to date.  Of the 3,036 pieces, there are 185 botanical elements made from plant-based polyethylene plastic using sustainably sourced sugarcane.  The set is for adults and teenagers sixteen-years-of-age-and-over.  The Tree House measures over fourteen inches (thirty-seven centimeters) high, ten inches (twenty-seven centimeters) wide, and nine inches (twenty-four centimeters) deep.

In concept, but not design, this treehouse-as-family-home reminds me of the treehouse Jon Martin and Noreen Jaafar built in real life in Dursley, Gloucestershire, England, as Kevin McCloud profiled in an episode of Grand Designs.  That treehouse was designed by Tomas Millar of Millar + Howard Workshop and built at a cost of £268,000.

Credit: Homebuilding & Renovating Caption: In this video, Jon Martin & Noreen Jaafar talk about how they chose their architect and why they wanted to build their treehouse in Dursley, Gloucestershire.  Homebuilding & Renovating refers to the residence as a “Passivhaus treehouse.”

In a press release, The LEGO® Group stated, “The Treehouse is packed with play-inspiring features and comes with a landscape base and removable treetop to reveal three detailed cabins. A special feature of the set is that all 185 plants and leaves are made from sustainable materials sourced from sugarcane. This includes the treetop canopy, which has interchangeable sets of green summer leaf elements and yellow and brown fall leaf elements.”

Tim Brooks, The LEGO® Group’s Vice President, Environmental Responsibility, stated, “When I first saw the model, I was blown away. Not only because it looks amazing, but also because it connects strongly to the very reason, we are investing so much time and effort in identifying new and sustainable materials, which is to preserve natural resources and fulfill our planet promise. It really is an important step in our ambitious target of making all LEGO elements from sustainable materials.”

The LEGO® Group stated, “During 2018, the LEGO Group began making botanical elements, including trees, leaves and bushes, from plant-based polyethylene using sustainably sourced sugarcane. Children and parents will not notice any difference in the quality, durability or appearance of the new elements, because plant-based polyethylene has the same properties as conventional polyethylene. These elements represent the first milestone in the LEGO Group’s ambitious commitment to making products using sustainable materials by 2030.”

Products in the LEGO® Ideas theme (product line) are designed by fans thirteen-years-of-age-and-older and then fans (thirteen-and-over) all over the world can vote on designs they want to see brought to market.  If a proposal receives 10,000 votes or more, within a certain time frame, a review panel at The LEGO® Group will examine the proposal and it may become a real product.

The LEGO Group stated, “In this case, the model was submitted by fan designer Kevin Feeser from Nancy, France. Kevin’s motivation for creating a treehouse stems in particular from this passion for the great outdoors combined with pretty sophisticated LEGO building skills.”

The LEGO® Ideas Tree House became available exclusively to LEGO® V.I.P. members on Wednesday, July 24, 2019 at LEGO® Stores and the online LEGO® Shop (www.shop.LEGO.com).  It became available for the general public to purchase on Thursday, August 1, 2019. Click here to see it online at the LEGO® Shop.  The list price is $199.99.

Figure 1 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This is the boxed LEGO® Ideas Tree House (Set #21318).  The set includes a Minifigure™ nuclear family: father, mother, and two children.

Figure 2 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The Tree House comes with both a green leaves representing spring and summer and gold leaves representing autumn.

Figure 3 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The Tree House measures over 14” (37 centimeters) high, 10” (27 centimeters) wide, and 9” (24 centimeters) deep.

Figure 4 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The landscape around the Tree House includes a stream, a picnic table, a bonfire, and a stone path.

Figure 5 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The Tree House has three cabins: a master bedroom, a bathroom, and a children’s bedroom.

Figure 6 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: The buildable bathroom has a washtub, sink, and mirror.

Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: This video provides a 360° view of the Tree House, along with the alternative gold leaf canopy.

Figure 7 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: Last year, The LEGO® Group announced that production had started on LEGO® botanical elements made from plant-based plastic: leaves, trees, and bushes.

On March 1, 2018, The LEGO® Group announced that production had started on LEGO® botanical elements made from plant-based plastic.  The botanical elements were leaves, trees, and bushes. The move was part of The LEGO® Group’s commitment to use sustainable materials in both core products and packaging by 2030.

“At the LEGO Group we want to make a positive impact on the world around us, and are working hard to make great play products for children using sustainable materials. We are proud that the first LEGO elements made from sustainably sourced plastic are in production and will be in LEGO boxes this year. This is a great first step in our ambitious commitment of making all LEGO bricks using sustainable materials,” stated Mr. Brooks.

In a press release, The LEGO® Group stated, “The new sustainable LEGO elements are made from polyethylene, which is a soft, durable and flexible plastic, and while they are based on sugar-cane material, they are technically identical to those produced using conventional plastic. The elements have been tested to ensure the plant-based plastic meets the high standards for quality and safety that the LEGO Group has, and consumers expect from LEGO products.”

“LEGO products have always been about providing high quality play experiences giving every child the chance to shape their own world through inventive play. Children and parents will not notice any difference in the quality or appearance of the new elements, because plant-based polyethylene has the same properties as conventional polyethylene,” stated Brooks.

The LEGO® Group partnered with the World Wildlife Fund for Nature (W.W.F.) as part of efforts to reduce CO2 emissions in both manufacturing and supply chain operations, and to “promote global action on climate change.”  The LEGO® Group stated, “Through investments in wind power, the energy used to make LEGO bricks is balanced by the production of renewable energy.”

The LEGO Group targeted 2030 to reach zero waste in operations, and introduced sustainable paper pulp trays for the LEGO advent calendar, reducing plastic waste from going to landfill.

The LEGO® Group stated, “The LEGO Group has partnered with WWF to support and build demand for sustainably sourced plastic, and has joined the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA), an initiative of WWF, to secure fully sustainable sourcing of raw material for the bioplastics industry. The plant based plastic used to make the botanical LEGO elements is third party certified following global standards for responsibly sourced sugarcane.”

“It is essential that companies in each industry find ways to responsibly source their product materials and help ensure a future where people, nature, and the economy thrive,” stated Alix Grabowski, a senior program officer at WWF. “The LEGO Group’s decision to pursue sustainably sourced bio-based plastics represents an incredible opportunity to reduce dependence on finite resources, and their work with the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance will allow them to connect with other companies to continue to think creatively about sustainability.”

Polyethylene elements constitute 1%-2% of the total amount of plastic elements The LEGO® Group produces.  Plant-based polyethylene is made from ethanol derived from sugarcane.  The LEGO® Group stated, “The sugarcane used is sourced sustainably in accordance with guidance from the Bioplastic Feedstock Alliance (BFA) and is certified following global standards for responsibly sourced sugarcane… All suppliers must comply with the LEGO Group’s Code of Conduct, which specifies strict requirements for ethical, environmental and health & safety standards based on leading global guidelines… The LEGO Group works closely with its suppliers to ensure life-cycle assessments are conducted, which map the environmental impacts from the production of the bio-based material.”

There is no common definition of a sustainable material. Several aspects influence the sustainability of a material. It is to a high degree determined by its source, chemical composition, its use (in a product) and management (at end-of-life), and the impact it can have in both environmental and social areas.

The LEGO Group believes a new sustainable material must have an ever-lighter footprint than the material it replaces across key environmental and social impact areas such as fossil resource use, human rights and climate change.

Figure 8 Credit: The LEGO® Group Caption: Last year, The LEGO® Group announced that they are aiming for 100% sustainable packaging by 2025.

In 2015 the LEGO Group announced its ambition to use 100% sustainable materials in both its bricks and packaging by 2030. On April 22, 2018, The LEGO® Group announced that they are aiming for 100% sustainable packaging by 2025.

Currently, the majority of LEGO® packaging, by weight, is cardboard or paper-based which is recyclable, sustainably sourced and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

Brooks stated, “To support our company mission, we have a Planet Promise and we have pledged to play our part in protecting the planet for future generations. Using sustainable packaging is an important part of fulfilling that promise. By bringing forward our ambition or sustainable packaging, we are also acknowledging the need to find better packaging solutions sooner. We’ve made good progress in the past three years, and there is still work to do.”

In a press release, The LEGO® Group stated, “LEGO bricks are designed to be reused and handed down through generations, but not everyone keeps their LEGO boxes and other packaging. As some of the LEGO packaging contains single-use disposable plastics, which today are not sustainable, and in some cases cannot be recycled by consumers, the LEGO Group is actively taking measures to improve its packaging sustainability.”

Brooks added, “By 2025, our aim is that no LEGO packaging parts have to end up in a landfill. Packaging will be made from renewable or recycled materials and will be easy for consumers to recycle.”

In 2018, The LEGO Group began using recycled plastic in packaging “blisters.”  These are the transparent plastic windows that allow consumers to have a sneak peek into some LEGO® boxes.  LEGO® boxes in the U.S.A. and Canada started to feature the How2Recycle® label promoting packaging recycling and providing American and Canadian consumers with clear guidance to responsibly recycle their LEGO® packaging.

Plastic trays used in Advent Calendars starting in 2017 were replaced with recyclable paper-pulp trays, saving up to 1,000,000 plastic trays from going to the landfill.  Approximately 75% of cardboard used to make LEGO® boxes comes from recycled material.  The average size of a LEGO® box has shrunk by 14% over the previous four years, improving transport efficiency, saving on average every year over 3,000 truckloads and 7,000 tons of cardboard.  All paper and cardboard used in LEGO® products and product packaging is recyclable, sustainably sourced and certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

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