Concerned parents are often the most avid readers of product labels, especially when they’re buying something for their kids. This habit expresses itself in many ways, including discerning decision-making when buying toys, for example. Parents are increasingly demanding that toys not contain any hazardous materials, nor allergens, PCBs, or other could-be-hazardous elements. Manufacturers have in turn realized that cutting corners with toys is not something that will endear you with parents and their purchasing power. Yet, what about embedded energy use and climate pollutants? What really counts as a green toy?
Answering these questions in part, the big toymakers and retailers have started paying attention to the climate impact of toys, and are cutting down on packaging among other initiatives. Wal-Mart, for example, has worked with toy suppliers to reduce packaging, which has in turn saved money and reduced emissions.
Moving up the supply chain to the toymakers themselves, the big three of toys (Lego, Hasbro, and Mattel) are all moving fast to become known as the “green toymaker” with parents in their sights.
First off, Lego is aiming for all-sustainable raw materials by 2030, especially after vociferous protests of its partnership deal with oil giant Shell to sell toys at gas stations. In fact, Lego has already set up a $151 million Sustainable Materials Centre, and is aiming to reduce energy use per Lego brick (a pretty amazing metric if you ask me) by 10% between 2012 and 2016. Also, Lego is nearing production by renewable-energy-only (including offsetting emissions), though only 10% of emissions come from production itself, the other 90% come from raw materials collection and refining.
As for Mattel and Hasbro, they both managed to reduce CO2 emissions by 38% and 32% respectively between 2008 and 2012. But there’s more where that came from; many other toymakers and purveyors are now branding their toys as eco-friendly, aiming for parents who are now looking for eco-friendly toys to imply sustainable materials (with few or no deleterious chemicals) and climate-friendly.
There are not only the emissions per toy (or Lego brick as it were) to consider, but also the number of toys per child. According to Time Magazine (March 23, 2015), American children represent 3.1% of all children in the world, but buy 40% of the toys. So there’s something of a geographic concentration to say the least (perhaps a related fact: the same article details the geographic concentration of self-storage units, with almost 83% of storage facilities worldwide located in the US).
Toys themselves may not seem like a high-priority for climate mitigation, but in terms of consumer goods, the nexus of parental instincts and consumer choice of toys may lead to more environmental purchasing behavior than, say, parents' decision matrix when buying a TV for themselves. Either way, companies are angling to make sure their products are associated with a sustainable future for generations to come, in other words, the kids of today.