Sustainability in Licensing

Given the demand for environmental sustainability, most major brand owners (licensors) are addressing sustainability in products and packaging with their licensees. These licensors are beginning to mandate sustainability standards to their licensees which the brand owner itself holds its own products accountable.  

Toy Companies lead the way among Licensors

Major toy Companies like Lego, Hasbro, Mattel, Bandai, Spinmaster and Jazwares are not only toy manufacturers, but they are also licensors that license their toy IP into many other consumer product categories as well as licensees who license in entertainment (Disney, Marvel, D.C, Comics, Harry Potter, Star Wars, etc.) and 3rd party brand IP (i.e., Hot Wheels). All these major brands are actively engaged in sustainability efforts.

Hasbro, creator of iconic toys and games such as Nerf, My Little Pony, Transformers, Play-Doh, Monopoly, Baby Alive, and Power Rangers, has also partnered with brands such as Disney, Marvel, and Star Wars.  In 2018, Hasbro became the first toy company to offer a recycling program for US customers. And through a partnership with TerraCycle, Hasbro recycles the “retired” toys back into things like playground equipment, park benches, and flowerpots.

The global toy company plans to eliminate all plastic packaging for new products by the end of 2022.

In May 2021, Mattel announced the launch of Mattel PlayBack, a toy takeback program that will enable families to extend the life of their Mattel toys once they are finished playing with them. The new program is designed to recover and reuse materials in Mattel toys for future Mattel products, and supports the company’s goal to achieve 100 percent recycled, recyclable or bio-based plastic materials across all products and packaging by 2030.

“Mattel toys are made to last and be passed on from generation to generation,” says Richard Dickson, President and Chief Operating Officer, Mattel. “A key part of our product design process is a relentless focus on innovation and finding sustainable solutions is one significant way we are innovating. Our Mattel PlayBack program is a great example of this, enabling us to turn materials from toys that have lived their useful life into recycled materials for new products.

Exactly one year ago, The LEGO Group announced plans to invest up to US$400 million over three years to accelerate sustainability and social responsibility initiatives. The investment will cover both long-term investments and ongoing costs. The company, which has made a series of moves over the past 10 years to build a better planet for future generations, believes it’s increasingly urgent and important to prioritize both environmental and social activity.

As a next step, the company will begin to phase out single-use plastic bags used in LEGO boxes to package the loose bricks. This is part of its ambition to make all its packaging sustainable by the end of 2025. From 2021, Forest Stewardship Council-certified recyclable paper bags will be trialed in boxes.

In addition to developing and implementing sustainable materials, the up to US$400million investment will also focus on a range of social and environmentally focused actions to inspire children through learning through play, making the business more circular, and achieving carbon neutral operations. The activity will drive meaningful, long-term change aligned to two United Nations Sustainable Development Goals: #4 Quality Education and #12 Responsible Consumption and Production:

Retailers are key

Some major retailers are taking the lead by creating specific sustainability targets for their product suppliers. Last year, for example, in the U.S., Walmart, the world’s biggest retailer, announced plans to reduce plastic waste in the packaging for its private label brands including clothing, food, hard goods and its health and beauty line. Specifically, it committed to work with its U.S. private-brand suppliers to create 100% recyclable, reusable, or industrially compostable packaging in all its private brands in the United States by 2025, to target at least 20% post-consumer recycled content by 2025, and to label 100% of food and consumable private-brand packaging with the “How2Recycle” label by 2022. And Walmart is trying to get a handle on its entire supply chain which has, by its own count, more than 100,000 suppliers. Target, another major U.S. retailer that is taking significant action towards insisting to its supplier that they follow specific sustainability targets. 

The Global Pandemic’s “Woke Moment”

While major efforts towards sustainability were in place prior to the global pandemic, the past 18 months has seen significant efforts by companies to do more in their sustainability efforts. Perhaps the pandemic slowed humanity down enough to enable a greater focus on overall health of the environment.  In the end, our efforts at protecting the environment through sustainable products and packaging must continue if we are going to sustain Planet Earth.

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