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Lego ends partnership with Shell over Greenpeace campaign

Lego has succumbed to pressure from Greenpeace over its long-term promotional contract with petroleum giant Shell.

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Screenshot by Michelle Starr/CNET

Since the 1960s, Lego has had a series of co-branding marketing partnerships with Shell, and children around the world could play with Shell-branded Lego sets. Today, this partnership comes to an end: Lego has announced its intention not to renew its contract with the petroleum giant.

"The long-term co-promotion contract we entered with Shell in 2011 delivers on the objective of bringing LEGO bricks into the hands of many children, and we will honour it -- as we would with any contract we enter," wrote Lego Group CEO Jørgen Vig Knudstorp in a statement.

"We continuously consider many different ways of how to deliver on our promise of bringing creative play to more children. We want to clarify that as things currently stand we will not renew the co-promotion contract with Shell when the present contract ends."

The move comes three months after Greenpeace launched a video condemning Lego's involvement with Shell in light of Shell's planned Arctic drilling expedition.

"We love Lego. You love Lego. Everyone loves Lego. But when Lego 's halo effect is being used to sell propaganda to children, especially by an unethical corporation who are busy destroying the natural world our children will inherit, we have to do something," Greenpeace said. "Children's imaginations are an unspoilt wilderness. Help us stop Shell polluting them by telling LEGO to stop selling Shell-branded bricks and kits today."

The organisation also launched a video parodying the hit song, "Everything is Awesome", from the Lego Movie, playing while oil engulfs a Lego model of the Arctic. This video garnered over 6 million views -- and the accompanying petition 1,019,500 signatures.

Lego initially resisted pressure from Greenpeace, and Knudstorp made it clear in his announcement to dissolve the partnership that he does not think highly of Greenpeace's methods.

"The Greenpeace campaign uses the Lego brand to target Shell. As we have stated before, we firmly believe Greenpeace ought to have a direct conversation with Shell. The LEGO brand, and everyone who enjoys creative play, should never have become part of Greenpeace's dispute with Shell," he wrote.

"Our stakeholders have high expectations to the way we operate. So do we. We do not agree with the tactics used by Greenpeace that may have created misunderstandings among our stakeholders about the way we operate; and we want to ensure that our attention is not diverted from our commitment to delivering creative and inspiring play experiences."

Leading climate scientist Dr Simon Lewis of University College London applauded the campaign.

"To avoid the most serious impacts of climate change most of the known fossil fuel reserves can't be used. That puts companies like Shell in a difficult position, as their value is linked to their ability to find and exploit reserves. They need a public relations fix," he said.

"The success of the Greenpeace campaign breaking the link between Lego and Shell shows that there is widespread public discomfort at the way fossil fuel companies try to get their 'don't worry about the future' message across by linking to other brands. This is a very positive development, as in my view society is better served by more transparency and less PR smoke and mirrors."

However, not all are scientists are in agreement with Greenpeace's methodology.

"It is all too easy to demonise the oil companies, but demanding this kind of disengagement is just too simplistic. It's also hypocritical because we wouldn't be able to live the lives we take for granted without the supply of energy these companies provide to us," said University College London professor of climate science Chris Rapley, who has participated in Shell Scenarios.

"We need a sensible, balanced and intelligent debate with the oil industry in which we critique bad things they do and embrace the positives. The people I talk to in the Shell Scenarios Team are bright, thoughtful people, trying to work out how to navigate a way forward to a better future -- accepting that climate change is real, driven by humans and not likely to be a good thing. It is scientists and engineers like these, not the activists, who in the end will deliver the alternatives to fossil fuels and are turning companies like Shell from oil companies into energy companies.

"10 out of 10 to campaigners like Greenpeace for wanting to provoke change. 0 out of 10 for this campaign, in my opinion, which might attract headlines and make them feel good, but does not address the real issues and will not deliver the changes we all need."