Considering the size of the US toy market, it’s no surprise to find the world famous Danish toymaker LEGO Group breaking ground on a new factory in Virginia. It’s also not surprising that Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin is welcoming the company to his state with open arms. After all, the sprawling new carbon-neutral factory will showcase LEGO’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, and Governor Youngkin is against that sort of thing. Wait — what?
A Carbon Neutral LEGO Factory For Virginia
LEGO’s new $1 billion Virginia factory officially broke ground on April 13, with an opening target sometime in 2025.
It is not LEGO’s first time around the US track. The company previously had a factory in Connecticut, but it closed in 2007. Now the company is back again, with a new focus on sustainability goals.
One symbolic milestone for LEGO occurred in 2014, when the company dropped a longtime licensing deal with Shell. The company also once had a deal with ExxonMobil, but that was back in the 20th century and only for the US market. LEGO has since turned its attention to electric vehicles, EV charging stations, wind turbines, and solar panels (see our complete coverage here).
The latest addition to LEGO’s electrification lineup is a meticulously detailed kit for the new Peugot 9X8 24H Le Mans Hybrid Hypercar that includes an electric 7-speed transmission, though it does not include the real car’s 900-volt battery.
LEGO’s interest in clean tech covers real-life renewable energy hardware, too. LEGO announced its sustainable energy plans for the Virginia factory last year, highlighted by enough on-site solar power to help achieve carbon neutral status for the entire campus.
The solar factor underscores LEGO’s commitment to corporate ESG (environmental, social, governance) principles, which emphasize holistic, long term strategies for turning a profit.
For the social leg of the ESG stool, the company’s commitment to Virginia includes a previous donation of $300,000 to the Children’s Museum of Richmond and the Science Museum of Virginia.
On top of that, the company is providing $1 million to local groups to bring LEGO’s “Learning through Play” program to children in need. That is interesting because the Learning through Play program includes elements of the social and emotional learning (SEL) curriculum. SEL has earned widespread popularity in the US over the years, though more recently it has attracted the ire of right wing critics (shocker!).
More ESG Coming To Virginia
There are more ESG principles at work for the new LEGO factory in Virginia. In addition to the on-site solar power plant in the range of 35-40 megawatts, the new factory will lean on LEED Gold standards for energy-efficient equipment and buildings. In a press release last week, LEGO affirmed that “the site will be designed to support the company’s sustainability ambitions, including reducing its absolute global carbon emissions by 37 per cent by 2032.”
“We are working hard to reduce emissions at the LEGO Group and are really excited about our plans to build this solar plant as we push towards a better world for our children to inherit,” emphasized Carsten Rasmussen, Chief Operations Officer of the LEGO Group.
Further underscoring the social element, LEGO noted that the new factory will create 1,760 jobs in Virginia when fully built out. The new employees will experience LEGO’s attention to the diversity, equality, and inclusion element that support ESG principles.
“The LEGO Group is committed to providing safe, diverse, and inclusive workplaces where everyone feels welcome,” the company stated in a press release last week. “The new location will feature wellbeing areas, parents’ facilities, and multi-faith rooms while break rooms and common areas will be inspired by the company’s core value of fun and designed to become playful spaces.”
Virginia Governor Loves LEGO, ESG Not So Much
Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin attended a groundbreaking ceremony for the new factory last week, and he seemed rather pleased with the whole thing.
“Everything is awesome in the Commonwealth,” Youngkin said in an official statement that referenced the 2014 film, The Lego Movie, although the film’s focus on individual creative freedom seems somewhat at odds with the Governor’s growing reputation as a right wing culture warrior.
Nevertheless, he was pleased. “I am so pleased that the LEGO Group looked at 40 states to build its 1.7-million-square-foot-factory, and chose Virginia to build its next chapter,” he said.
“Virginia is competing to win the best of the best,” he added. “Together, we’re making Virginia the best place to live, work, and play. I look forward to an extraordinary future of building dreams from this manufacturing facility brick by brick.”
That’s where things do not compute. Youngkin campaigned as a moderate on social and environmental issues when he won the Governor’s office in 2021, which would seem to make Virginia a good fit for ESG-oriented corporations like LEGO. However, he soon drifted rightward. With a White House bid in the works, the rightward drift shows signs of becoming an off-the-cliff drop.
On the environmental side, Youngkin has officially joined the growing ranks of Republican officials who rail against ESG investing, even while their own states invest taxpayer dollars to lure companies like Lego.
Forbes relayed the news on March 23, explaining that “Florida Governor Ron DeSantis’ recently announced anti-ESG alliance has grown with the addition of Virginia Governor Glenn Youngkin.”
“The alliance, announced March 16, is a signed policy commitment by now 20 Republican governors to use the resources of their state to stop the expansion of environmental, social, and governance (ESG). For Virginians, this means Florida’s anti-ESG policies are heading your way,” Forbes continued.
Oh The ESG Irony, It Burns
Meanwhile, last summer the Governor’s office issued a press release that detailed just how hard state officials worked to lure LEGO to Virginia — and how many public dollars they spent, too. The state funding package includes a performance grant of $56 million, along with site improvements totaling up to $19 million.
Also included is free use of the Virginia Talent Accelerator Program, a collaborative job training and recruitment program with the state’s community college system. “All program services are provided at no cost to qualified new and expanding companies as an incentive for job creation,” the Governor’s office explained.
Our friends over at Site Selection magazine cite Henrik Priess Sorensen, head of Americas Expansion and Discovery for LEGO, who credited state and local economic development officials with “working overtime to make the deal happen,”
“We found and appreciated the ‘can do’ mindset from both state and county, which is always appreciated and needed in such a selection and construction process,” Sorenson told Site Selection.
LEGO, ESG, & Pride
Let’s not single out Youngkin, though. The combination of hypocrisy and political opportunism on ESG investing runs rampant among state-level Republican officials, who are competing to see who can best at overcook themselves in a stew of religion-fueled right wing extremism and fossil energy protectionism salted with just enough mumbo-jumbo about “woke capitalism” and fiscal responsibility to create the illusion of rational public policy, even as their own state treasuries dole out millions to attract new business that are exporting clean tech to other states.
It’s not yet known which LEGO bricks will pour out of the Chesterfield factory once it’s up and running, but if the LEGO Friends are characters involved, that will only add more fuel to the fire in Virginia.
Last fall LEGO announced a new iteration of LEGO Friends for 2023. “The re-imagined LEGO® Friends characters are more representative of the world that today’s kids navigate, inclusive of gender, culture, ethnicity, physical traits and abilities, non-visible disabilities and neurodivergence,” LEGO said.
Game on. If Virginia doesn’t pan out, perhaps LEGO will switch gears and return to Connecticut.
Follow me on Trainwreck Twitter @TinaMCasey.
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Photo: New LEGO set, Peugot 9×8 hybrid electric hypercar courtesy of Stellantis.
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