Samsung Sustainability Initiatives: What’s Working?

Posted on March 29th, 2012 by
   

John Godfrey, Vice President of Government & Public Affairs for Samsung, discusses some of the successes coming out of Samsung’s Corporate Sustainability initiative.

Full transcript:

Ben Lack: What is Samsung’s vision and approach to handling sustainability within the company?
John Godfrey Samsung approaches it on a global basis from our headquarters inSouth Korea and also through all of the different subsidiaries around the world. We’re proud of the work we are doing in the North American Region on sustainability. And sustainability as I’m sure you and your readers know, it’s a holistic activity that starts from the beginning of a product’s life cycle, and how you design it, and manufacture it, and distribute it, through the consumer’s use of the product, and then, what happens at the end of life. We’ve got things we’re doing in all of those areas. In fact, I am going into some details with you, if you like.
Ben Lack: Yes, absolutely, what I love to have you do is give us an example of a typical sustainability project that’s taking place in the US. What does that look like? Is it something going on internally or you can speak something about supply change?
John Godfrey There are number of different examples that I can give you. One quick example is that we offer free mail back for our mobile phones at end of life. So, consumers can send them back to be responsibly recycled. We have a broader recycling program that covers much heavier and larger products as well, like television and computers. And that’s one, I think, especially worth spending a few minutes on, it’s called Samsung Recycling Direct. With that program, we have recycled I believe more than a hundred and forty million pounds of electronic products in the United States through that program which began in 2008. And it’s a program for taking back the full range of our electronic products except, I believe, not home appliances which are typically collected by the retailer who sells a product and delivers it.  Whoever delivers a newer refrigerator usually takes the old one away.In our recycling program, we set really a very high standard for how a product is recycled. I’m sure we’ve all heard and seen unhappy stories about electronic products that have been handled irresponsibly and sent to China or Africa or other places to be processed in a way that’s not good for the environment and not good for the workers who are doing it. Samsung very strictly manages the recyclers that we work with and have, from the beginning of the Samsung Recycling Direct Program, bound them to not export end-of-life electronics, not incinerate, and not put it in a landfill. We also prohibit use of prison labor and we’ve been recognized as the first manufacturer that became an E-Steward Enterprise under the E-Steward Program which recognizes companies that uphold those principles that I just said.  We use E-Steward certified recyclers and we audit them. And we have changed recyclers when we felt like they weren’t up to our standards. I really think that the materials that get processed through that program get handled responsibly and well.
Ben Lack: I want to move more to the supply chain side of things. How does Samsung approach energy use as products are being made and what steps are taken to make sure that the latest and greatest in your devices are using as little energy as possible?
John Godfrey I probably can’t say too much about energy uses during the manufacturing process to you. I just don’t know that much about it. I know that we have very high-tech and leading-edge manufacturing facilities and we’ve done some work on reducing the green house gas emissions in manufacturing.
Ben Lack: What about in the products themselves?
John Godfrey In the products themselves, we’ve really focused on energy efficiency. In the United States, in particular, we’ve been a participant in the Energy Star Program for many years. Not only do we strive to get as many of our products to meet the Energy Star criteria which are voluntary –you don’t have to meet them– but we’ve worked with the EPA for years and gotten a really wide variety of product to meet those stringent energy efficiency criteria.We also provide training materials to the stores that sell our products so that they can help consumers about the benefits of Energy Star. We promote Energy Star in our own marketing and we’ve been recognized by EPA for the past 3 years for our work in Energy Star. Last year, we were named Energy Star Partner of the Year 2011. So, that’s been really a productive partnership for us, with EPA, and it’s something to, raise the bar for industry in general in making sure products are energy efficient.
Ben Lack: Samsung was recognized at CES 2012 for the first solar power notebook, the Samsung NC2155. I wonder if you could share a little bit of insight on that notebook. How did the idea come about and what are some of the steps to actually make sure that the technology fits the use?
John Godfrey I wish I could tell you more details about that product, it’s the NC2155, but what I know in general is that those netbooks use very efficient processors; they use low-powered display so they reduce the power consumption to the point where it can be powered by solar. That’s really a consumer convenience to be able to not have to plug in and power or re-charge your battery. You’ll be able to operate on the go without ever having to worry about reducing the power consumption. But I guess, even when you do plug it in, it uses almost no power.So, the fact that it is solar powered really reflects the generally low power consumption of that and the other netbooks as well.
Ben Lack: Let’s switch gears and talk about policy initiatives. What’s the approach, from a policy prospective, that Samsung takes to push sustainable initiatives?
John Godfrey It’s a little bit different between the energy efficiency area and then the recycling area. So, I’ll take those in turn. In the energy efficiency area, that’s something where we really feel like voluntary efforts like Energy Star have been working. Televisions and other CE and telecom products have gotten more efficient over the years. Even if TVs have gotten bigger, the power consumption has gone down compared to older TVs because the technology that’s used is so efficient. Now, we feel like that program with that kind voluntary approach is working fine.One state, California, did adopt a mandatory energy efficiency requirement a couple of years ago which we are able to meet in our televisions. We, at this point, would hope that others states don’t adopt inconsistent energy efficiency regulations. The thing we really would not want to have happen is for different states is to have different energy regulations and especially different testing methods. It’s really a hindrance if you have to retest your products for different energy regulations. It’s really not necessary because once the product achieves the level of efficiency that should be seen as meeting the policy objective.

Now, generally, we don’t think mandatory regulations are necessary. It’s something that we try to exceed anyway through voluntary compliance with something, with a standard like Energy Star that really does more than the regulations require.

Now, on the recycling side, there is a piece of legislation that we do think is necessary and that is to regulate what recyclers do once they have collected end-of-life electronics. We are able to control our recycling partners –the ones that we pay through the Samsung Recycling Direct program — and bind them to do the right thing with electronics. But there are recyclers in the United States who get their material from channels that we have no connection to at all. From cities and counties and their waste transfer stations which are completely unregulated, from special events that might be held at a county fair or shopping mall. There is nothing that makes the consumer take their end-of-life electronics only to responsible recyclers and they may not know which recyclers are being responsible.  So, that’s the loophole and there is material ending up in places like China and Africa that we have no control over. That’s why we support the legislation that Representative Green and Representative Thompson in the US House of Representatives support which would really close that loophole and make it so that end-of-life electronics can’t be exported into a developing country inappropriately. There are some details on how it’s structured but we think that’s important to, kind of, lift the level of recycling for all Americans.

Ben Lack: Why are you doing what you are doing? And, why are you choosing to spend your time in this industry?
John Godfrey Well, I love the technology sector. I’ve been working in it all my career and I also love technology policy, I am sort of a policy wonk. I think it’s interesting to see how standard and regulations can guide innovation and economic growth and give benefits for consumers without being so intrusive as to hamper a company’s ability to innovate. And I just love the gadgets, I mean, who doesn’t love a Smart Phone with a bright screen, and an internet connection, and all these great apps or a huge super thin colorful TV. I wouldn’t really want to work in any other industry. This is a lot of fun!

 

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