[ED] Samsung, do what you can

Gov’t, society should urge firms to reduce emissions

By Jang Daul

“Do What You Can’t” was a slogan of Samsung Electronics. Yet in this era of global boiling, the No. 1 Korean company needs to focus more on “Do What You Can” first.

September 15, 2023, was the first anniversary of Samsung’s new environmental strategy. Last year the world’s largest memory chip maker announced that it would look to achieve net zero carbon emissions and procure 100 percent of its renewable electricity by 2050.

Even though the announcement was belated compared to its global competitors and not ambitious enough considering Samsung’s responsibility toward mitigating climate change, it was generally welcomed in Korea mainly due to three expectations.

First, it is simply impossible to avoid irreversible climate consequences without the participation of businesses in implementing ambitious targets. The industrial sector emits the most amount of carbon in South Korea. The top 10 emitters under the Korean Emission Trading Scheme (K-ETS) emit more than half of the nation’s total greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Therefore, the government, parliament, civil society and people must help to regulate and encourage corporations to reduce their emissions. At the same time, companies themselves need to drive organizational change to strengthen their efforts in climate change mitigation.

Second, Samsung needs to stop being a climate villain and show climate leadership. Between 2015 when the K-ETS was introduced and 2021, Samsung Electronics did not even decrease but instead, increased its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions the most among the top 30 companies of the K-ETS.

The increase might be partly due to an increase in sales. However, what matters, regarding the climate, is the total volume of greenhouse gas emissions out there. As climate activist Greta Thunberg said, “Nature does not bargain and you cannot compromise with the laws of physics.”

Lastly, there were expectations that Samsung Electronics’ commitment to 100 percent renewable electricity would provide positive momentum to the development of renewable energy in Korea, whose share of renewable energy production was the lowest among OECD member states.

Samsung Electronics is the largest electricity consumer in Korea. It mostly purchases power from KEPCO and the share of fossil fuels of KEPCO’s electricity is more than 60 percent.

Therefore, experts, civil society and climate-concerned citizens expect that with the new commitment, Samsung will lead the advocacy for more ambitious renewable energy policies by the government, the parliament and industry.

Let’s see whether Samsung Electronics met the above expectations.

Samsung’s market-based global greenhouse gas emissions decreased by 13.5 percent from 17.4 to 15.1 million tons of carbon dioxide equivalent between 2021 and 2022. This is positive progress. Samsung needs to continue to reduce its emissions and at least half its global emissions by 2030.

However, Samsung’s domestic emissions in Korea increased by 3.0 percent. This is disappointing. As we witnessed worsening extreme weather events again this year, we do not have time to waste but must dramatically reduce carbon emissions as fast and as ambitiously as possible.

As the 3rd largest private GHG emitter in Korea after POSCO and Hyundai Steel, Samsung Electronics needs to reduce its emissions substantially. Compared to steel, cement and petrochemical industries, it is easier for Samsung Electronics to reduce carbon emissions by procuring more renewable energy.

The share of procured renewable electricity for Samsung Electronics globally increased from 20 percent to 31 percent. The increase itself is progress. However, Samsung mainly used low-impact sourcing methods such as the purchasing of renewable energy certificates and the green premium, which does not result in substantial carbon reductions compared to high-impact methods such as self-generation, power purchase agreements and equity investments.

Samsung needs to focus more on quality. Samsung Electronics clearly understands that quality matters since it announced a goal in 2021 to “claim 100 percent renewable power through new localized generation sources by early 2024″ beyond its achievement of RE100 in the US by 2020.

However, in Korea Samsung relies heavily on the green premium which is the least impactful. Of course, it is not the sole responsibility of Samsung to increase the quantity and quality of renewable power procurement in Korea.

The roles of the Yoon administration and parliament to create an enabling environment and increase the supply of affordable renewable power is also key to climate change mitigation through the increase of renewables. Samsung also needs to increase its advocacy together with other RE100 members in Korea.

On the day of Samsung’s first environmental strategy anniversary, TSMC announced that it would aim to achieve 100 percent renewable electricity procurement from 2050 to 2040. As Samsung aims to become the world’s leading company in system semiconductors, it needs to further increase its climate change mitigation performance quicker and with a more ambitious plan. Samsung, do what you can.

Jang Daul ( is a government relations and advocacy specialist at Greenpeace East Asia Seoul Office and guest editorial writer at The Korea Times.


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