The Koreas | Environment | East Asia
Overseas green commitments are of little use when more than 70% of Samsung’s total electricity consumption occurs in South Korea, fueled primarily by coal and gas.
In South Korea, climate activism is on the rise. In 2019, a national coalition of over 300 organizations came together to form the Climate Crisis Emergency Action Network. The following spring, young climate activists filed a lawsuit against the South Korean government demanding deeper emissions cuts, arguing that their basic rights were at stake. In October 2020, the activists won a big win when President Moon Jae-in promised the country would achieve carbon neutrality by 2050.
But Samsung Electronics, South Korea’s largest company, has managed to dodge pressure to cut emissions. Unlike rivals Sony and Apple, Samsung has yet to commit to 100% renewable energy globally, leaving the company’s global operations dependent on fossil fuels.
As the largest consumer of electricity in South Korea, Samsung Electronics’ domestic carbon footprint is huge and has been growing steadily. More than 70% of the tech conglomerate’s total electricity consumption occurs in South Korea, which is fueled primarily by coal and gas. In 2019, Samsung Electronics alone consumed enough energy to meet the needs of more than 4 million South Korean households, nearly a fifth of the national total.
Samsung Electronics’ failure to embrace renewable electricity has allowed the company’s domestic greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions to spiral out of control, soaring 137% in less than a decade. In 2020, Samsung Electronics’ GHG emissions (scope 1-3) were approximately 30 million tonnes of carbon dioxide equivalent, roughly equivalent to Norway’s total GHG emissions. Unless drastic changes are made, Samsung’s continued reliance on fossil fuel sources threatens to undermine South Korea’s national GHG emission reduction targets.
As Samsung’s emissions continue to rise in South Korea, the company has taken a different route overseas, revealing a double standard at play. pledged to commit to using 100% renewable energy in the United States, Europe and China.
But nearly four years later, the commitment has not been followed by a global commitment to 100% renewable energy, as many had hoped. Instead, the announcement is increasingly seen as a performative gesture aimed at protecting the brand’s image in the United States and Europe.
Samsung’s operations in the United States, Europe and China account for only a small fraction of the company’s total electricity consumption. More than 80% of Samsung Electronics’ total electricity consumption occurs outside of these three regions, which are primarily coal and gas-fired.
Among the biggest technology companies in the world, Samsung stands out for its inability to commit to 100% renewable energy in the world. In recent years, a growing number of tech giants have signed on to RE100, an initiative that unites companies in a commitment to use 100% renewable electricity in their operations. Apple and Sony have already committed to using 100% renewable energy and achieving carbon neutrality in their own operations, and Apple has further expanded its commitment across its supply chain. On the other hand, Samsung has not yet subscribed to the RE100 or issued a global commitment to carbon neutrality.
Many opportunities exist in South Korea for the supply of renewable electricity. Since the end of 2020, five new supply methods have become available in the country, including green premiums, purchase of renewable energy certificates (RECs), and power purchase agreements (PPAs). New methods of supplying renewable electricity allow companies like Samsung to increase their consumption of clean energy.
As Samsung pushes its environmental initiatives in the US and Europe, it continues to garner positive media coverage and accolades for its efforts. In April 2021, Samsung Electronics received an award from the United States Environmental Protection Agency for the company’s use of renewable energy in the United States. More recently, the BBC reported on Samsung’s use of discarded fishing nets in some small components of its phones, noting that “experts have welcomed the green initiative”.
But the insignificant scale of these achievements is overshadowed by the double standard at work, as Samsung relies on climate change to drive fossil fuels to astronomical profits, especially on its home front. As a leading company in South Korea, it’s time for Samsung to stop playing by two sets of rules and commit to producing 100% renewable electricity by 2030 across its entire chain. global supply, including at home.