When you think of Samsung, you may think of a choice between an Android or iPhone.
There’s another side to the giant company that involves making bigger life choices.
At COP26, along with South Korean partners, we took part in a Squid Game-themed action on Samsung to draw attention to how the company is being out-competed in the switch towards using clean energy technology to power its operations. As it stands, Samsung is still giving a green light to fossil fuels and a red light to renewables.
In August, Samsung Electronics’ billionaire Vice Chairman, Lee Jae-yong, the de facto leader of Samsung and grandson of its founder, was freed from jail where he had been serving a sentence for bribing the former South Korean President Park Geun-hye. Lee was reportedly released early after pressure by Korean businesses to improve the waning fortunes of Samsung’s technology empire.
While Lee was serving time, along with a wide range of Korean and international partners, we were involved in a campaign to stop the company from making the wrong call on old coal technology with its construction and engineering arm, Samsung C&T. It was building polluting power stations in South Korea and abroad, while Samsung claimed to be an eco-friendly global leader in sustainability and smart tech.
Following this, Samsung was found guilty in the court of public opinion over building and financing coal plants, which are the single biggest source of energy-related carbon dioxide emissions and can run for half a century. Moreover, analysis shows Samsung’s insurance units financed US$14 billion of fossil fuel projects in the last decade.
The court of public opinion and attendant brand damage was admitted by Samsung C&T to South Korea’s Parliament, a driving factor in a change in policy, though this also had loopholes.
This illustrates why we build popular pressure on big brands.
Now Lee Jae-yong is out on parole and looking to reinvigorate his company, his first move should be to ensure that all Samsung’s operations are run on renewable energy.
Samsung Electronics is a major emitter in South Korea. And given its previously funded coal projects also keep polluting, it comes as no surprise that its own shareholders are demanding that its worksites run on solar and wind power.
This undertaking has already been achieved in some regions. The company’s operations already run on renewable energy in China, Europe, and the US. And other global tech giants are already years ahead on this.
Samsung Electronics’ management should take the next logical step and ensure the company replaces fossil fuel-powered electricity with clean energy in South Korea and Vietnam. It will have a wide-ranging positive impact spanning the global tech sector, as well as Korean government energy policies.
South Korea and Vietnam are the two major production and manufacturing bases for Samsung. Having 100% renewables targets that don’t include these two countries undermines claims of sustainability.
Samsung is a symbol of Korea Inc. and if this giant global corporation fails to act, it will undermine progress on clean energy deployment.