Samsung recently released a series of eco-friendly watchbands made from apple peel for the new Galaxy Watch 4. The designs are beautiful and the intention behind them is good, but it has shone a spotlight on the company’s environmental impact and raised questions of whether this is simply a stunt or a sign of wider progress.
Samsung’s environmental goals
Samsung started a corporate Eco-Council in 2008 and eco-consciousness has been a consideration for some time. In a press release titled ‘Samsung’s Eco-Friendly Efforts Towards a Better Tomorrow’, the company announced that it is now operating on 100% renewable energy at its sites in the US, China, and Europe. The company has also made significant steps towards achieving this in South Korea but is not yet at 100%.
In January, Samsung ‘announced the company’s latest long-term sustainability programs that include the inclusion of solar cell-powered remote controls and the reduction of product carbon footprints through the use of recycled materials.’ Samsung already uses sustainable materials in its packaging, replacing the plastic in handset packaging with cardboard alternatives and using sturdy paper bags in its Samsung Experience Stores.
‘By pursuing a minimal packaging design and changing the materials used throughout the entire product lifecycle – from manufacturing and distribution through to usage and disposal – Samsung’s Galaxy S21 smartphone have received the ‘Reducing CO2’ certificate from the Carbon Trust, acknowledging the reduction of greenhouse gases the Galaxy S21 produces compared to the previous model.’
When the S21 was released, Samsung phased out the inclusion of chargers with new handsets. This was based on the assumption that most people would now have a USBC charger at home, which is likely the case. Removing the charger meant handsets could be packaged in smaller boxes and the company could avoid manufacturing huge numbers of unneeded chargers. However, for those who were taking a jump from an older device or a different manufacturer – such as Apple – this meant buying an additional charger that came in another box.
On the topic of chargers, Samsung is also working to address power waste by reducing the standby power consumption of its chargers to zero. Idle chargers currently use hardly any power – having 10 idle chargers in your home is estimated to cost you less than $2 a year, but Samsung is aware the impact adds up across the millions of chargers in use.
Is buying the eco-friendly option actually eco-friendly?
Offering eco-friendly alternatives is something that a lot of companies have begun doing in recent years. With environmental impact at the forefront of public consciousness, green options endear companies to consumers and investors. However, things touted as the sustainable option may not always be what they seem. Samsung’s apple peel watch strap is a great alternative to the optional leather alternatives – the apple peel strap is vegan and cruelty-free after all – but the Galaxy Watch 4 still comes with a silicone strap as standard. So, truthfully, the most eco-friendly option would be to not buy a second strap, regardless of the material it’s made of.
Similar patterns can be seen in a lot of alternatives that are marketed as ‘sustainable’ or ‘zero waste’. For example, buying bamboo reusable cutlery is better than using disposable plastic cutlery every day, but the best solution would be to take a normal metal fork from the drawer at home. Where possible, avoiding buying the additional item at all is the stand out most sustainable option.
Samsung intends to ‘incorporate recycled material in all new mobile products by 2025’ – this goal will likely ingratiate them to eco-conscious consumers, but the company does not state what percentage of the materials will be recycled.
Repairability of devices
An area in which Samsung still has work to do is the reparability of its devices. New right to repair laws exclude smartphones and, currently, any third party repairs will void Samsung’s warranty. Even you were allowed to repair your own Samsung device, taking them apart is an extremely complex process requiring a lot of specialist equipment. Putting them back together again is also a difficult task – especially if you wish to retain their IP rating.
In light of being unable to repair their devices, many people opt for purchasing a new device or simply upgrading to a new handset when their contract ends. Making it possible to repair your device yourself – or cheaply through a third-party repair shop – might make people use their devices for longer. This would significantly reduce the environmental impact of Samsung’s devices but it would, unfortunately, not be very beneficial for their bottom line.
Making devices cheaply repairable and licensing other parties to carry out repairs is not in Samsung’s interest; a cornered market is a profitable one.
Luckily, they have been working on some projects that mean users may not have to shell out for a new device or simply bin their old one when something goes wrong. Samsung has pledged ‘to reduce e-waste on a global scale by optimising the product lifecycle, improving product design processes, and through initiatives like Galaxy Upcycling, Certified Refurbished, and Trade-In programs.’
Galaxy Upcycling is an interesting initiative that ‘gives new life to older Galaxy smartphones by converting them into a variety of Smart Home devices through a simple software update, such as childcare monitor, a pet care solution and other tools that meet individual lifestyle needs.’ This works through repurposing the existing sensors of the device to control smart devices in the home.
Samsung’s trade-in programs encourage people to trade in old devices for money off their new ones. However, outside of promotional periods, these trade-in prices can be less than what customers could get by simply selling the old device. If customers are looking to purchase a cheaper device, Samsung’s Certified Refurbished program is a great way to get warranty protected devices for secondhand prices.
Through these initiatives, Samsung is proving that it does truly intend to make its devices more sustainable, but there are certainly areas in which it needs to improve. Until the apple peel watch strap can be chosen as an option instead of the normal silicone strap (as opposed to being purchased as an add on) it does seem to remain in the realms of a publicity stunt.
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