What Samsung Is Doing to Green Our Gadget Lust

"Greenovation" is a new buzz word for Samsung, which held a luncheon yesterday in San Francisco to show of what the company is doing to lighten its environmental footprint as much as possible. Like every electronics manufacturer, Samsung is diligently focused on showing off its energy efficiency and recycling measures. But unlike many manufacturers, the company seems to be making some extraordinary strides at doing more than just talking about best practices. Check out how Samsung is trying to lead the way in trimming our global energy consumption (even as our demand seems to grow) and how it is cleaning up after itself in the e-waste area.
Samsung provided some interesting statistics on consumer behavior, including that while we know we want to do the right thing, actually doing the right thing is a lot more difficult. So the company has come up with the "PlanetFirst" logo. It denotes that the company is committed to a corporate-wide policy for sustainability, and that any product sporting this logo is guaranteed to be sustainable. This might mean that the company is playing it a little loose with the term "sustainable" -- it is doubtful that a completely cradle-to-cradle design and zero impact life cycle is possible with our current manufacturing methods and e-cycling records -- but the company feels it's a move in the right direction to help consumers.

To ensure that they really are following through with a PlanetFirst mentality, Samsung has partnered up with organizations from CarbonFund.org for offsetting the carbon footprint of events to the EPA's Green Power Partnership for renewable energy use to SmartWay Transport partnership for minimizing the impact of shipping products.

Something like tossing a "we're green" label on products is one thing, but designing honestly superior products that minimize energy consumption is even more important. Samsung notes that our data centers are using more and more energy as our demand for all information to be at our fingertips in an instant grows exponentially. The company notes that there are currently 10 billion mobile units on the planet, all needing access to the internet, from social networking to email. We're on a path of accessing 10k petabytes of information per month in 2008 to 55.5k petabytes per month by 2013. For perspective, 50 petabytes of information is equal to the entire written works of mankind, from the beginning of history, in all languages. That's a lot of information.

Thus, getting data centers to run as efficiently as possible is key. The company is developing servers and memory that does more on less energy. With their technology research in this area, the company can help keep data centers using minimal energy for maximum use. For example, currently, one 48GB Green-DDR3 server from Samsung requires 390 W, but the next generation of servers is set to need just 220W.

The company also noted the work it is doing in televisions and displays, using things from AMOLED technology to new dimming technology which the display uses to recognize when a backlight isn't needed on certain areas of a screen, and shuts of the LEDs in that area to conserve energy. The results are much more energy efficient, yet much more visually appealing, displays.

Another important area Samsung is focusing on -- as all electronics manufacturers should be -- is e-waste. The company highlighted the problems of e-waste on developing countries and the massive damage done when unregulated shipments of broken gadgets are sent to areas that lack facilities for proper recycling. The result is highly contaminated air and water, and generations of families put at risk for major health defects. Samsung stated that it is the first company to become an "E-Stewards Enterprise." In otherwords, they've partnered with e-Stewards, a third party verification organization for responsible recycling, to ensure that their recycling program is as perfect as possible.

Impressively, in just two years since starting their e-cycling program, Samsung has grown from just 175 drop-off locations to 1,100 across all 50 states, plus a national mail-back program. And thanks to their partnership with e-Stewards, they assure us that none of the electronics collected flow to developing countries.

The company also noted that it has collected a hefty 41 million pounds of electronics since 2008. However, when asked what percentage of Samsung products that represented, the answers were fuzzy. But understandably so -- it's tough to account for how many pounds of Samsung products have been sold, and how much of what types are being collected. However, companies will need to become more adept at these kinds of calculations in order to give context and relevance to the claims of how much they're collecting. Diverting 41 million pounds of e-waste from landfills is a wonderful feat, but if that represents 0.01% of all electronics produced, then we have a lot of work to do -- and we need those numbers to tell us what kind of progress we're really making.

All in all, Samsung did a good job of claiming a serious interest in going green. No electronics manufacturer is perfect yet, and according to Greenpeace's Green Electronics Ranking the majority of manufacturers including Samsung have a long way to go to be perfect. But even so, knowing that Samsung is focused on the energy efficiency and recyclability of products is helpful, and hopefully bolsters competition among other companies.

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Tags: Corporate Responsibility | Energy Efficiency | Environmental Footprint | E-Waste | Recycling