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Samsung trashes its own climate goals with Unpacked 2023


Last updated: January 11th, 2023 at 19:48 UTC+01:00

Samsung often touts its sustainability initiatives, presenting them as the guiding principles for its business. The company’s other sustainability initiatives have included a self-repair program for customers in the US, sustainable packaging materials, and increasing energy efficiency in products.

When Samsung first announced that it would provide three years of Android OS upgrades, it said that this decision would help reduce electronic waste. When it stopped shipping chargers and earphones with smartphones, Samsung said sustainability was one of the reasons behind the decision, even though it will happily sell you those accessories separately. Evidently, it was more about nickel-and-diming customers than sustainability.

The company shared its revamped environmental manifesto back in September last year. Samsung reiterated its commitment to achieve enterprise-wide net zero carbon emissions, increase the use of renewable energy, increase water reuse, etc. A commitment was made in particular for the Device eXperience division, it’s the one that makes Galaxy products, that net zero carbon emissions will be achieved for all operations by 2030.

These are noble objectives. Climate change isn’t a joke. The world is already experiencing the impact of climate change. It has been unseasonably warm in Europe this winter while much of North America has been gripped by deadly blizzards. Record high temperatures were recorded across the Middle East and Asia during the summers in addition to deadly flooding even in areas that haven’t typically received much rainfall.

Evidently, we need to change our behaviors to limit the impact that we have on the planet. As one of the biggest companies in the world, any steps Samsung takes for the betterment of the environment will surely have an impact. It has the power and capability to influence change in the industry. If it doesn’t utilize that for the greater good, it would be akin to an abdication of responsibility.

When the COVID19 pandemic shut down the world, companies like Samsung had to figure out how to keep the wheel turning. They needed to adapt in order to ensure business continuity. Like other major mobile device manufacturers, Samsung had always organized elaborate launch events to showcase its latest phones and other products. With travel at a standstill and restrictions on large-scale events, Samsung moved its Unpacked events entirely online. The first virtual event in August 2020 brought us the Galaxy Note 20 series, Galaxy Z Fold 2, in addition to new tablets, a smartwatch, and new earbuds. The Galaxy S21 and Galaxy S22 series got virtual launch events and so did the Galaxy Z Fold 3/4 and the Galaxy Z Flip 3/4.

It didn’t matter to most people how Samsung opted to conduct its Unpacked events. These events are never open to the general public. Only those that are invited by Samsung can attend. The list typically includes journalists, tech media, influencers, partners, and Samsung executives from across the globe. Those who aren’t invited can watch the event live online so even when the events were conducted virtually, it made little difference.

The Unpacked events are huge logistical endeavors. The first event of the year where the Galaxy S series is launched takes place in San Francisco. The other Unpacked event in the second half of the year, which was previously for the Galaxy Note series and now for Samsung’s foldables, is conducted in New York. Hundreds of people from across the globe fly to these cities to attend the events.

Pre-pandemic, there has hardly been an Unpacked event that SamMobile hasn’t attended in person. We’re going to skip these events from now on simply because we are unable to justify the climate impact of long-haul air travel required for this event from our base in the Netherlands. Times have changed and it’s incumbent upon us all to change with them.

The pandemic brought a moment of collective reflection as it made us more aware of our place in the world and how we must do more to leave behind a more sustainable planet for future generations. Two years and three Unpacked events later, Samsung has sufficiently demonstrated its capability to conduct virtual events that bring it the kind of media attention it requires for new products. Does a return to in-person Unpacked events make sense now?

These events certainly have a massive environmental impact. Attendees fly in from across the globe, with the majority having to take transatlantic flights of 10 hours or more. Coast-to-coast flights in the US tend to be over 5 hours so it’s not like this is a minor journey even for local media. Non-stop flights between Samsung’s home base in Seoul, South Korea and San Francisco exceed 10 hours. Even if you disregard the financial impact, it’s hard to swipe the environmental impact under the rug.

Aviation is one of the biggest contributors to climate change. A recent study found that it contributes 4% to human-induced global warming. Aviation is projected to cause a 0.1° Celsius global warming increase by 2050 if it continues to grow at pre-pandemic levels.

This begs the question, are these events not a contradiction of Samsung’s own sustainability goals? Are separate events conducted for flagship device launches in the US just because that’s where Apple does them? Is this entire exercise just Samsung flexing its muscles in Apple’s backyard?

Samsung could take a more responsible approach if it feels that in person Unpacked events are essential. Mobile World Congress 2023 in Barcelona is barely three weeks after Samsung’s February 1 Unpacked event in San Francisco for the Galaxy S23 series. Samsung always has a major presence at MWC and has previously launched Galaxy S devices at the event.

It started conducting separate events because its products had to share the media spotlight with the announcements from other manufacturers. Since it’s already going to be at MWC, wouldn’t it be more sustainable to launch the phones there? Unless it’s fine sacrificing climate change at the altar of media exposure. MWC also has more substance than an Unpacked event. It’s a B2B trade show, not just an orchestrated unveiling of one product from one company.

If Samsung prefers retaining an element of individuality and insists on separate events, a better solution would be to hold those events in South Korea. At least that limits the travel impact of Samsung employees that fly out from Korea for these events. That would also present it with the opportunity to extract the most value from press in attendance by leveraging its various facilities to provide a closer look at operational elements to increase visibility.

As Samsung fans we are always excited for its latest products. However, that doesn’t mean we ignore what’s happening in the world. We believe that big companies like Samsung have a responsibility to do the right thing and became an example for the industry. Blatant contradiction of its own sustainability objectives is counterproductive. Samsung should become more mindful of the environmental impact of its Unpacked events. If it doesn’t want to, then I’d like my chargers back.

We challenge Samsung to do more for a better and cleaner world over 1.5 hour events for a single product that requires 10 hour flights.

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