Head of Corporate Sustainability Mark Newton at Samsung Electronics America explains how Samsung is a leader in sustainable product design. By taking an eco-conscious approach throughout the entire lifecycle of our products, Samsung has been able to showcase innovation in new and exciting ways while becoming a noted authority in the development of voluntary standards.
John Shegerian: This edition of the impact podcast is brought to you by ERI. ERI has a mission to protect people, the planet, and your privacy and is the largest fully-integrated IT and electronics asset-disposition provider and cybersecurity-focused hardware destruction company in the United States, and maybe even the world. For more information on how ERI can help your business properly dispose of outdated electronic hardware devices, please visit eridirect.com
John: Welcome to another edition of the Impact Podcast. I’m John Shegerian and I have with me today my longtime friend, Mark Newton. He’s the head of corporate sustainability for Samsung Electronics. Welcome to the impact podcast, Mark.
Mark Newton: John, thanks so much. What a great opportunity. We’ve been talking about this for years and looking forward to chatting with you.
John: This is special because I know you personally, and I know your journey, but our listeners and our viewers don’t and that’s what we’re going to get into today. And then talking about all the important and great things you’re doing at the iconic brand, Samsung – the leading brand in manufacturing electronics on the planet. What an opportunity, and what a great position you have. But first, I want you to just a little bit what I know, listeners for the Mark Newton [inaudible] How did you even get on this journey of sustainability, and how did you get here to where you are today?
Mark: Yeah. Well, I think everyone that’s in my role came at it from a different direction, and my story isn’t any more unique than others, except maybe it’s longer than most. I graduated from the University of Texas in 1993. And I had a Ph.D. in Chemistry and got hired right out of school by Motorola. And this was before cellphones. So, everyone’s got a pager and I got put into the land mobile products division, which was the two-way radios that you see in all the taxis and police cars and that was the core of their Innovation Center. We got a nasty gram from the Netherlands. One of our customers had ground up some of our two-way radios and said, “Hey, did you know that there’s hex chrome and cadmium, things like that in your products? We ground them up.” Yeah, and Motorola was like, “What? why’d you grind up our products?” And because I had a background in polymer chemistry and they didn’t really know what that meant. They handed me the project because these substances were found in plastics and back then nobody was designing for anything but performance in electronics. And so, nobody had even asked these questions before. Nobody knew why we would be using these substances.
So, it wasn’t that hard to figure out, I’ve managed to track down our suppliers and asked them why they were used and they’re used for pigments and heat stabilizers and things like that and then I asked him if they had alternatives and they said, “Yeah, but you never asked us.” So I said, “Okay, great. Well, are there any more expensive?” and they said, “no,” I said for this is going to be an easy one. And so, we were able to resolve this problem, but the light bulb went off, right? We didn’t know anything that was in any of our products. We didn’t know the composition of hardly any of the materials nor did we care. So, I decided with the support of my management, to go on a quest and understand what was in all of our stuff. And they gave me a small team. They move me up to the Corporate Research Center in Schaumburg, Illinois, and everyone thought I was crazy and everyone thought that was what I was going to do for the rest of my career, but it really didn’t take that long because when you get down into the supply chain, especially with materials, there’s a lot of commonality with the different sorts of suppliers and so, it all came down to a fairly relatively manageable set of materials as complex as electronics are and then figuring out like what’s in them.
Took a couple of years and we decided as we were going through it to actually start thinking more proactively about creating design guidelines so that when we’re creating products, we could avoid some of these substances that we knew were going to be coming our way. I did some benchmarking early on to show that substance restrictions started, let’s say in the toy industry where the food industry had a pretty repeatable lag before they hit the electronic sector. And so using that sort of methodology, I was able to track what substances were probably going to be hitting us, and one of the first that we tracked back then was to transition away from lead and solder. And so, before I knew it and after I actually left Motorola and went on to work for other tech companies, I realized that that was one of the very first designs for environmental programs in the tech industry. So now, every tech company has a sustainability R&D function and has sustainability officers, and throughout my career, I’ve taken on more and more responsibilities. It’s gone from materials and circularity issues with recycling to energy efficiency and climate impacts to social impacts and ethical sourcing and philanthropy. It’s been a fantastic journey. I’ve been able to work for some iconic companies along the way.
John: Well, you know Mark and I say this only with love and respect, when I met you and I just got in the industry and knew nothing about real recycling, I came role[?] You were the first leaders in sustainability that I was ever exposed to. And I quickly learned that you were truly. This was a DNA issue to you and you were really one of the thought leaders and true leaders in sustainability way before it was cool to be talking about ESG, circular economy, chief sustainability officers, or anything else. I believe, when we met, you were delved. Can you share some of the great brands and the seats that you’ve sat on leading up to this very important position that you have today at Samsung?
Mark: Sure. Actually, when I left Motorola, I left sustainability altogether and tech. Well, not tech so much, but I went to go work for an inventor named Dean Kamen, who some folks may know. They’re listening to his podcast, is the inventor of the segway and it was a fantastic opportunity to leverage more of my basic scientific skills. I was their Chief chemist and we worked on all kinds of great projects, separating oxygen from the air and creating engines that could run off of dung and all kinds of neath things as well as these medical devices. But I missed the electronics world. I had already spent a fair amount of time at Motorola, and I had an opportunity to go work for Apple. And so, I did. So, I went to work for Apple.
Right around the time when the iPod was first being developed and weren’t for Steve’s deal with the big 3 record industry companies to create the service that he had around the iPod. It would have just been another MP3 player. So, I’ve missed the boat on just about every IPO and stock opportunity in my entire career. I jumped out of apple just at the right time before they started making money and went on to Dell who at that time was actually just on fire. They were eating everybody’s lunch and so I came to Dell to help them develop their environmental technology programs to transition to lead-free and to put together some of their basic policies around recycling and environmental sustainability. During that time period, they did something quite innovative and it was ahead of any regulation with respect to recycling. They partnered with Goodwill and kicked off that reconnect program, which was a great success and a great way to leverage the fact that consumers want to hang onto their junk, but they love to donate.
And so, the way to get these scrap, this crap out of their hands, which is piling up in basements and garages and closets, everywhere, was to leverage an infrastructure that they were comfortable with and that was the donation process. So, it was a great partnership. It help to drastically increase our collection rates and then also met Goodwill’s Mission, which was to put people to work. So, that was a fantastic partnership and the issues just continue to evolve at Dell and I was given more and more responsibility. And when I left, I had an opportunity to go work for one of those iconic companies that have sustainability just integrated into their business model and that was Timberland. So, it was a big leap jumping out of tech and going to the apparel and outdoor sector, but it was just unbelievable.
I say I need to paint things with a broad brush, but I’d say the apparel outdoor sector really had a much better handle on sort of social impacts and supplier issues with respect to labor and human rights. And the tech industry was further ahead on some of the materials and environmental technology issues. And so there was a great opportunity to bring some of that into the apparel sector, working with the sustainable apparel coalition and other partners, but then also to learn and build competence on the social impact side and bring that back to the tech sector when I came back and took on my current role with Samsung.
John: Madic[?] You know, being that you were already working in sustainability at Dell and then went over to Timberland, those skill sets though that you had were very transferable to cheerios change, is that not sort of true?
Mark: Yeah, I think so. I mean, there’s still a huge amount of intersection between technology and gear, outdoor gear and apparel. I mean, just look at today. Just look at the collaboration that we’ve announced fairly recently, at Samsung to address microplastics in the ocean. I mean, there’s millions of tons of microplastics, on the seafloor bed, and there’s more and more coming in all the time. And these things are shed. These are fibers that are shed through laundry and in other ways and they get into our water system and into the food system. And so, working with the innovator like Patagonia who really understands the ecological issue and the science behind the materials with bringing together, like a Samsung who totally understands washing equipment and all the engineering around that was a really kind of great and natural partnership that we announced at the Consumer Electronics Show this year.
John: And now you’re at Samsung, you’ve got the head of corporate sustainability position for Samsung Electronics, America. You know Mark, what I’ve learned over the years and much has been through your eyes as well. You’ve been a tremendous inspiration and mentor to me in this journey here at ERI. Sustainability means a lot of things to a lot of people and also to organizations. It can mean different things. With regards to Samsung, who is the leading global manufacturer of electronics on the whole planet. I think you sell the give or take and you correct me, correct my numbers, 500 million new devices a year. Some numbers like that.
Mark: I’m not going to contradict you, John. Sounds like a big number. I agree.
John: What is sustainability mean now in the position you’re at Samsung?
Mark: That’s a great question.
Mark: I’m glad you asked that actually because I’m not going to really answer in terms of like environmental or social responsibility. I look at it very differently. I guess I’m a pragmatist. I’ve never been accused of being a tree-hugger, but I’ve come to really appreciate this work because of the positive impact that we can make. But the way I look at sustainability is more in terms of externalities that are not on the balance sheet, right? So these are things that we need to consider. Some of them are social and environmentally related, right?
Mark: These are things that we don’t really quantify in our P&L and because we don’t have that information at the table, then we have an incomplete amount of information to make the best decisions, right? So the idea is really kind of to bring these externalities in to integrate these considerations in the business and that way we can have the best information in front of us to make the best decisions. And if we do that, we’re going to stay in business longer, which is another way to describe sustainability.
John: Right. You’ll be able to sustain but one of your taglines, one of Samsung’s taglines is “together for tomorrow.” What does that mean to you and what does that mean to Samsung in terms of you executing that vision in terms of the United States and way beyond?
Mark: Yeah, so together for tomorrow and this idea of co-prosperity is just this laser-focus that we have on our customer as well as other stakeholders that we interact within the course of doing our business. But I would say that it’s part of our DNA. It’s the way that we’re focused as a company that’s consumer-oriented, but at the same time, we have done a whole lot of impact studies and we know that this stuff is really important to Gen Z, right? And so these are our employees. This is our next generation of customers. And one of the things that we know also is that Gen Z make up like 20% of our population, but they have less than a half percent of spending power. So, you can’t reach them through normal marketing, right? It’s got to be through education and engagement and so for that reason, we’ve really started to, I think, communicate more effectively about some of the things that we’ve been doing for a long time. One of the things I noticed when I came to Samsung was that I really hadn’t heard much about what they were up to. And so, the first thing you think is while they’re not doing anything. Well, that’s not the case.
It’s more of a case of communicating effectively. And now that we know how important this is to the most important and most quickly-growing segment of our customer base, we’re starting to think about not just talking about what we’re doing but why we’re doing it. And one way that we try to put this together is the idea of connecting the dots between everyday changes, and small things that you can do in your life because these are such big intractable issues that we’re dealing with. You know, existential crisis, climate change. Give me a break. But then connecting the dots to that meaningful impact so that it is clear that the things that we do in our everyday lives. If the things that we can do, the small things we can do as a company add up to something that’s large and meaningful. And so talking about them both at the same time is the way that we’re trying to communicate this.
John: For those who just joined us, we’ve got Mark Newton with us today on the Impact Podcast. He’s the head of corporate sustainability for Samsung Electronics America. To find Mark and his great colleagues, you can go to www.samsung.com
Mark, you know, you’re talking about education. Are we seeing a sea change right now of Gen Z and other millennials and other generations now voting more with their pocketbook with regards to the true impact that brands are making than ever before, or am I misreading that?
Mark: No, you are reading it right now. Like I said, Gen Z has a relatively small amount of purchase power on their own, but they actually have a very large influencing power so indirect purchase power. You know, your kids tell you what to buy, right? But the fact of the matter is that this has been studied extensively by so many groups and it’s clear that the trend is moving towards a situation where there is an expectation. It’s becoming basically, table stakes for companies to be focused on this. And to some extent, if it can be communicated effectively, and there’s credibility and real trust that is built between the company and the customer that there is a definite impact towards a purchase and we see that. We see that in the data both from a demographic standpoint, based on age group, as well as year-over-year advances in the propensity to actually put your money where your mouth is but besides purchasing, it’s about working for companies that care. You know, Gen Z really wants to be part of the solution. Another thing that we find interesting is that they’re over-indexed compared to most other age groups with respect to social responsibility. So this idea of where something comes from and how people are being treated during that process is much more disproportionately more important to this generation than to other age groups. So, this is usually a topic which most companies, don’t really message, right?
Mark: It tends to be sort of like a reputation management topic or something that you talked about from a compliance standpoint. This is actually something that our consumers care about more and more. And so it’s something that will be going to continue to message as we develop[?]
John: I also want to glance over something you just mentioned. Given that we’re at almost zero employment right now, and we’ve just lived through not only the covid tragedy but also, we’re living through the great resignation. As an improvement tool, what you’re also saying is companies that actually care and make an impact have a greater chance of retaining and recruiting the best talent that’s out there right now.
Mark: That’s exactly right, John.
John: That’s interesting. That’s really interesting. You know Mark, shameless plug this is my Samsung phone. I have it. I carried. I love it because you guys are truly one of the great innovators on the whole planet. Talk a little bit about the importance of innovation not only in making great products but also in innovating in what doing in your sector and sustainability and how they go together and why that matters?
Mark: Yeah. Sure. I mean, we really, really see sustainability as a lens for innovation. This is just another lever that we can pull when we’re trying to find ways to really excite and delight our customers, but what we have learned, I think also as we develop these technologies is that in terms of the way that we present them. I think that the most effective way is to do it as sort of a gift with purchase rather than lean into these as the reason why you want to buy the product. The reason is the same reasons before, right? It’s cost-effective, it helps you with your productivity, and helps you connect all the things that technology does for you. It’s reliable. All of that stuff, right? That’s the reason why right? And we know that sustainability is, a consideration, but we’re going to deliver sustainability to you, whether you want it or not. I mean, that’s kind of our focus. And so, we really feel as though there’s ways for us to do this that open up new possibilities in the way that we’re developing products. So, I mentioned the collaboration with Patagonia on microplastics.
Mark: That’s a fantastic innovation that is really brought about by an understanding of some of these issues with single-use plastics and water stewardship. Another thing that we’re focused on which is really kind of fun and cool is upcycling. So, as you know, recycling is super important. We need to definitely have all these materials to continue to feed the product development cycle but the fact is that the best way, really, to lower your impact is to keep using a product and especially a lot of these devices have very high levels of functionality sensors and all kinds of other things, cameras storage connectivity, but maybe they’re not good for phones anymore or something like that, right? So, why can’t we use those for other sorts of devices? So we’ve got some programs that we’ve spun up around that are very exciting. As well as ways to get this idea into the hands of all consumers through our galaxy upcycling at-home program that we do and our partnership with SmartThings. Another thing which is really kind of cool is since we live in such a connected world, right? Is the ability to use technology in a way that helps us make better choices. So, SmartThings is a Samsung Company, and it is sort of an IoT-connected hub enabling service. And one of the things that we can do through our SmartThings app that we’ve developed is the idea of managing and monitoring the energy use of all your connected devices in your home. And so having this knowledge is real power and being able to identify like what appliances have the biggest load when you’re running them. And then also knowing something about your utilities so that you can understand when the best time is to run some of those. If you can choose different times of the day to run them. Those are the kinds of things that are going to help us make better decisions and live our lives more efficiently.
John: Well Mark, one of the things that I don’t get to deal with that much is the issue of packaging. I work more on the core materials that are within the electronics themselves and as do you, but talk about the challenges and also the progress you’ve made with regards to packaging and sustainability.
Mark: Sure. I mean, it’s the first thing you throw away, right?
Mark: So as we shouldn’t be shipping, that much of it. When I was at Dell, actually, I worked with a fantastic packaging engineering team. And we came up with this idea called “cube, content, and curb” And so cube, let’s not ship any more air than we need to with the product, right?
Mark: Content. Let’s innovate, let’s bring recycled content in there. Let’s make sure that we’re not contaminating the plastic was something that’s going to make it hard to recycle. And then, related to that is the curb. Let’s not over innovate with regrettable choices. Let’s make sure whatever we’re doing actually makes it so that we can easily recover this stuff so that they can go into curbside recycling. So it can go through the morph and we can actually recover these materials, and keep them out of landfills. And I think those guiding principles are just spot-on and so we have a very similar approach here at Samsung and one of the things that we’ve been able to do is to essentially eliminate single-use plastics in our mobile packaging. And you know, that’s the first step. We have a lot of other packagings for other types of products. And some of those types of products, the cushioning, and things like that are critical, and finding alternatives to things like EPS foam and stuff like that is a real significant challenge. So, we’ve taken on that challenge and the other opportunity is to incorporate recycled content. And so, all of our packagings has at least 50% recycled fiber. And then another thing is to make sure that the fiber you are getting is sustainably sourced, right?
So, all of the wood pulp that we use in any of our paper and cardboard is certified by SFI or PEFC, or FSC. So, those are the kinds of ways that we think about it, you know, use as little as possible. Use as much recycled content as possible. And when we do shift, shift to things that can be easily recycled. It creates a challenge though because at the same time, we want to incorporate recycled plastics and most of the recycled plastics that you get, especially ocean plastics, come from packaging. So if we’re eliminating plastics and packaging, well, where do you put that stuff, right? So it’s a challenge and that’s again, where we’ve got some innovation going on. So, with the ocean plastics, for instance, we’re recapturing fishing nets, that would end up in the ocean. And there’s a lot of them. There’s like three-quarters of a million tons of fishing nets that get wasted every year. And so, if we can just get one of those back, it’s great, but they’re made out of nylon, and there’s not a lot of uses for nylon and in electronics products.
And so we have to be innovative and figure out ways. Well, how do we take that stuff? How do we clean it up? How do we blend it in with other materials that can give us a resin that we can use? And so we’ve been successful in that application. We found some great uses for materials like that, but you really have to think out of the box because this material, the polymers that are out there that are easy to collect that are in the trash, are usually not the stuff that you want to put back into products.
John: That’s so interesting. I’m going to get back to that. I want to talk more about design for sustainability in the sector. I want to go back to Samsung. You now are the head of corporate sustainability for Samsung and Samsung’s Electronics of America. Mark, Samsung is the number one brand on the planet in manufacturing electronics. So, describe a little bit given a unique and rare position you’re in as the leading brand and being at the top of the food chain yourself now in sustainability. It’s both a responsibility and I assume a heavy responsibility but also a blessing because everyone’s watching you. You’re being watched. So you have the opportunity to inspire, but also people are going to want to also throw darts or worse at you. Explain that opportunity and how you toggle that and make that more into an inspirational venture, instead of, of course, the other side.
Mark: Well, okay. That’s a loaded question. But I’ll take a stab at it. It’s actually a very difficult thing because if you step out in front, too far in front on a particular issue, timing – a mature sense of timing is almost everything in this business.
Mark: And so, if you step out too far in front and you really haven’t thought through some of the implications of the innovations that you wanted to bring forward, then yeah, you’re going to be the first one to take an arrow, but at the same time if it’s the right thing to do, then you take those arrows. And so, I would say, a great example of that is energy efficiency. So, energy efficiency is our bread and butter. We’re not shy about getting out in front of our skis on energy-efficient. Somewhere around 80% of the home appliance products that we have that can be energy star certified are. And so over the last 10 years, I think since 2009, we’ve avoided over 300 million metric tons of CO2 emissions through the efficiency improvements of our products. And that goes directly to customers. So, I mean, that’s an area which I don’t care what side of the politics you land on climate change, right? Who can argue with energy efficiency?
John: Virtually, nobody.
Mark: Nobody. I mean, it’s wasteful not to be efficient. And so, it’s one of those things where I think it’s you pick your battles, you find the topics that are material to your business. And that way, when you are focusing on a ring through to the stakeholders and your customers.
John: And you inspire other organizations like yours, then other OEMs and others to follow suit and to lean into this.
Mark: That’s right. Yeah. I mean, we’re not making any friends in some of our trade associations and we’re quite disruptive when it comes to innovation and our support of voluntary standards and things like that. But we do that because we know we can win.
Mark: We have the scale in the engineering horsepower and the customer-based and the product portfolio to be able to deliver on that and some companies don’t have those advantages. And so, that’s the reason why we leaned in on some of these more progressive issues.
John: You know Mark, let’s go back to the issue of design for sustainability. Now, you were, as I said earlier, you’re truly the Godfather of sustainability, especially in our industry, and truly one of the great leaders in sustainability, overall in the world. I know it sounds odd, but I have a great view of this. And I’ve traveled a lot and dealt with a lot of wonderful brands and I know this to be true, but we were early. You were way early and I followed you and I was still early and you were way before me. So, talk a little bit about where we are today, you know, imagine, there were no chief sustainability officers when you were doing what you were doing, and then I followed you, and even when I got in the business, there was no chief sustainability officer. Now, not only do we have heads of corporate sustainability and chief sustainability officers like you but we’ve also involved this whole issue of sustainability in ESG and in circular economy discussions. So, let’s talk about the issue of circularity in the circular economy. If we’re now to believe which seems to be true that we’re moving generationally speaking from a linear to a circular economy, and there’s probably or should be no going back. Electronics being part of that ecosystem which are one of the fastest-growing solid waste streams on the whole planet offer us a huge opportunity. And I always say, and you tell me if I’ve got this right or if I’m missing the mark here. That is one of the greatest untold stories in the circular economy because when folks like you create recycling, both recycling and upcycling programs that go unnoticed, but are making a huge impact, it’s a huge opportunity. And what I mean by that is all the materials that you know, and that you’ve dealt with for so many years that come out of electronics, steel, plastic, copper, aluminum. Now gold, silver, lead, played in now. Even the battery stuff, the cobalt, the lithium, and nickel. It’s all recyclable when done responsibly and can all go back for beneficial reuse. So, truly you’re sitting on top of one of the great circular economy stories that are out there and isn’t part of what you’re doing further growing that and messaging that to your constituents at large.
Mark: Sure. And it fits into our climate strategy too. You know this thing has all the materials that we mine and we process in making the products. All have climate impacts for a mobile product. You know, 80% of those impacts plus are associated with the manufacture of that product. And for that reason, if we think about a circularity strategy. We’re talking about recycling all the time. We’re drumming, and have been drumming it into our kids for generations. You know, what we don’t really talk about and what we should be talking about, especially if we’re going to try to solve this climate crisis is extending the life of these products. And that is not contrary to popular belief juxtaposed to the business interests of companies that are manufacturing products. We find that there are customers that want to buy brand-new stuff. They’re always gonna be there that do that. But then, there are others that want to keep their products moving forward longer and there are many of them. And then, there are others that could never get into a flagship product, for instance, but might want a refurbished, a product, like our certified renewed products that comes with Samsung genuine parts, a new battery, and a full warranty, but at a significant discount and it gets them into those products once they realize what they can do.
So, it’s very integrated. You know, the way we think about this and our scale is a big part of it. We collect through partnerships with you guys. I mean, the innovations that you guys bring to us and the capabilities you bring to us is just amazing and absolutely essential to our circularity goals and our ability to execute but through you and some partners like yourself, we’re collecting over 100 million pounds of electronics every year in the United States. And that’s only about 10% of what we do globally. It’s incredible. So, we’re on track to, I think something like 10 million metric tons of e-waste by 2030 globally. I can’t even put my head around the number like that but it creates this opportunity to get that material back. But there are two ways to look at it.
One is this closed-looped idea which I think is somewhat constraining. It’s good to do. It’s important to do but probably what’s more important is to think about the materials that are coming through your waste stream as maybe a feedstock for other processes. Maybe your own but others. And also, think about more broadly, waste products that are coming from other industries as potential feedstocks for yours. And so, although I like the idea of closed-loop recycling, I think for a long time, it put constraints on the idea of what a circular economy looks like.
John: You’re 100% right in that, Mark. Like you said, all the materials that come out of in the United States that say the 100 million pounds of responsibly recycled electronics that Samsung engages in, on an annual basis which is one-tenth. So, let’s assume a billion pounds a year internationally. Those materials even if they don’t go into new cellphones and tablets, can go into other items for beneficial use and it’s staying out of landfills and staying out of the environment.
Mark: That’s right.
John: Let’s go back to something you just said though about climate change because the listeners, I need them to hear this from you. When you recycle, for instance, aluminum that comes out of your old electronics. Speak a little bit about the energy savings and the climate intersection that creates and the energy savings from recycling all those materials that come out of old electronics.
Mark: Sure. I mean refining metals like aluminum and steel is like 95% more energy-intense than recycling them. So, it’s critical and as a result of that, there’s a very high recycling rate of materials like that. 80% to 95% recovery of aluminum and steel. And so that’s great. That’s a real success story, I think. And we need to think about that when we’re considering some of these other materials that we want to bring back in. I think batteries are a big one. If you think about it, batteries now as we move more towards portable electronics and integrated electronics in peril and all kinds of things, right? Batteries are going to be more and more important. Never mind all the batteries we need for our EVs and all the batteries that are going to be used for energy storage. If you look at the road map for lithium-ion technology and you talked about the cobalt and the lithium and the nickel. There’s really only line of sight out to about 20-25 in terms of where those materials are going to come from. Even if you want to dig up cobalt into congo which nobody wants to do. It’s you have to get really smart on mining these materials from waste and I think it’s a travesty. I don’t know how to solve this problem, John. I’d love to have your insights on it because we’ve hit a wall. No matter how convenient we make this, no matter how much education we put out all the way from elementary school up through the- you know when you get your utility bill in the mail as a homeowner. It’s all about recycling, recycling, and recycling. But we’ve hit a wall like 20% is about all we can get back for electronics. So, that’s a big challenge. And the other challenge is logistics when we get these materials, they’re usually not where we want them.
Mark: We dig them up out of the ground in places that are very well defined but then we peanut butter spread them all over the planet, once we put them into products. And so getting them back is a logistical nightmare but also very costly and inefficient. So, these are things that are very, very challenging problems that we need to address because we don’t have another alternative. We literally don’t have the number of planets that we need for all the materials that are going to feed the rise of the middle class on the planet which we all want.
John: If you’ve just joined us, now, we’ve got Mark Newton. He’s the head of corporate sustainability for Samsung Electronics America. Mark, you mentioned earlier, first of all, the upcycling and the secondary and tertiary markets that your great mobile devices can continually be used in. Talk a little bit about the huge announcement you recently made which is I think, a massive wind for everybody and the environment of course as a whole and the planet as a whole with regards to convenient repair and the partnership you just did with iFixit. Do you want to share a little bit about that groundbreaking relationship and announcement you recently made?
Mark: Sure. Well, it’s a deliberate part of our strategy which we’d said, many years ago to expand the convenience for repair for our customers. So, we already had a very extensive authorized repair network but a couple of years ago, we realized that we could do better and we decided to expand that to independent service providers. And so, we have now a much more extensive repair network for our customers where they can go into small, and medium-sized businesses and get their products repaired with Samsung authorized parts without necessarily having to go to an authoritative repair center where we would normally do warranty returns and things like that. So, so that really opens it up. And then going even further, we understand that there are some people that are going to want to do some basic repairs on common things that are safe for them to repair and can be repaired in a way where the product will be reliable. And so, that’s something we’ve been working on for quite some time and as you said, we just announced a partnership with iFixit, and iFixit is uniquely positioned to interact with small repair shops as well as individuals that are interested in repairing their product in terms of providing them parts as well as tools and instruction on how to do that. So they are a natural partner. We’ve been partnering with them for quite some time on a number of different issues and this just seemed like a really natural extension. What we’re trying to do is to make a repair as convenient and accessible and safe as possible.
John: You know Mark, a few years back, I had the absolute pleasure of having lunch with you in New York City. This is way before covid and then you took me down to your Innovation Center in Downtown New York, and you really gave me a great window and visibility on the future of electronics, and I was very moved and inspired by that afternoon we spent together. Before we sign off today and say goodbye, can you share a little bit about two things, 1.) What gets you out of bed every morning working at Samsung, one of the most iconic and ubiquitous brands now on the whole planet? and 2.) What’s the future hold? What challenges do you get up in the morning looking to tackle but also what things excite you besides tackling some problems and challenges as what’s out there to keep doing in the future to stay ahead and make the world a better place which I know you do every day.
Mark: I’ve been so fortunate to be part of such amazing companies and so, the little things that myself and my team were able to do have a huge impact and that’s what gets me up in the morning. I really feel like even the small things that we do make a big difference, but I’ll tell you as far as we’ve come, we have so much to do and the easy apples have already been picked up, right? So these are the tougher ones too.
Mark: I talked about metals recovery. I think we really need to do a much better job about that. My fractional weight more of our products are made from metal than plastics and we have a very robust plastics strategy in terms of eliminating it from our packaging and also adapting it into our products, but I think metals, although we do some of that, we’re not as deliberate as we should be. Some of this is just happening. We talked about steel and aluminum. Just by using steel and aluminum, you have probably 60% to 80% recycled content in your product. But that’s just a starting point and we need to be focused more about this little more deliberately, I think. I also talked about reuse. I think that we’ve talked a lot about recycling and it’s super important. If you don’t have recycling, you don’t have a circular economy. But at the same time, if we look at the intersection between circularity and climate, if we’re not building products to be durable and infrastructure for those products to be used longer because the product can be fine, but the infrastructure could change, right? And so all those things have to go together then really we’re missing out on some great opportunities in order to impact our footprint.
I think think the number is something like adding another year to your mobile phone can reduce the life cycle impact of your phone by 30%. Yeah, it’s dramatic and so it’s just the opposite though on home appliances. Most of the climate impacts are associated with use about 80%. And so it doesn’t make sense at all for you to have a very inefficient washer or dryer or TV or refrigerator in your house when you can swap it out for something more efficient. So, that’s something, I think reuse is really important and we need to be thinking more about that in communicating more. And then the last thing I’ll point out is something that I think is more aspirational and that is considering a shift to more of a service model. There are some pros and cons to that from a sustainability standpoint, but it sets up the right behaviors when you have an interaction with your customer where there’s an expectation that the material is going to come back to you, right? Then you have an incentive to design that in a modular fashion.
You have the infrastructure set up for the reverse logistics and you also have an incentive for that product to be used for as long as possible and upgradeable without it necessarily having to result in another piece of equipment that you’re going to send because now you’re doing something like instead of selling a TV, you’re selling the ability for someone to have amazing content viewed in their home, right? And the TV just becomes a device for that and so I think manufacturers have an opportunity to shift. This isn’t anything that’s revolutionary. If it was revolutionary, you’d go back to Ray Anderson’s interface, and in the way, you revolutionize the carpet in this exact same way, right?
Mark: And before that, the carpet materials weren’t even designed in a way that they could be recycled easily, now, they are. Before that, if you got a cigarette burn on a carpet, you replace the whole carpet. Now you replace the square. Well, imagine if you have a product that’s let’s say a display that’s modular and a pixel goes out on the TV where you replace a segment of that array rather than the entire TV, and we are already producing TVs like that. So I think with the idea of creating modular products and driving efficiencies through that coupled with a service model which is already playing out in the cellphone industry. A lot of people don’t own their own cell phones. They pay for their phone service and they get a free phone with it, right? They’re considered to be free. So why can’t we do that with other products, and sectors? And I think that there’s an opportunity there.
John: We’re seeing potentially in the future electronics become part of the shared economy.
Mark: That’s right. Good way to put it, John.
John: That’s got it. Well Mark, obviously, I’m the CEO of your fan club. I’m so thankful that you were able to make it on the Impact Podcast today. For our listeners and viewers out there to find Mark and his team of great sustainability experts at Samsung. Please go to www.samsung.com, you can click on the sustainability section. You could find all the things they’re doing in circularity and together for tomorrow, they really embody that, and Mark, I really appreciate your time today. I also appreciate you not only for those reasons, but I appreciate you as a friend and someone who’s inspiring me for the last 20 years to just do better every day. Not be perfect, but do better. And I know you’re making the world a better place. You’ve made the better world, a better place during your whole career and for that, I’m really grateful, but I’m even more grateful that you’re, my friend. Thank you for joining us today on the Impact Podcast.
Mark: Thank you, John. It’s my honor.
John: This episode of the impact podcast is brought to you by Closed Loop Partners. Closed Loop Partners is a leading circular economy investor in the United States with an extensive network of fortune 500 corporate investors, family offices, institutional investors industry experts, and impact partners. The Closed Loops platform spans the arc of capital from venture capital to private equity, bridging gaps, and fostering synergies to scale the circular economy. To find Closed Loop Partners, please go to www.closedlooppartners.com.