Coming clean

Samsung announces phase out of hazardous chemicals in products

Feature story - June 17, 2004
Consumer power scored another victory recently with the announcement from electronics giant Samsung that it plans to phase out hazardous chemicals in its products. Seeing its brand-name products graded red - as containing hazardous chemicals - on the Greenpeace database, prompted the company to do the right thing on dangerous chemicals.

Samsung annouces phase out of hazardous chemicals.

In May 2004 we published our chemical house website to inform consumers which everyday products, from cleaning products to computers, contain nasty chemicals and what alternatives are available. Until last week, Samsung products like TVs, mobile phones and computers were all on the red list. From the list, it was clear that, for example, Phillips televisions were a better choice when out shopping if you wanted to use your purchase to vote for a cleaner environment.

But now Samsung has leapt to the top of the class and chosen to lead its competitors by being the first electronics company to commit to substitute safer chemicals in place of hazardous chemicals in all, rather than just some of its products.

We hope that other companies respond to our red list as well: "Samsung is setting a trend in the field of substitution of hazardous chemicals in consumer products," says Bart van Opzeeland of Greenpeace. "This should serve as a example for other companies and provide a roadmap for a new strict European chemicals policy, which the European Union (EU) is currently developing."

Gregor Margetson, Head of European Environmental Affairs for Samsung Electronics Europe said: "Samsung Electronics has always taken environmental issues seriously and our work with Greenpeace shows we welcome constructive input on such subjects. Their initial criticism motivated us to re-evaluate our goals and consider what is truly possible. We choose to take the difficult option because we have ambitions to become a more sustainable company, and we realise that this prize comes at a price."

Leading the way

Other companies such as IKEA, Hennes and Mauritz (H&M), Marks and Spencer, and the UK Co-op have taken progressive stances on chemicals. Others like Disney choose not to address the problem of hazardous chemicals in their products. It's up to consumers to demonstrate that this choice, too, comes at a price.

Currently the EU is drafting a new law on chemicals. It was originally designed to protect the environment and human health by forcing dirty industry and companies to use safer chemicals. However it now seems to becoming more about protecting the chemical industry, after extensive lobbying by industry and some governments. Samsung's announcement is proof that we don't need hazardous chemicals in our everyday products and helps counter the industry lobbying.

Choices driving change

Every time you go shopping you have the chance to use your purchasing choices as a vote for or against a company policy. Looking for furniture? Taking a trip to IKEA not only means products mostly without toxic chemicals but also furniture that isn't made from ancient forests. Also Home Depot has committed to move away from buying timber from endangered forests. When making home improvements, buying Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) timber products means your home isn't made from the home of gorillas or orang-utans. It also means that you are raising demand for FSC timber and therefore making suppliers increase stocks of FSC products.

What you buy makes a difference, just as NOT buying a product can impact a company or policy. When filling up your car, not stopping at Exxon/Esso gas station means you are hitting the profits of the company that is doing the most to fuel global warming. Avoiding Nestle products in the supermarket shows you don't support their pro-genetic engineering stance and dubious marketing tactics in developing countries. Recently Sainsbury's, a leading UK supermarket decided to trial genetically engineered (GE) free milk from diary cattle not fed on GE animal feed. This was the result of our campaign to offer Sainsbury's customers organic milk for free in exchange for Sainsbury's GE milk outside stores.

Use that power

So the next time you are shopping or thinking about a big purchase, take some time to get informed. Make sure that your choices are helping make the world a better place, rather than funding its destruction.

Get informed

Link to chemical house

Check out how the consumer products you buy rate by chemical content. Also in French, Dutch.

Get a consumer guide to GE food in your country.

Ancient forest friendly paper buying tips.

Green living tips to reduce the need for environmentally damaging products.

Hints, real experiences and the pros and cons of ethical living from the Guardian (UK). US relevant information on green living from the NRDC and