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A new era of sustainability: Why prevention is better than a cure



When I was growing up, my parents didn’t give much thought to recycling waste – if they did, it perhaps involved a trip to the bottle bank. The way they saw it, protecting the environment was laudable but not always practicable.


Today, my working life begins and ends with these issues – and many, many more. How can we make products that improve people’s lives yet have minimal impact on the planet’s resources? Where can we find ecologically sound partners in the farthest corners of the globe who can help bring our innovations to fresh markets? Which new techniques should we invest in to ensure that the Philips of tomorrow is even more environmentally friendly?


The global population consumes 2.5 times the resources that the Earth can sustainably support. Little wonder, then, that everything we do at Philips is underpinned by the concept of sustainability.


For example, we’re currently developing a green portfolio that focuses primarily on energy and resource efficiency and by the end of 2015, we want these products to make up half of all our sales. We’re close to that figure already (and aim to be 100 per cent green eventually), with our LED lighting systems being one of our most popular and important innovations, providing energy savings of up to 80 per cent.


But it’s not just at the delivery end that we strive to display green credentials. I truly believe that sustainability issues must be addressed even at the conceptual stage. This is where our EcoDesign program comes into play. An initiative that we launched 20 years ago, EcoDesign ensures our products, throughout their life, incur lest costs, consume less energy and emit decreasing levels of harmful gases such as CO2.


We split these products into three broad categories – Now (current), Soon (in the pipeline) and Later (what our enlightened innovators see as the future). And all must overcome many self-imposed ecological barriers.


Let’s take LED lighting as an example. The bulbs use less energy than most other types of lamps, require less packaging, last longer so there’s less waste, are mercury-free and can be housed in special luminaires designed for easier disassembly and recycling. Plus, our latest solar and battery developments mean we can provide light for the third of humanity which currently lives without electricity.


There is a mantra that defines our company’s proudest achievements ­– “prevention is better than cure”. When it comes to sustainability, the same principle applies. We want to ‘cure’ the planet, to make our lives better, healthier, longer. But we must first focus on preventing harm to the environment. If the planet is healthier, then we will be, too.


The world is continually changing and so must our sustainability policy – it’s a never-ending cycle of improvement, technological advancement and assessment. By 2050, there will be nine billion people on the planet – all wanting a high quality of life that we must achieve within the Earth’s resources.


Which brings us to the most important aspect of all. People. This company is a powerhouse of innovation and intellectual capital; there is always an expert somewhere along the corridor who has the answer you need. And every working day these people strive for two things – to make society better and the planet healthier.

Henk De Burin  

Senior-Vice President, Royal Philips, Global Head Philips Sustainability

Henk de Bruin is the global Head of Sustainability within Royal Philips. Reporting to the Executive Committee, Mr. De Bruin focuses on strategy and policy development and stakeholder management.


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