By Robert Metzke Philips Global Head of Sustainability
Estimated reading time: 4-6 minutes
People often ask me why sustainable development is such an important topic for me. The answer is simple: human development for all, within the ecological capacity of our planet, is the most important challenge of our time.
Climate change is having a huge impact on the lives – and livelihoods – of people across the world. And in the area of healthcare, the World Health Organization (WHO) and the World Bank report that up to 3.5 billion people – half the world’s population – lack access to the health services they need.
At the age of 16, I witnessed the fall of the Wall in Germany. A moment when everything I knew seemed to change instantly. It fired my curiosity and imagination, and triggered me to start exploring the world. Fascinated with the evolution of complex systems, I decided to study physics to gain a better understanding.
Human society is the ultimate example of a complex, self-organizing system with emergent and often changing behavior. Many approaches have been taken to understand and model how to best organize ourselves; balancing the interests of the many, including the interests of future generations and other species. I dare say our collective understanding of social dynamics is still very rudimentary, but it seems clear to me that an understanding of economics is an important part of this.
With that in mind, I went on to learn more about economics and industry as a force for innovation and change, and eventually I joined Philips, with its clear focus on improving people’s health and well-being.
I am convinced that by understanding what’s going on around us, we can take the right action to bring about change. And that’s exactly what is happening at Philips today. We are changing the way we strategize, innovate, purchase, and produce – all to make tomorrow’s world healthier and more sustainable.
On the social side – as part of our target to improve the lives of 2.5 billion people a year by 2030 – we have developed new perspectives on how to expand access to care for underserved communities. For instance, through the further digitalization of care.
All these topics require urgent action. We continue to prioritize and embed sustainability in our innovation processes and apply EcoDesign requirements in product design, focusing on energy efficiency, packaging, substances, weight & materials, and circularity.
They also require us to team up with our customers and partners to amplify our ecological and social impact far beyond our own operations, and to build strong coalitions to drive global change. This includes working with our suppliers to reduce the environmental footprint of our entire supply chain in line with a 1.5 oC global warming scenario. Unavoidable carbon emissions in our own operations will be offset via investment in health-benefitting environmental projects, such as safe drinking water, clean energy, biodiversity, and forestation programs.
For me, the biggest learning, and challenge, has been to rally everyone – our customers, stakeholders, employees and partners – behind the idea that actively contributing to sustainable development is not only good for business. It is the only way to do business. Think about it: by 2030 we need to significantly reduce our global carbon emissions and achieve universal health coverage. That means that by 2025, we need to make major investments to deliver on this. Which in turn means that in the next two years or so we must all take some major decisions to make it happen, including rethinking our economic models to become more circular and inclusive.
A hopeful perspective
From the many conversations I have with colleagues, customers and stakeholders, I feel a huge sense of urgency, energy and commitment. And a shared understanding that we really need to move at a much faster speed.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is how interconnected the social, economic and environmental challenges we face are. Crucially, though, it has also demonstrated that a large-scale, comprehensive response is possible, provided we all commit to it. Innovating our way out of a crisis, guided by purpose.
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Mr. Metzke leads Philips’ activities in Sustainability where he drives the company’s strategy towards innovative, sustainable business models and embedding sustainable and circular ways of working across Philips.
In particular, Robert and his team are leading all activities with regards to Philips' environmental responsibility, with a focus on climate action, circular economy and expanding access to healthcare in underserved communities, as part of Philips overall purpose to improve people's health and well-being. Before joining Philips, Mr. Metzke worked at McKinsey & Company as a consultant where he gained 5 years of experience in strategy and innovation in the high-tech, healthcare and public sectors. Mr. Metzke has a background in journalism, science publishing (Science/ AAAS) and academic research (physics). He is married, has three children and lives in the Netherlands.