In 1632, Rembrandt painted a group of learned men dissecting a corpse. At a time when the inner workings of the body were mostly a mystery, their curiosity pushed the boundaries of human understanding. This period of Dutch history is called the Golden Age, because the economy was flourishing and science was making incredible progress.
Our modern era is similarly remarkable. Recently we landed a satellite on a comet. Self-driving cars and virtual reality are going to be common in a few years. Innovations in big data, connected devices and the Internet of Things are fundamentally changing how we socialize, work, play and learn.
Health care is also entering a new phase. At Philips, we are developing minimally invasive methods to treat patients by using concentrated waves of ultrasound to destroy tumors, allowing patients to recover sooner without large incisions. Or we enable doctors around the world to share expertise and digital cancer biopsies to arrive at better diagnoses. We also want to empower you to monitor and manage your health and want health care to be provided as a seamless service between your home, the hospital and your doctors.
I see this ability to change the world reflected in your generation. You are confident, expressive, liberal, and upbeat. You are digital natives, always connected, always sharing. And you’re on track to become the most educated generation in history. Your spark is very welcome at an innovative company like Philips.
I am also aware that your generation is faced with its own challenges. Your entry into the workforce, for example, has been set back by the recent recession. A large percentage of you are unemployed, which is frustrating and may have consequences for many years to come.
But I urge you not to lose heart. My generation will only have part of the needed answers to global challenges like climate change, population growth, poverty, hunger, and chronic illnesses such as diabetes and cancer. What we need, is your energy and fresh perspective. We need you to have courage to take a radically different approach and to pursue a course that my generation is not able to perceive.
I know you can. You are already considering natural resources in your buying decisions. As consumers you prefer to deal with responsible companies. And you rather share and rent than buy and own, which is evident in the stellar success of companies such as Über and AirBnb. It is this attitude that is driving revolutionary business concepts like the circular economy.
The old economy – the one my generation inherited and took to its very limits – is linear. Products are used in one specific way, discarded and then replaced with an upgraded version. This is inefficient and creates an unsustainable stream of waste. In the circular economy – which I hope you will make the new standard – products are designed and built for multiple and endless (re)use.
Philips and other pioneering companies are embracing the circular economy. We are creating new business models that encourage consumers to pay for the use of the product or solution rather than permanent ownership. And we are changing how we design, produce, ship and service our products. For us, the circular economy is both a competitive necessity and a way to solve the problem of resource constraints. But it is also a major business opportunity that creates hundreds of thousands of jobs, many of which I hope will be taken up by you and other Millennials.
The world needs more revolutionary ideas like the circular economy and I call on you to generate them. You will be the entrepreneurs, politicians, educators, inventors and leaders who will turn ideas into action and lay the groundwork for generations to come.