The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] ‘Sustainability helps employees focus, companies attract talent’

Philips’ sustainability head stresses development must be blended sustainably with business, not treated as side activity

By Lee Yoon-seo

Published : Oct. 23, 2023 - 14:20

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Robert Metzke, the global head of sustainability at Royal Philips (Royal Philips) Robert Metzke, the global head of sustainability at Royal Philips (Royal Philips)

Incorporating sustainability into corporate strategies doesn’t just help the planet, it also helps a company in practical ways — such as attracting more funds and motivating employees, Royal Philips’ head of sustainability told The Korea Herald in a recent interview.

“Companies that create and offer sustainable solutions gain more advantages,” Robert Metzke, who oversees the Netherlands-based global health care giant’s strategies for sustainable development, said in a virtual interview last Tuesday.

“For example, sustainability motivates people. When we were mainstreaming our eco-friendly initiatives and issuing green bonds to attract additional funds, we were able to attract seven times more investors than what we originally aimed for, due to the nature of what we were trying to do,” he said.

He continued: “If you tell somebody in a factory I need to make more money, it’s not very inspiring. But if you tell them what you and your factory do is really important in improving people's lives tomorrow, that moves people.”

Integrating sustainability with corporate initiatives also gives purpose to the company’s employees and generates value, added Metzke.

“Environmental, social and governance value-backed initiatives help employees to focus, and they also help the company to attract competent talent,” he said.

“Our purpose is to improve 2 1/2 billion people’s lives. Such initiatives help employees to take pride in what they do, and be further motivated in working.”

Under Metzke’s supervision, Philips has met all the eco-friendly targets it set during the 2016 to 2020 period — which included recycling 90 percent of its operational waste and generating 15 percent of its total sales from circular business models.

When asked about how Philips has been able to successfully carry out ESG-backed corporate policies, Metzke emphasized that sustainable development must be blended with the company's business tactics, and not be treated just as a side activity.

“Philips’ sustainability initiatives were successfully carried out because it’s really a part of what we do. I have seen many examples outside our company where people try to carry out ESG-related activities, briefly, on a Friday afternoon. We need to have the principles deeply integrated into what we do,” said Metzke.

Specifically, such measures involve developing products that leave little carbon footprints, and building strong partnerships with entities with similar aims, to really embed the ESG principles in the company's core strategies, operations and investments.

Additionally, in order for companies to further successfully carry out ESG-value integrated corporate policies, Metzke emphasized that companies need to understand their own carbon footprints.

“Industries need to know where their carbon footprints are, and not just within the walls of the factories,” he said.

“We need to know where in our supply chain (carbon footprints are being made) and especially what our products do. For example, we need to understand the amount of electricity our products that have been put into markets use," he said.

Currently, Philips aims to generate 25 percent of its revenue from products that contribute to the circular economy, as well as to source over 75 percent of total energy consumption from renewable sources by 2025.

"Leading care providers around the world understand that they need more sustainable solutions," he said.

"Creating sustainable solutions creates a competitive advantage for companies. Formulating corporate strategies aimed at sustainable development is one of the most important principles for Philips.”