"We are looking at how to redesign products and how to re-use parts of them"
"We are looking at how to redesign products and how to re-use parts of them"
Interview with Emma Sandberg, Senior Experience Lead at the Personal Health division, and Associate Design Director, Philips Experience Design
Exclusively for K-MAG
Chris Lefteri: Tell me what you do and what do you do on a day-to-day basis?
Emma Sandberg: I am a Senior Experience Lead at the Personal Health division as well as Associate Design Director at Philips Experience Design in Amsterdam. We are designing the full customer-journey from an end-to-end point of view, including product, digital, communication to go-to-market strategy across the Health Continuum. Many projects include value creation, where we are looking at future propositions that add value to our customers and users. My role as a Senior Experience Lead is to orchestrate this with our design team and working close to internal stakeholders to make sure we deliver value at every touch point. In the Associate Design Director role, I am leading the Personal Health product and colour-material-finish and graphics team together with the Studio Director. It's a team of roughly 25 designers sitting in Amsterdam.
Lefteri: So in terms of Phillips' approach to building a holistic experience, do you have any thoughts on how materials, and plastics specifically, fit into that?
Eureka electrical breast pump, housing in mono-material with added grip texture in the plastic. Copyright: Philips
Sandberg: As a purpose-driven company, we understand that we have a responsibility to act and are continuously seeking ways to improve our environmental impact. We believe that many small changes can add up to make a difference, and now’s the time to drive action. As part of our Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) priorities, we have set ourselves ambitious environmental targets. In my role as a Sustainability Ambassador, together with other ambassadors we are teaming up to change the way we are designing our products, with plastics being a big part of the transformation into sustainable and circular solutions. Regarding sustainability and plastics, you need to think holistically on the whole ecosystem and how everything is connected, which can be quite complicated.
One example is that we are trying to change the use of mono-materials instead of multi-material solutions such as 2K moulding with rubber. Instead looking at surface treatments, patterns and eco-friendly finishes that will not be an issue in the recycle process at the end-of-life stage.
The Philips Sonicare app connects to both the Philips Sonicare DiamondClean Smart and the FlexCare Platinum Connected toothbrushes. Copyright: Philips
We are also driving change through digital solutions, and many propositions are marrying the hardware and the software. With the digital solutions we can make upgrades to a product without selling a new one. A bit like what you have with computers, cars, and mobile phones. This is also becoming a hygiene factor for our customers.
We are on a journey towards a healthier and more sustainable world and believe that together we can drive the transition we need to unlock meaningful change.
Lefteri: Yes, how do you deal with that? It's difficult enough to deal with that with the experience and approach of designing hardware with any kind of product but if you’re dealing with a limited palate of materials that have to fulfil very tight criteria for healthcare, and childcare, what's your approach?
Sandberg: Yes, so we have to go back to the user, and the requirements. For example, if you're talking about a baby bottle, there are food and safety requirements in terms of what goes in the baby's mouth. But it's also the perception of the user: will they be open to recycled materials? We have to combine all of that and then look at the opportunities and options, which is a fine balance. For example, with toothbrushes, you have disposable brush-heads that you change quarterly, and by changing them for a biobased polypropylene it has a huge impact. Same with baby soothers and teats in the baby bottles. On the medical side, you obviously have very strict requirements, and safety is always going to be the leading requirement. However, we are looking at how to redesign certain products and tools that are currently being thrown away after a one-time operation, and how to re-use parts of them for further life cycles. So the challenges vary a lot across the different business units, and you need to understand the full picture in order to drive change that matters the most for the specific field of use.
Lefteri: Just on this idea of using recycled plastics in products that go in people's mouths or bodies, have you done any research to find out if those types of consumers have a problem with using recycled plastics in that context?
Sandberg: We're conducting quite a lot of studies on this at the moment. It depends on the product and the domain. When it comes to the more sensitive, very high safety products, it's not only a matter of "Are we able to do it?", it's also about dealing with consumers' perception. They want sustainable options and solutions but because it's recycled, they might think it's a waste material.
Lefteri: Do you promote, for example, toothbrush heads that might be made from recycled plastic? Or is it something you just do quietly?
Sandberg: We are conscious of our responsibilities towards society. We recognize that human health and environmental health go hand in hand together. When we offer products made from recycled plastics, we will communicate about it. Our message needs to be clear and consistent. There are huge opportunities here, and especially in the personal health business.
Lefteri: Yes, you have to be very careful: it's a fine line to tread between promoting the positive aspects of the environment and plastics but also being quite sensitive to the fact these are healthcare products.
Sandberg: Yes absolutely.
Lefteri: In the time you've been working for Phillips, the whole communication of sustainability of products has gone through a huge number of changes in a very short space of time. The term "bioplastic" is as far as I'm concerned, an archaic term now, for example, it's so generic. Have you found huge changes since the time you've been there in terms of how you talk about sustainability and materials?
Sandberg: At Philips we have seen a huge change in the awareness and perception of sustainability and circular economy. Philips achieved its 2020 environmental targets and became one of the first health technology companies in the world to become fully carbon neutral in its operations and are constantly innovating to develop more sustainable products and solutions that use less energy, last longer and use less materials to produce. We have set ourselves ambitious environmental targets and by 2025, we aim to design all of our products in line with our EcoDesign requirements. Today, all our new proposition creations are considering sustainability and how we can make a change and impact.
Lefteri: Can I go back to the toothbrush? The one I saw two years ago – the diamond clean – you gave instructions for how to disassemble it and remove the battery – is that something you were involved in?
Sandberg: No I was not involved, the product you saw on the market was developed by our team in Bothell, Seattle area.
Lefteri: You mentioned this idea of key bets you're focusing on for the next plastic-free packaging and new business models, is that something you can explain a little more… what is a key bet? What is your bet?
Sandberg: In Personal Health, the three key areas we are 'tackling' are; number one: product durability and recyclability, number two: selection of materials, and number three: energy efficiency / renewable energy. As a 'shorter' deadline of 2025, we are focusing on the more urgent 'low hanging fruit' opportunities with for example plastic-free packaging, that means removing all plastics in the packaging. This is also something that has become a bit of a 'hygiene factor' and our customers are expecting us to have offers that are not including plastic in the packaging.
Night Owl connected baby video monitor, with partly recycled plastic and with laster engraved graphics to avoid ink pollution on the plastic. Copyright: Philips
Number two; selection of materials – is the horizon 2, and will take some time to implement and change current solutions where possible.
Number 3; business models – Is where we have great opportunities. For example; refurbishment – keeping the product in use over multiple life cycles, subscription models (with try and buy), recycle programs for FMCG and disposables, etc. We offer people the choice of renting selected products instead of buying, which can be returned after use – for reuse or refurbishment – like the Lumea Try and Buy. Again, going back to the consumer demand and what makes sense for our end users.
Lefteri: Yes, that's common in places like Korea – where you lease products, and after time you give it back, so the manufacturer is responsible for repair, maintenance, re-claiming.
Sandberg: Yes, in some cultures that's the norm, and is going to change a lot in the western world looking ahead to the coming couple of years. We already have quite a few products on subscription, for example the IPL hair removal device and also products like breast pumps, which you will only need for a shorter period of time.
Lefteri: If I understand your responsibilities, you're managing a team of product designers, digital, CMF, engineers, and maybe marketing is part of this mix somewhere: how do you do that, because there are so many opportunities for materials not to reach product, and reach the market, because of engineering problems, marketing not being able to say something, design not being able to manufacture something or achieve the right finish, how do you manage all these problems that are really obstacles for you to realise these goals of health and sustainability with plastics?
Sandberg: My direct responsibility is the design team that is working on the end-to-end solution. My 'stake holders' are the marketing, engineering teams and research and development teams. To drive opportunity for material change, as a Sustainability Ambassador, we are both working with advocating sustainability internally and have to drive this systematically in any opportunity that we see. It can be when deciding what material that is possible for a product, it can be in value creation proposition work, or when creating our color and material library. You basically have to look for opportunity where-ever you can, and have a bit of an entrepreneurial mindset to drive change.
It is also about education. Sustainability is a very important topic but not always easy to implement. I don't have all the answers. I'm in it because I want to learn and understand about how we can be better, it truly is a journey.
Lefteri: So my last question is: what would you want to see at an event like the K show from the plastics industry?
Sandberg: It's very relevant to our business, I would love to see more high quality medical grade plastics and materials that are also inspiring from a desirability point of view: in terms of the excitement plastics can bring.
Lefteri: Yes, desirability is very important, particularly now.
Sandberg: Absolutely. Especially for more high-end products, desirability is very important. That can happen through excitement, what materials and plastics can actually bring, in the touch and feel and when you're using it as well.
Lefteri: Yes, great point to end on. If you expect consumers to buy into this kind of product that will incur a higher cost, the least you can do is make it more desirable?
Sandberg: Yes for sure. The material can also bring other benefits to the consumer such as ease of use, how easy it is to clean and how do you maintain a product for a long time, the longevity of it?
Lefteri: Yes, exactly, bringing added value to the product. Yes. That was great. I really enjoyed the conversation.
Sandberg: Likewise. It was super nice to connect again.