Robert Metzke: ‘Digitalization is an important key to sustainable development’

Many improvements in healthcare are possible through further digitization. This is why responsible and sustainable digitization is a priority at Philips, as it is at Amsterdam Economic Board. In the Board Talk series, we talked with Board member Robert Metzke, Global Head of Sustainability at Philips.

Robert Metzke’s work at Philips brings together everything that the Amsterdam Economic Board is committed to: a smart, green and healthy Metropolis of Tomorrow. As the global Head of Sustainability at a health technology company, he tries to contribute to such a future. “You cannot see climate change and health in isolation from each other. Our climate has a major impact on our health. The World Health Organization has named the Paris climate agreement one of the most important health agreements of the 21st century. And — also an important factor, says Metzke: healthcare has a major impact on the environment. The sector is responsible for more than 4 percent of our global CO2-emissions, while more than half of the people do not even have access to good health care. “In the Netherlands, that percentage is at around 7 percent. So we have to work hard on sustainable healthcare.”

An important part in this is a responsible use of data and technology. Why?

Because digitization is an important key to sustainable development† Thanks to artificial intelligence, we can analyze data better and make predictions. Not only with regard to the maintenance of machines that we use in healthcare, but also to treat patients more efficiently and better. Telehealth took off during the covid19 crisis.” Telehealth is the application of information and communication technology in healthcare. “We can also provide that care remotely thanks to digitization. This has to be done in a responsible and sustainable way: we have to handle data and our resources with care.

What obstacles are there for a responsible use of data and technology? How can we eliminate those?

“I don’t think technology is the problem. It’s about collaboration. I used to think governance was a boring word, but in the end it’s about making decisions that involve all your stakeholders. Recently, the book Bloed, zweet, maar samen (Blood, Sweat but Together) was published. It is about collaboration between companies for sustainability and it contains many practical examples.” Fellow member of the Board Jacqueline Cramer previously introduced the concept of network management. “I think that’s what it’s all about: finding a common language for the network so that we can get things done at different levels.”

This collaboration can also help to accelerate and scale necessary changes. “In order to get people on board, you first have to have a good story that they can relate to and contribute to. Amsterdam Economic Board focuses on a green, smart and healthy future. Philips has set itself the goal of improving 2.5 billion people’s lives every year from 2030.”

Which solutions regarding the responsible use of data and technology are you working on in concrete terms?

“As a Board, we are closely involved in AI Technology for People, an initiative of Amsterdam knowledge institutions, the Municipality of Amsterdam and the Amsterdam Economic Board. This ensures that we can use artificial intelligence in such a way that we as a society can benefit from it. The basis of this program is responsible data use. We handle data ethically, ensure that artificial intelligence contributes to the well-being of people and the technology must be robust. We also apply the ‘fairness’ principle: we are committed to preventing discrimination by AI.”

Do such principles also limit what can be done with data?

“Of course. But responsible handling of data is an absolute condition for using data and AI. The alternative are models that do not match our standards and values. Everyone involved in this agrees. These principles also apply, for example, to the Health Data Infrastructure that we are working on as a Board, together with hospitals, general practitioners, the NKI and universities, among others. We are now working on a number of use cases, have appointed a quartermaster and are working on financing. The idea is that we will further expand the platform at the end of this year. One of the use cases was a risk classification for covid patients, which GPs in the region could use. Based on algorithms developed on their own data, they were able to estimate which patients needed which care.”

Sustainable digitization is also about being careful with raw materials.

“Indeed. Digitization can contribute to dematerialization: all those functions that we now have on our telephones used to fill a room full of stuff twenty years ago. Thanks to digitization, we can also make healthcare more accessible and, for example, prevent people from having to travel for an appointment with the doctor. To do this, we have to make what we do measurable. At Philips we work with the Science Based Targets initiative, an independent party that calculates all our green ambitions and plans. We carefully measure our objectives and whether we achieve them. These come before the interests of shareholders. We also increasingly opt for recycled materials and design products in a modular way, so that our equipment can be better maintained and repaired. By 2025, 100 percent of our products will be developed according to our ecodesign program.”

What can companies do differently tomorrow to contribute to a responsible use of data and technology?

“The network management I just mentioned is also important for your internal organisation: you also have to look for partners within your company to achieve change together. We copied this way of collaborating from the Amsterdam Economic Board and it works very well for us. It has also helped us align business goals with our company’s goal of improving 2.5 billion lives by 2030. We were able to quantify this goal and show what it meant for the different departments. We have also linked our sustainability objectives to our remuneration policy and have, for example, developed courses in which our product engineers and designers learn about circular design. Our purchasing policy has also been adjusted accordingly. In this way we help our suppliers to reduce their emissions, to continue to improve working conditions and to use materials sustainably. At the Amsterdam Economic Board, the common vision is already rock solid. I think the trick is to translate this into practice even more now, so that it becomes easier for people to contribute to it. For example, how can you steer even more clearly in the metropolis on quality of life and broad prosperity, and support companies and policymakers to test their plans against this?

Why is the Amsterdam Economic Board a suitable platform?

“Because Amsterdam Economic Board is a valuable and beautiful platform that connects the region. And the region has an excellent size to get things done. If you, as a company, alone or as an individual start working on this subject, you can become despondent. Why would you do anything if a coal-fired power station is still being built in China every week? In the region you are close enough to companies and citizens to be relevant and far enough away from the sometimes short-lived national politics. You also see that mayors are generally much more progressive about sustainable development than national administrators. Moreover: 2.5 million people live in the Amsterdam Metropolitan Area, many large companies and NGOs are located here: if we get something done here, we can also inspire others.”

Text: Mirjam Streefkerk

More Board Talk

The interview with Robert Metzke is part 16 in the Board Talk series. In this series we talk with Board members about the biggest challenges for the Amsterdam metropolis. The agile and future-proof education and labor market, responsible and sustainable digitization and the tension on the energy grid. These are also the most important themes for the Amsterdam Economic Board. Below you will find more interviews from this series.

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