“Sense and sensibility” in sustainability reports

I just got in the mail today Philips “Sustainability Report 2006.” It’s also on the web.

I hope the FT’s Lucy Kellaway gets a copy. It sounds like her spoof-CEO Martin Lukes of ab-global had a hand in writing it.

Of course, the report starts with its mission statement: “We improve the quality of people’s lives through the timely introduction of meaningful innovations.”

A couple of things strike me about this mission.. First, couldn’t it apply to just about any company that produces products or services? Michelin tires, for example. Or Microsoft. Or Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus.

Second, it seems a bit wordy in the adjective department. I’d suggest cutting “timely” and “meaningful.” Makes it more timely and meaningful.

Philips also has a short section on its values. It made me feel good to learn that Philips’ values are based on the “4 Ds”—

-Delight customers

-Deliver on commitments

-Develop people

-Depend on each other

I felt even better when I found out that Philips has a “sense and simplicity” brand promise. I like literary allusions in annual reports; it gives a little class to the boring topic, although I doubt that the company took its inspiration from the Jane Austen novel, unless there was a typo.

Since it’s a Sustainability Report, I really think Philips missed out on its “4-Ds” values — it could have used the “3 Esses”:


-Simplicity (or Sensibility)


Its mission could then be changed to: “We apply sense and simplicity (or sensibility) to our goal of sustainability.”

Sustainability must be its real mission, else why would its chairman state: “sustainability has always been in our DNA.” But what that word means is a little vague in this report (as it usually is in sustainability discussion). Sometimes it means being nice to employees and customers and giving college scholarships. Sometimes it means belonging to the right clubs —like the Club of Rome — and getting environmental awards for EcoVision and Green Flagships.

The chairman, as a forward-looking chap, also sees sustainability as a growth opportunity. I guess that’s why Philips wants to ban those nasty incandescent light bulbs —I’m sure it’s all about improving the environment — while making a big buck on much pricier fluorescent light bulbs.

An incandescent light ban certainly is not going to “delight customers” who will be denied choices and will have to pay higher costs. It also won’t be very good for lots of people who find fluorescent lights give them headaches or affect their vision. The incandescent light ban certainly won’t improve the quality of my life. Think I’ll go to the circus instead.