Bang & Olufsen's Mads Kogsgaard Hansen On How The Luxury Brand Is Attempting To Reverse Industry Trends With Sustainable Tech
With the launch of its new Beosound Level wireless home speaker, the Danish brand is showcasing its ambition to create more long-lasting and more sustainable audio products.
A 2019 survey on global consumer trends conducted by Euromonitor International had found that customers around the world are becoming increasingly keen on being part of a waste-free society, and as such, it looks like they are making concerted attempts at realizing it too. A BCG-Altagamma True-Luxury Global Consumer Insight Survey conducted the same year noted that 59% of customers in the luxury sector took sustainability into consideration before they decided on making a purchase- and that’s something companies in this domain should certainly keep in mind when conceptualizing products catered toward the consumers of today.
One enterprise that certainly seems to be cognizant of this paradigm shift in customer mindsets is Danish luxury audio brand, Bang & Olufsen. But that’s not to say sustainability has been an entirely new concept for the business to wrap its head around- on the contrary, it has been an extension of the company’s foundational beliefs, notes Mads Kogsgaard Hansen, Senior Global Manager, Product Circularity and Classic Program, for Bang & Olufsen. Indeed, creating long-lasting design and enduring magical experiences has always been part of the Bang & Olufsen DNA, he points out. “But this ambition has been challenged heavily by the exponential increase in pace of technological development and changing formats of music and television,” he says. “We have, on an industry level, seen a substantial decrease in average product lifecycle durations over the last few decades, which goes against our principles, and creates concerning growth rates in waste created from electronic devices and equipment.”
Hansen is alluding to the rising global issue of e-waste, which refers to electronic products that are nearing or at the end of their useful lives, or are simply obsolete and not wanted anymore. According to the Global E-Waste Statistics Partnership, the world generated 53.6 million tons of e-waste in 2019, and that figure is expected to become 74.7 million tons by 2030- which is why it’s being seen as a sizeable problem that needs to be tackled sooner than later. And it’s thus to Bang & Olufsen’s credit that the company has decided to tackle this issue head-on in its specific industry. “Creating an audio product, in the way the consumer electronic Industry operates in the present, is not a sustainable process in an absolute sense,” Hansen notes. “Virgin materials are extracted, energy is consumed during processing and use, transportation at global scale creates emissions, and increasing amounts of electronic waste is also created. However, we at Bang & Olufsen do believe that there must be a better way- a better way to create more long-lasting and more sustainable audio products than what we see in the industry today. We have the ambition to lead the way in reversing the trend of decreasing product lifecycle duration and increase waste creation.”
Source: Bang & Olufsen
It’s this approach to building products that’s being showcased in one of Bang & Olufsen’s newest launches, the Beosound Level wireless home speaker. At first glance, it is a device that sort of checks all the boxes when it comes to one’s expectations of a Bang & Olufsen product- but there’s more than what meets the eye in this particular case. “Beosound Level has been created to solve a use case of portable and adaptable sound in and around the home, without needing to compromise on the sound performance and music experience,” Hansen says. “Its slim design makes it intuitive to grab and move around. Its flexibility in placement options makes it relevant in multiple contexts, and its ability to automatically adapt sound tuning to the exact placement makes it unique on the market. Furthermore, Beosound Level has been designed with modularity in mind, and with the ambition to keep it relevant from a user perspective through at least a decade.”
It’s this last point that makes the Beosound Level especially interesting in the context of the e-waste problem in the world right now- as Hansen explains, Bang & Olufsen has doubled down on a design that will help increase its lifetime as a product. “The speaker’s front cover can easily be customized to fit the taste and visual appearance over the period of use,” Hansen notes. “The battery pack can be replaced if or when battery performance or play time degrades over the years (as caused by the current limitations in lithium-ion battery technology), and the streaming module can be upgraded to new technology many years from now to fit future standards for connectivity and need for processing power. Now, it should be noted here that the Beosound Level has been front-loaded with excessive processing power- it only uses 50% of the processing power from launch. This leaves the speaker with plenty of extra power to evolve further via software updates that introduce new features and/ or improved performance.
It’s thanks to Bang & Olufsen’s focus on details like these that the Besound Level stands out as a product in the audio realm today, which, in turn, is a reinforcement of the company’s status as an iconic brand, with a heritage of sound, design, and craftsmanship that’s second to none. “Modularity is not a new design principle at Bang & Olufsen,” Hansen says. “But with the Beosound Level design, we have tried to use this as a core principle to optimize the Beosound Level for maintenance, repair, upgrade, and recycling after its final useful lifecycle.” But it’s not just about the sustainability aspect- designing luxury products like the Beosound Level with the flexibility to adapt to future needs can have a positive impact on the industry at large as well. “The user benefits of succeeding with longevity as an outcome are multiple,” Hansen explains. “First of all, extending the lifetime beyond conventional in the industry also changes the perception of value and pricing. Moving towards a total cost of ownership perspective will also mean that value is conserved, and annual ‘cost’ is decreasing. If even resale value is added to the equation, it becomes clear that there is a huge potential in rethinking how value is perceived for audio products.”
Source: Bang & Olufsen
Designing for longevity thus allows users to see products as investments keeping their value- and there’s an additional positive effect when considering their carbon footprint, Hansen says. “When creating physical products, environmental investments are made in materials and energy,” he explains. “By extending the useful product lifecycle (or even extending with multiple useful lifecycles), these environmental investments will be written off over a longer period, meaning a reduction in average annual emissions related to that product, as long it is relevant enough to supersede (or postpone) the consumer need to purchase a new product.” These are the kind of principles that have governed the design of the Beosound Level- after all, there’s no point in making a product sustainable if no one is going to want to buy it. “One of the great things with the Beosound Level design is that no real compromises are made,” Hansen adds. “Performance is great, durability and material quality are very high, and the look and feel is as fantastic as any Bang & Olufsen product.”
This is, yet again, a reiteration of the central themes that govern everything that Bang & Olufsen produces as a business- and it bears repeating as it’s something that every enterprise out there can definitely take to heart in the way they operate. “When designing a Bang & Olufsen product, it always starts with building a deep understanding about the user problem or use case to be solved,” Hansen concludes. “So, vast amounts of user research are conducted in order to build a strong foundation of user insights. It can sound kind of obvious, but getting it right is the most critical challenge to solve in order to create the right user desirability, attractiveness, and relevance. We will never be able to create a long-lasting (and potentially timeless) design if we are not solving a real problem, and if we aren’t able to establish trust and attachment with the product.” And at the end of the day, this is what drives Hansen and his fellow colleagues at Bang & Olufsen- the idea that they are building something of significance. “ “The greatest part of working at Bang & Olufsen is the passion and pride we are able to create with customers, partners and colleagues, and, basically, the humble feeling of being part of creating history with every new product introduction,” Hansen concludes.
The Executive Summary: Mads Kogsgaard Hansen, Senior Global Manager, Product Circularity and Classics Program, Bang & Olufsen
What, according to you, are the key factors that make a good product?
“As I see it, a great product is a combination of several things, which should drive the product vision:
- It needs to solve a real, meaningful, and value-creating use case.
- It should aim at having qualities that stand the test of time.
- It needs to have an appealing, unique meaningful narrative attached to it.
- It needs to deliver on fundamental performance parameters, be it with respect to technology, or durability and craftsmanship.
- It needs to dare to step outside of the conventional- but it needs to be different for a purposeful reason.
- The use and experience related to the product should be flawless, intuitive, and convenient beyond reason.
- The use of materials should be performance-driven and selected with closed material loops in mind.”
Aby Sam Thomas is the Editor in Chief of Entrepreneur Middle East. In this role, Aby is responsible for leading the publication on its editorial front, while also working to build the brand and grow its presence across the MENA region through the development and execution of events and other programming, as well as through representation in conferences, media, etc.
Aby has been working in journalism since 2011, prior to which he was an analyst programmer with Accenture, where he worked with J. P. Morgan Chase's investment banking arm at offices in Mumbai, London, and New York. He holds a Master's Degree in Journalism from the Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism in New York.