Designed to last a decade, B&O speaker sets an example for the future

Beosound Level, a speaker built with a modular design, is the first commercial product to meet the Cradle To Cradle Standard for sustainability and circularity. Now the challenge is to extend this model to a larger range of products.

Bang & Olufsen has announced a new plan to improve the sustainability and circularity of all its products. The Beosound Level is the flagship of this new initiative. Unveiled back in February 2021, the wireless speaker is the first commercial product to obtain the “Cradle to Cradle” bronze certification, which is assigned by the non-profit Cradle to Cradle Products Innovation Institute.

“Our work is rooted in the Cradle to Cradle thinking, and that is to say that everything is a resource for something else so that the concept of waste ceases to exist”, explains Christina Raab, VP Strategy & Development with the institute. “The concept of waste is designed out of products; that requires a rethinking of products, it requires a redesign. Our standard is the most ambitious and actionable standard yet for designing and manufacturing products that are safe, circular and responsibly made”.

In the case of the Beosound Level, this commitment translates into the use of specific types of high-quality materials and the adoption of more customization to make it easier for the user to change the speaker’s look based on changing tastes and design trends over the years. Thanks to the product’s modular design, users will be able to change the battery when it’s run its course. All it takes, says the company, is a screwdriver.

Then there are the changes in the tech landscape, which no company can foresee decades in advance. The solution for many technology manufacturers is to create products with a limited life span. B&O instead approached the issue from a different perspective.  “First of all, we made sure to prepare the product with an excess of processing power from birth. So, when you use the product for the first time, you’re only taking advantage of 50% of the processing power”, explains Mads Kogsgaard Hansen, Bang and Olufsen Senior Global Product Manager for Classics and Product Circularity. “We have decided to prepare the architecture in this way because that gives us some room, over the years, to make sure that the product is still compatible and relevant and can follow the latest developments in connectivity technology and experiences”.

On top of that, the processing unit of the Beosound level is another module, just like the battery. The idea was to make it possible, years and years from now, to create just another unit that would fit right in to upgrade the whole product experience. “We accepted the fact that we cannot predict exactly what will happen, so what we need is to design in some flexibility that makes us able to adapt to whatever comes in the future”, said Kogsgaard Hansen. The company said they expect the Beosound Level to reach at least a 10-years lifespan. But Bang & Olufsen is also interested in the concept of having a product live more than one life, as experimented with the limited series of 95 Beogram 4000c turntables refurbished and updated to celebrate the company’s 95th birthday. “With the design of the Beosound Level, we have enabled some opportunities for us to take the product back after maybe ten years, to recreate it and sell it as a very competitive new product with a history. It’s a long-term vision that requires a change in the business model as well”.

While it’s easy to see how Bang & Olufsen can afford to price these sustainability innovations into a product that starts at £1099, though, the question of accessibility remains for products that aren’t meant for a luxury target. “What we need is a new way of thinking about tech products because if your model is to create products at a lower cost and with a shorter lifetime, then you’ll be challenged by this change”, said Kogsgaard Hansen. “People in the industry will have to be creative about revisiting their business model. It’s not about just designing or pricing a product; it’s also about how we add value from a business model perspective. So the old industrial model of just selling something and then throw it away has to be challenged. I would expect this change to happen over the years because I think consumers will gradually start to have very different expectations about the longevity of their products”.

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