Sarah's career began as a laser engineer with Thales Optronics in 1993. After seven successful years, she moved to the medical device manufacturer, Optos, as a senior optical engineer. Sarah held various roles within the company, including senior director of manufacturing from 2017 until her move to the National Manufacturing Institute Scotland (NMIS) in early 2020.
Sarah joined the Scottish Manufacturing Advisory Board (SMAB) in 2013 and chaired the Board from 2015 to December 2019. She was awarded Strathclyde Alumna of the Year in 2018, received a Top 100 Award from The Manufacturer magazine in 2016, and was invited to join the Industrial Advisory Panel for Heriot-Watt University School of Social Sciences in 2017.
Here we sit down with her to learn more about her vision for manufacturing a net-zero future for the industry.
What does the climate emergency mean to you?
Our response to the climate emergency is the legacy we leave for our young people and future generations. For me, it's not about apportioning blame for how we got here; it's about recognising where we are and responding quickly and positively to the things we know now. As we learn more, we can see things differently - for example; it always surprises me that cars were considered less polluting than horses when first introduced!
I remember reading about climate change in the late 80s and early 90s in the New Scientist, and we now see the reality across the globe of a slow response to those warnings. At that time, for me, it meant changing my hairspray to do my bit to stop the destruction of the ozone layer. I never considered that I would eventually be driving an electric car through a landscape peppered with wind turbines generating green electricity.
Global warming rarely made national news, even as over-consumption was on the rise, and the general population didn't consider the impact that their annual foreign holiday could have on the planet's future. I was part of all that, and I need to own that.
Too many of us like to blame big businesses or governments and, while they do need to do their bit, we all contribute to the state of our planet and have a role to play in preserving it. For me, the climate emergency is about walking the walk - electric cars, recycling, eating less meat etc. - it's making changes that we can sustain and making them once and for all.
Industry accounts for 25% of global emissions. What needs to change?
Industry, particularly manufacturing, needs to adopt resource-efficient processes, e.g., lower energy consumption and waste elimination. Without this, nothing will improve. Where there is no financial imperative to change, we need legislation to force the changes - think about the move to unleaded petrol or lead-free solder; without legislation, adoption would have been much slower.
We also need to focus on the circular economy. For example, while we can reduce our dependence on plastic, there is still a lot of it in circulation, so re-use and re-manufacture are fundamental to emissions reduction.
How can Scottish manufacturing lead the way in terms of attaining our goal of net-zero emissions?
We're in a good position, but it won't be an easy journey. Central to our success will be adopting new digital tools to look at existing processes in new ways to reduce carbon footprint.
TIM WOOD (transport, inventory, motion, waiting, over-production, over-processing, delays), a commonly used acronym to describe the various wastes within manufacturing, now needs to consider the whole lifecycle of the product, not just how to get it out of the factory. We also need to ensure that Design for Environment becomes second nature to manufacturers in the same way Design for Manufacture and Design for Supply Chain. Finally, a focus on a new set of core skills for manufacturing will be required to face future challenges, and we are in a great position to shape the discussions in these areas.
If I belong to an SME, it might be easy to think that what I do doesn't matter too much or has that much impact. What would you say to that?
Quite simply, every action and every person has an impact, and we need to recognise that. SMEs account for more than 90% of all enterprises operating in the manufacturing sector and more than a quarter of the employment, so collectively, they have a crucial role in our drive to a net-zero manufacturing sector.
SMEs are generally more agile and nimble than large organisations. So arguably, they are better positioned to adopt new processes and ways of working than more prominent companies. As we take the steps needed to move towards net-zero, local supply chains will have a greater significance, and these will predominantly be comprised of SMEs.
In the future, where would you like NMIS and the Scottish manufacturing industry to be?
As a national asset, NMIS has an opportunity to shape the conversation about manufacturing today and in the future, not just in Scotland and the UK but globally. This year, we have a chance with COP26 to remind a global audience about Scotland's proud manufacturing history and start the conversation about manufacturing a net-zero future.