Manufacturing a green future
How far can an around-the-world ticket take you when you have a burning passion to take your message global? India to Sydney – via Vancouver and Michigan is the road travelled by Business Events Sydney Ambassador, Veena Sahajwalla. An international award-winning scientist and engineer, her dedication to environmental sustainability has led to her pioneering world-first green manufacturing technologies. While a scientist and engineer, Veena is at heart an inventor and visionary.
Here’s the hot tip – the future is ‘green manufacturing’. We’re talking about creating products – including steel products – using recycled and waste products. Veena, and her team, from the University of New South Wales’ (UNSW) Centre for Sustainable Materials Research and Technology (SMaRT), are focused on using waste and end-of-life products (think of all of that by-waste lying around your workplaces and homes) and turning it into valuable raw materials for other products. And they’re not thinking small. Working with industry partners, Veena has ensured her vision has become a reality. In partnership with One Steel, the team has developed a process to make green alloys with end-of-life rubber tyres. To date two million passenger vehicle tyres have been diverted from landfill in Australia, with the technology now used in Australia and overseas.
That’s something else that Veena is passionate about; the collaboration between research and development (in academia) and industry. Simply being able to engage with industry and have a platform is something she believes is critical to the success of her discoveries.
“It was the fact that organisations in Sydney, companies like One Steel, that were really so visionary and were able to see where this technology could take us, that we were able to be the first in the world to trial this,” she said.
The ability to engage with industry, Veena believes, is bigger than just one company’s enterprising spirit, it’s the environmental cause at the heart of all Sydneysiders, and Australians that is really the catalyst.
“In Sydney, in Australia, we really value and care for our environment. Whether you’re a young kid in school who has been taught about the environment, or whether you’re someone who works in an industry, we place a lot of emphasis on the roles that we all play as individuals and doing our part for the environment,” she says.
Sydneysiders’ adoption of environmental sustainability is something Veena loves about this city, so much so that she considers spreading the word a ‘hobby’.
“It’s quite exciting to say it’s a hobby of mine to take the message of the environment across communities, and I absolutely love doing that. Whether it’s talking to kids in high school or primary school, I think the sooner we learn and teach kids about that message of environmental sustainability, the sooner it becomes part of life and who we are in Sydney.”
Keeping her findings to herself is not something Veena advocates. She firmly believes that the more people working on these new forms of technology, through research and development and through industry, will enable the platform for green manufacturing to become standard practice globally. And this doesn’t mean just engaging with her counterparts across Australia, Veena sees the world as her oyster.
In 2006, she and her team held the first International Sustainability Symposium, and Sydney was the perfect location.
“It was a natural thing to hold the symposium right here in Sydney. Sydney is the place where the research and development was actually happening, where new technologies were being born. At that time we were also looking at commercialising the technologies in Sydney, and we really wanted to showcase Sydney in its full glory,” she says.
From a tiny seed a great idea was born. That inaugural symposium attracted more attention than Veena first anticipated.
“We had industry partners come along and talk about what this type of technology meant towards environmental sustainability. We also had a phenomenal response from our international colleagues, particularly those from Sweden.”
Now held on a regular basis, these symposiums have seen further connections and greater global networks emerge and develop each year.
“It’s been quite exciting over the years running the symposium right here in Sydney. We’ve seen that the event has really built up international collaboration for us and taken it well and truly beyond what we would have ever imagined.”
“Some of our most important and strongest collaborations and partnerships are with people in Australia, Sweden and India. In fact, it has become so much more than a sharing of ideas and collaboration. UNSW has welcomed researchers from Sweden, India and South Korea to spend time with us to learn more about our ways of learning and our technologies and innovations, and most importantly how we go about doing it.”
“Our research has attracted all of these incredibly bright people and incredibly bright students who then come to Sydney, so it’s a win-win outcome for everyone, especially Sydney.”
While the science itself is of major value to her international colleagues, Veena doesn’t downplay the key role that industry engagement plays in attracting global attention.
“The fact that we’ve got that established engagement with industry, and with communities, it’s a holistic solution that we actively develop and it’s very attractive to our international colleagues. We’re thrilled that from our first international symposium these outcomes have gone beyond anything we could have ever imagined.”
But it’s more than the smarts that lie in the discoveries of green manufacturing that attract people to the symposium – both research and industry. Veena believes it is the heart of Sydney and its charm – it’s Sydney’s future focus and self belief that appeals.
“Sydney has a lot of people who are very forward thinking, who want to make a difference, but who equally, and importantly, want to showcase what we can do.”
Ultimately, for Veena, the benefit of the international symposium, above and beyond the collaboration and partnerships with international colleagues and industry, and the attraction for students across the world, is that it takes her burning passion to the world.
“It’s important to recognise that this type of global challenge requires global solutions and these partnerships will give us precisely that.”
“What started out as a fairly modest symposium has grown into this large international symposium, a meeting of minds addressing one common, global challenge – environmental sustainability. It shows how we’re all truly trying to create real-world solutions that can be applied so that businesses can find solutions to save resources, recycle materials, reduce energy consumption and ultimately achieve greater environmental sustainability.”
From India to Sydney, Veena has made her mark not only on the Sydney landscape, but most definitely in her field leading the change on green manufacturing right here in Sydney.