Skip to main content

18 September 2023

In my role as Chief Sustainability Officer, I am privileged to visit Smiths teams across our global operations. These visits are precious opportunities to connect with colleagues and see first-hand how our priorities are translating to action — to celebrate what’s working well and share learnings and perspectives to inform our road ahead.

I’ve recently returned from China, where I met with hundreds of colleagues from across our four major businesses in Tianjin, Changshu and Suzhou. Reflecting on a whirlwind week, what strikes me most – beyond the warm hospitality! – is the strength we share working toward common purpose.

Improving the world is our shared imperative and our engineering spirit gives me hope for the future we will create. Two themes that emerged over the week were:

  • Sustainable growth – how our Smiths China team is helping customers to navigate, enable and succeed in a decarbonizing world; and
  • Net Zero delivery – how our Smiths China team is mobilizing to deliver our commitments with sharp focus on energy efficiency and green electrification.

Traveling by high-speed train from Tianjin to Suzhou, bustling cityscapes transition quickly to rich farmland. Just as I’ve come to expect in the US, the abrupt transition to green fields is a reminder of the country’s natural beauty, diversity and remarkable productivity. With eyes sharpened by the unfamiliar, it’s also an object lesson in the speed and care needed for our transition to a Net Zero world.

Delivering Net Zero requires rapid change. When my son and daughter reach my age, the steel and cement of their cities must be green, and the fields beyond more productive than ever. As we see around the world, the push to decarbonize is rapidly taking shape in China – led by green tech innovation and fuelled by the drive to leave the world a better place. Stuck in traffic, my electric cab may have been surrounded by internal combustion, but it was built by a company that did not exist five years ago. In transit, I read with interest about Chinese EV manufacturers eclipsing VW, Toyota and Tesla. The future arrives daily.

Arriving in Suzhou, I was fortunate to share an evening with Smiths China colleagues at the Humble Administrator’s Garden. This 500-year-old UNESCO World Heritage site is a verdant gem in the heart of historic Suzhou. It’s also a microcosm of the city itself – for thousands of years, with its clear lakes and lush hills, known as heaven on earth.

The living history of that beautifully maintained garden helped deepen my perspective on the sustainability results our Smiths team highlighted the next day. Suzhou was one of our first sites to install solar panels and last year installed a state-of-the-art water reclamation system that reduced hazardous water waste by around 16 tons a year. Responding to our global energy efficiency campaign (‘Turn-it-Off’), the team secured local government support for energy audits and quickly identified a list of opportunities.

Suzhou now produces around 37% of its electricity on site, increasing energy security while reducing operating cost and GHG emissions. And it is soon to install facility-wide sub-metering after the successful completion of a similar project at our site in Tianjin.

Suzhou helps us see the road ahead more clearly. Like Suzhou, many Smiths sites have the potential for solar generation and support available to implement systemic improvements. And, like Suzhou, all our sites have leaders driven to improve operations and who take rightful pride in us doing our part to deliver a more sustainable world.

In the year ahead, we are focused on replicating Suzhou-style success across Smiths. Building site-based decarbonization plans to support our Group-wide transition plan and deliver our commitments to achieve Net Zero by 2040 (Scope 1 & 2) and 2050 (Scope 3).

Net Zero requires sustained focus and delivering results at pace. Taking lessons from history, our Suzhou team is helping show the way forward – honoring the beauty of the world we share and applying our engineering expertise to preserve it for the future. Rapid progress and preservation can and must be complementary. It’s the only sustainable path.

Like the Humble Administrator’s garden, the bridge from here to there will not be straight. Each turn is a chance for learning. What matters is that we keep moving forward, together, with purpose and pace.

John Ostergren is CSO of Smiths Group plc

John D Ostergren
Quote mark left

Net Zero requires sustained focus and delivering results at pace. Taking lessons from history, our Suzhou team is helping show the way forward – honoring the beauty of the world we share and applying our engineering expertise to preserve it for the future.

John Ostergren
Chief Sustainability Officer

Related blogs

Vera Kirikova

How do we create pathways for women to advance to senior leadership/CEO roles?

Find out more Call to action arrow icon
Roland Carter

Pioneering a circular economy in the threat detection sector

Our latest Leaders Blog is on the topic of pioneering a circular economy in the threat detection sector, featuring Roland Carter, President of Smiths Detection.

Find out more Call to action arrow icon
John D Ostergren

Lessons learned from undertaking an ESG-specific Double Material Assessment

John Ostergren, Chief Sustainability Officer at Smiths Group, describes the rationale for carrying out a Double Materiality Assessment, which enables us to test our ESG approach, engage with stakeholders, and identify the highest-impact sources of ESG value.

Find out more Call to action arrow icon