How Komatsu's making its KOWA operations more sustainable & helping employ disadvantaged Australians

With Komatsu celebrating its global centenary this year, the company is doubling down on its commitment to building a more sustainable and environmentally friendly business.

While a key part of that commitment is in continuing to develop innovative technology solutions to ensure its products offer significant sustainability and environmental benefits, it has also taken steps to ensure other parts of the business build on its corporate social responsibility (CSR) principles.

As part of this, Komatsu in Australia has introduced new packaging initiatives that not only reduce volumes of material going to landfill for a major part of its business, but also provide employment for workers with disabilities.

According to Russell Hodson, Komatsu’s Executive General Manager Supply Chain, the company recently moved to a more sustainable sourcing strategy for the plastic bottles and other packaging it provides to customers for collecting KOWA (Komatsu Oil Wear Analysis) samples.

“From July 2021 the yellow outer plastic bottles used for collecting KOWA oil samples from our Australian East Coast customers will be made from 100% recycled plastic,” he said.

“As well, the sample registration card and delivery boxes will be of 100% recycled paper/cardboard.

“In addition, our new recycled plastic bottles can be cleaned and re-used up to six times, further reducing the unnecessary use of resources,” said Russell.

“And once bottles can no longer be re-used, the plastic can be recycled again.

“With more than 30% of Komatsu’s plastic packaging waste generated through our KOWA bottles, this program will significantly reduce the volume of plastic packaging waste that we are sending to landfill,” he said.

To carry out cleaning of used sample bottles for re-use, Komatsu has partnered with Endeavour Foundation in Brisbane, which supports people with an intellectual disability, including providing employment opportunities.

“We are delighted to be able to partner with the Endeavour Foundation, in a move which will provide its employees with meaningful and sustainable work,” Russell said.

“This provides us with the opportunity to enhance our community engagement and CSR commitment by not only helping to benefit the environment but also supporting a local industry that gainfully employs workers with disabilities.”

The move to recycled plastic bottles and packaging for KOWA samples represents around 100,000 sample kits a year that are used by Komatsu’s East Coast customers – who account for around 60% of oil samples collected around Australia, New Zealand and New Caledonia each year.

“This new sourcing strategy for our oil sample bottles allows us to contribute to our strategic goal of zero harm by significantly reducing the environmental impact of our current method of procuring and managing KOWA bottles,” said Russell.

As an organisation that generates large volumes of packaging waste a year, Komatsu is a member of the Australian Packaging Covenant Organisation which has a long-term goal of reducing and eventually eliminating packaging going to landfill.

“We estimate this latest development will eliminate nearly 10 tonnes of packaging materials going to landfill each year, which contributes to us meeting our commitments under the APCO convention,” Russell said.

By implementing this new sourcing strategy, Komatsu will also see a big reduction in transport and distribution costs.

“Previously, our sample bottles were supplied out of Western Australia, from where we will continue to source them for WA, and we will continue to supply our specialty oil sample bottles from there as well,” he said.

“However, by moving to an East Coast supplier of bottles, our KOWA bottles transcontinental transport will be eliminated, contributing to a significant reduction in greenhouse gases.

“Our new recycled plastic sample bottles are also lighter, and allow for smaller dimension packaging, so more kits can be stacked on a pallet – further reducing our transport costs.

“Komatsu’s KOWA oil sampling services are critical to our customers and our business.

“This new sourcing strategy allows us to reduce landfill and carbon emissions, without compromising quality or security of supply – and at no extra cost to customers,” said Russell.

“Komatsu’s products are designed to be as sustainable as possible, and our technology innovations such as autonomous haulage systems, intelligent Machine Control, Hybrid excavators and Smart Construction are contributing to more productive and fuel efficient operations around the world.

“Initiatives such as our recycled, reusable KOWA bottles are another step on this journey,” he said.

“And we hope our partnership with the Endeavour Foundation will provide further opportunities with them in future – and also that this initiative encourages other large businesses to also engage with them.”