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Cookers: greasing the wheels of sustainability

A Cookers bulk oil tanker

Cookers is a company built with sustainability at its core. National Quality and Safety Manager Hari Srinivas explains how that has helped guide the business from strength to strength for two decades.

Towering above the Cookers head office in Derrimut in Melbourne’s west, the site’s 25-metre-tall wind turbine can’t be missed. Not only does it supply the office with 30 per cent of its power, it’s a proud statement of dedication to the environment from a business built on a foundation of sustainability.

Since the year 2000, Cookers has evolved into one of Australia’s leading bulk cooking oil suppliers, currently servicing all major cities and select regional areas. The company prides itself on a reliable, sustainable end-to-end model that benefits its customers, its employees, and the environment.

Oils are delivered by tankers directly to specially designed dishwasher-sized storage units. Once the used oil has reached its end of life, separate tankers collect and transport it to processing facilities where it is turned into biodiesel fuels.

Hari Srinivas, Cookers’ National Quality and Safety Manager, has nearly 30 years’ experience across every aspect of the food industry.

“If you are handling any commodity, the toughest one to handle is a liquid,” Hari says. “And when you are talking about oil – that’s a real headache to deal with.

“If your water leaks you can mop it up, it evaporates, or it soaks into the soil. But if oil spills, it will stay there. It’s greasy and it’s a safety issue. It needs to be handled very carefully – for both safety and the environment.”

Hari says the same goes for packaging. Any packaging used for oil retains residue that will either end up soaking into the land via landfill or flushed into waterways, where it’s difficult and costly to remove.

Traditionally, cooking oil would be delivered to food vendors in 20-litre drums. According to Hari, even a small restaurant could use five of these in a week, which very quickly causes storage and disposal issues.

“We looked at all this 20 years ago when we entered the business – how could we make the product easy and safe to handle with very minimal environmental impact?” he says.

Cookers' wind turbine in Derrimut.
Cookers’ wind turbine supplies its head office with 30 per cent of its power.

Hari says that Cookers’ ongoing growth as a business requires it to iterate and build on its sustainability principles and practices.

“We do consistent reviews, research and development behind the scenes to see how smart we can make our processes – from sourcing the fresh cooking oil, collecting the used oil, to what goes to our biodiesel customers,” he says.

“Everything is constantly being optimised. The processes we have now are much smarter than five or ten years ago. That’s how we make sure our emissions and energy usage is under control.”

Hari says where drivers once relied on a list of deliveries on a piece of paper, they now run on a system that will adapt and reorder deliveries on the fly to avoid their trucks idling in traffic jams and wasting fuel. Emissions from every Cookers vehicle across the country are also monitored and measured in real time.

“We upgrade our trucks frequently, and they are consistently serviced and maintained,” Hari says. “That way, they’re energy efficient and their emissions are as low as possible.”

The business is establishing a second Melbourne site in the eastern suburbs to minimise unnecessary travel across the city.

Hari says that with each new Cookers’ site comes the opportunity to put sustainability learnings into practice. Recycled water tanks are standard at Cookers’ sites across the country, and research is underway into the viability of solar panels to further reduce reliance on the grid.

Changes in customer expectations, government regulations, and accreditations have forced suppliers across most industries to consider their impact on the environment, and how to minimise or offset it.

Accreditations in the food industry have evolved to incorporate everything from environmental initiatives in the office to the business practices of suppliers.

Hari says that having sustainability at the heart of its business model has given Cookers a head start in this regard.

“We always want to learn too,” he says. “We want to make our processes smarter and more environmentally friendly. We talk to our people; we go to the customers and ask if there’s anything we can do better for them.”

Hari says it is a critical part of his job to go into the field to better understand how systems are working and what can be improved.

“If I’m just sitting in my office developing truck optimisation programs, there is no meaning,” he says. “I need to sit in the truck, I need to talk to the driver, I need to see what challenges he faces day-to-day.”

It’s this attitude that ensures Cookers’ dedication to sustainability doesn’t stop with wind turbines and fuel management. The business is always searching for ways to reduce its impact, including providing each Cookers employee with two reusable coffee cups.

“Otherwise, when a truck driver stops four times at a coffee shop, they’ll generate four cups,” Hari says.

“We want to teach our staff the discipline around our environmental impact – which they can then pass on to their family and children.

“Every individual can generate a lot of waste, and every small change has an impact.”

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