Dow: Delivering innovative solutions for today and the future

20 April 2022

At 125 years old, Dow continues to channel its materials science expertise as it collaborates and innovates with customers and partners to create solutions to help deliver a sustainable future.


Welcome to another edition of Fast Five – our fortnightly series where we ask Victoria’s most influential and exceptional business leaders five questions to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of some of Australia’s most dynamic businesses.

Dow’s ambition is to be the most innovative, customer-centric, inclusive and sustainable materials science company in the world.

In this edition we spoke to Karen Dobson, Dow Australia and New Zealand Managing Director, to find out how that ambition is fulfilled in the company’s local operations.

#1: Consumers may be surprised at the scope of Dow’s presence in everyday items. What are some of those, and what is Dow’s role in their production?

We are a global materials science company that develops, manufactures and delivers a wide range of innovative and sustainable solutions for the packaging, infrastructure, mobility and consumer markets. Dow has a long history in sustainability performance and the events of the past few years remind us how interconnected we all are with one another, bringing into focus the company’s purpose to deliver a sustainable future through our materials science expertise and collaboration with our partners.

In Australia, 108 of our 114 industries rely on the chemistry sector for essential raw materials, technologies and innovations. Examples of where Dow is present include acrylic binders in paints and coatings; polyurethane foam in bedding and furniture; packaging materials to preserve and extend the shelf life of our food; surfactants and solvents in broad applications from sanitisers and disinfectants to mineral processing to crop defence; silicones in personal care products and adhesives and sealants in applications from weatherproofing high rise buildings to the construction of our smartphones.

#2: What are some of the more unexpected or notable product developments Dow has been involved with and how have these impacted our lives?

At Dow, we believe that connecting chemistry and innovation can generate new ways to solve global challenges and balance economic progress with sustainability. This has led to the development of numerous products and technologies which are not only improving people’s quality of life but are better for the environment.

An example of this is our FORMASHIELD™ technology which helps improve indoor air quality by giving paints the functionality to absorb harmful formaldehyde released by household products such as rugs and furniture, and convert it into water vapour.

On the roads, our FASTRACK™ technology helps keep our roads safer by improving night-time visibility of lane markings while reducing volatile organic compound emissions that contribute to smog through conversion from solvent-based to water-based road-marking paints.

In the electric vehicle (EV) industry, Dow has developed a number of solutions to enable weight reduction of the car body while making it more durable, including a range of polyurethane structural adhesives and foams as well as polyolefin elastomer impact modifiers for improving component strength to thickness ratio. This helps improve vehicle efficiency and driving range.

We are also helping to improve heat mitigation within EV battery technology with a range of thermally conductive silicone and polyurethane gap fillers and adhesives, providing thermal management solutions which are key to delivering safer and better performing batteries.

#3: Dow has a manufacturing facility in Geelong. What does the company’s local manufacturing entail and what is its future outlook here?

We have a long history of manufacturing in Australia and our plant in Geelong celebrates its 60th anniversary this year. It produces acrylic polymer materials for a variety of applications including architectural paints and coatings, road marking, gap fillers, and various construction materials. Manufacturing remains important to us in Australia to help ensure reliability for our customers and resilience in our business model.

Australia has an opportunity to take advantage of the disruption in global supply chains and build resilience through diversification. We see a need to change the way we all think about manufacturing from cost-driven to high-value businesses serving global value chains.

Advanced manufacturing requires a skilled workforce and investment in capabilities that cut across modern end-to-end manufacturing such as AI, digitalization, automation, advanced materials and cyber security.

Our Geelong plant is a good example of a site which has modernised its operations over the years to adapt and remain competitive. We have and will continue to invest in new equipment, automation, digitalisation, reskilling our workforce and redesigning production schedules to improve safety, quality, productivity and environmental performance.

#4: Sustainability efforts around the world are growing in importance. Dow has pinpointed plastic waste as one of the most important sustainability issues of our time. How is it tackling this and what progress is it making?

Climate change and environmental degradation, including plastic waste, is a defining issue of our time. As a materials science company, this is a high priority for Dow and we are taking urgent action to stop plastic entering the environment where it does not belong, as well as accelerating the circular economy for plastics.

Dow intends to reduce waste by enabling one million metric tons of plastic to be collected, reused or recycled through its direct actions and partnerships by 2030 and close the loop by enabling 100% of our products sold into packaging applications to be reusable or recyclable by 2035.

We recently launched a Post-Consumer Recycled (PCR) Polyethylene Resin designed for collation shrink film applications such as in bundled packs of bottled water or cans of food. The new resin is designed with 40% PCR content, helping to achieve a circular economy for plastics without compromising the performance that brand owners and consumers require.

We know that we cannot tackle this problem by ourselves, so we are collaborating with partners along the value chain including customers, government agencies, NGOs, and the community to support the transition to a plastics circular economy as outlined in the Australian National Plastics Plan.

#5: What other process or product innovations is the company currently investing in to improve global efficiency and sustainability?

Dow has had climate-related goals for years and more recently set a new emissions reduction target for 2030 and aims to be carbon neutral by 2050. This is a complex challenge in an energy intensive industry but we have a viable roadmap to achieve these targets.

Our approach is to continuously reduce emissions through ongoing efficiency improvements; increase renewables in our energy mix; evaluate investments in carbon capture, usage and storage (CCUS) and hydrogen; collaborate in developing new technologies to decarbonize our industry; and engage our value chain to deploy materials that help reduce emissions for customers. For example - insulation materials for energy efficiency in the built environment, lightweight materials for transportation, packaging to prevent food waste and advanced materials for renewables infrastructure. Globally, 80 per cent of our R&D focus is on climate protection, the circular economy and safer materials.

Dow is a sponsor of the Net Zero Australia initiative, a partnership between the University of Melbourne, the University of Queensland, Princeton University, and Nous Group to analyze different scenarios for Australia to achieve a net zero economy by 2050. This study will assess the impact of each scenario on emissions, infrastructure, costs, employment, land use, air pollution and other important outcomes.

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