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Cheryl Goh: Pioneering Sustainability At Grab & Saving 2.6 Billion Cutlery From Entering Landfills

Malaysia Fellow Cheryl Goh is driving sustainability efforts to cut food waste, saving over 2.6 billion single-use cutlery from entering landfills.

If you have an inkling that you’d like your life to be about something bigger than yourself, listen to that urge. Follow the thread. The world needs you. Just start. Jacqueline Novogratz, Acumen Founder and CEO

Grab is Southeast Asia’s leading superapp, providing users with transportation, food delivery, and digital payment services through a mobile app. In 2019, the company introduced a simple cutlery opt-out toggle, allowing customers the choice to opt-out cutlery from their food orders. This small innovation would kickstart a sustainability revolution, saving over 2.6 billion single-use cutlery from entering landfills and counting. 

Leading this sustainability revolution is Cheryl Goh, Group Head of Marketing and Sustainability at Grab and 2021 Malaysia Acumen Fellow. As an avid diver and nature lover, Cheryl felt a deep sense of responsibility to protect the environment and the vulnerable communities that comprise Grab’s gig workers. 

Vulnerable communities tend to be in the bottom half of the pyramid. This tends to be the people that we serve. Our drivers are more likely to be hit by floods than many other segments of the community. Cheryl Goh

The company’s mission is to create income opportunities and has succeeded in doing so for e-hailing drivers, riders, and small-medium businesses over the years. In 2022, they provided livelihood opportunities to over 2,100 persons with disabilities while also taking strides towards environmental conservation, planting over 200,000 trees regionally.

Source: Grab

When she took the helm over a decade ago, Cheryl wanted to do something meaningful and lead by example on the sustainability front. She decided to lead the charge to ramp up Grab’s sustainability journey. 

Sustainability may be a big word, but at Grab it was natural because the company is built by people who really care about social impact and making a positive difference. Cheryl Goh

Cheryl acknowledges that her sustainability efforts and successes are a result of the collective efforts of her team. Sustainability has been ingrained in Grab’s DNA since its inception, even before it became a popular buzzword.

As the introduction and demand for Environment, Social, and Governance (ESG) frameworks in corporations gained traction, Grab has emerged as a trailblazer in advancing environmental sustainability across Asia. But leading in this space has not been without its challenges.

Cheryl shares her journey of pushing against the norm to drive greater positive impact for the planet.

Against The Grain For Greater Good

Source: Tech In Asia

For a company as large as Grab, dealing with numerous stakeholders presents challenges when striving to lead a more sustainable corporation. Cheryl had to find win-win-win solutions for all stakeholders, but implementing actions often required integrating different, sometimes contradictory values. 

This tension often left Cheryl at odds when deciding between profit and driving impact.

In any given situation, there will always be opposing forces, and we always look at those opposing forces as problems. In the case of Grab, it was margins vs mission. Cheryl Goh

GrabFood, which meets the demand for on-the-go food deliveries and takeaways, initially provided plastic cutlery. However, the convenience of having cutlery readily available came at a cost to the environment. 

To address this issue and reduce waste, Grab launched the cutlery toggle, offering customers a choice to opt-out cutlery from their food orders. Any changes made could impact customer satisfaction, and Cheryl expected pushback.

When we launched the opt-out toggle, we were afraid of consumer sentiments. With more faith that this is good and what consumers want, we just auto-opt out. It’s about starting small, building conviction, driving user adoption and eventually having a super high impact. Cheryl Goh

Acknowledging the positive impact of the cutlery toggle and its acceptance by customers, Cheryl and Grab took a stand to make it a permanent opt-out feature. In 2022, this initiative saved 898 million pieces of single-use cutlery, underscoring the effectiveness of their sustainability efforts.

Pioneering efforts require grit, tenacity and conviction. Cheryl found a safe space in her Acumen Fellowship cohort to wrestle with the tensions that come with decision making that will ultimately benefit all.

The cohort provided a safe space where everyone is participative and cares for each other’s growth and learning. I appreciated the learning to effectively tackle or come to terms with loss and resistance in order for me to get better at navigating through adaptive challenges. Cheryl Goh

Just Start And Pave The Way For Others To Follow

Grab continues to lead the way in sustainability, buoyed by the success of the cutlery toggle. 

In 2021, Grab established an ESG sustainability roadmap outlining the company’s commitments to benefit both its employees and the environment. 

Source: Grab

Grab has since made a significant ESG pledge towards minimizing its environmental impact to achieve carbon neutrality and zero packaging waste by 2040. The pledge marks a pivotal turning point considering greenhouse gas emissions and waste two of the largest inherent by-products as a platform. Over 90% of its total emissions were attributed to privately-owned vehicles operated by driver partners, while food packaging types are dependent on its merchant-partners’ choice.

However, Grab believes that with its scale, technology and data, they are able to contribute towards the long-term development of sustainable and inclusive solutions with ecosystem players in decarbonization or circular economy in Southeast Asia.

Cheryl’s deep-rooted passion for protecting people and the planet has been the driving force behind Grab’s sustainability initiatives. Her genuine desire for positive change led her to rise above challenges, go against the grain, and lead impactful change.

Grab is Southeast Asia’s leading superapp, with a mission to drive the region forward by creating economic empowerment for everyone. They provide consumers with transportation, food delivery, and digital payment services and have operations in 8 countries across Southeast Asia.

In partnership with the Malaysia Acumen Academy, we invite you to embark on your social change journey. Explore the Acumen Academy course with inspiring case studies from Cheryl and other Fellows. Discover the 2021 Malaysia Acumen Fellows making a difference.

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