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Grab’s CMO on how she’s leading its sustainability efforts


By Jennifer Faull, Deputy Editor

January 26, 2023 | 9 min read

Cheryl Goh has been nominated for The Drum and the World Federation of Advertisers’ Global Marketer of the Year award. We catch up with her on Grab’s sustainability agenda after she recently took on responsibility for advancing it to be carbon-neutral.


Cheryl Goh, chief marketing and sustainability officer, Grab.

Cheryl Goh was the founding chief marketing officer at Grab, the Singapore-based superapp that offers everything from ride-sharing to fast-food and grocery delivery. The brand now accounts for 54% of Malaysia's food delivery gross market value last year, followed by rivals Foodpanda at 19% and Gojek at 12%, based on estimates by Momentum Works.

But with that market dominance comes a responsibility to put in place a strategy that will reduce its environmental impact. Goh is leading that plan, having recently added head of ESG to her role.

Here, she explains how it’s approaching the mammoth task and the demands it’s putting on its agency partners as a result.

Answers have been edited for length and clarity. You can vote for Goh to be named Global Marketer of the Year here. Voting closes January 31.

Recently, you have spearheaded several of the companies’ sustainable initiatives, including GrabForGood and aiming for net zero by 2040, giving customers the opportunity to opt to offset the carbon footprint of their rides and grow the electrical fleet. Why were these important steps for the brand to take?

Grab is a company that cares deeply about creating a positive social impact in the communities it serves. That’s one of the factors that attracted me to join Grab in the early days. GrabForGood was born out of this desire to positively uplift the lives of Southeast Asians, by investing in their future through better insurance protection, education scholarship and programs, climate resiliency initiatives and more. This year, we made a bold commitment to transition our business from a double to a triple bottom line. In recent years, we saw extreme weather conditions disrupting the livelihoods of our drivers, delivery and merchant partners. Prolonged rains caused flooding in many areas. Our drivers and delivery partners in affected regions couldn’t earn an income because it was unsafe to be out driving or delivering food. Shops were forced to close. We cannot turn a blind eye to climate change because the health of the environment is intricately linked to community well-being.

As a company, we are committed to achieving carbon neutrality by 2040. We looked at where we can make the biggest difference. We have over five million drivers and delivery partners on our platform, and 96% of our total emissions in 2021 came from vehicles they use to provide ride-hailing and delivery services to consumers on our platform. This makes the transition to low-emission vehicles a critical lever in our decarbonization journey. Our platform also serves one in 20 users in Southeast Asia. Through simple innovations, we can help incorporate eco-friendly choices into their daily lives. For example, purchasing carbon offsets at $0.10 per ride or delivery order through a simple toggle in our app. Opting out of receiving single-use cutlery whenever you order in. We want to leverage our scale to encourage our partners and consumers to make more environmentally friendly decisions.

What impact are you seeing from their introduction?

On the consumer front, it’s been encouraging to see more and more people using our in-app sustainability features. Their participation contributed to the planting of over 42,000 trees regionally, the offsetting of over 2,300 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions through carbon credits, and the saving of more than 774 million sets of single-use cutlery in 2021.

On the EV front, we are still early in our journey but we are making some good progress. We are the largest EV ride-hailing operator in Indonesia today and 100% of our two-wheel rental fleet there are electric vehicles. However, there’s still a lot of work to be done. The transition to EV is an ecosystem effort. Hence, we’re actively working with automakers, charging infrastructure providers, financial institutions and government agencies to accelerate EV infrastructure development, while lowering the barrier of adoption among our drivers and delivery partners at the same time.

Would you say leading initiatives such as these is indicative of the changing role of the CMO?

I have a dual role as a marketing leader and an ESG leader. These are two completely different sets of responsibilities, with two separate reporting lines. To me, ESG doesn’t need to be tied to a particular C-suite role. What’s important is embedding ESG into corporate financial and strategic planning at the top of the organization, trickling down to every department throughout the company. Specifically for CMOs, I’ve always believed that marketing leaders can bring value beyond generating impressions, clicks or revenues. We are the guardians of the company’s brand and reputation, the voice of our customers and we also actively guide product strategy and development.

What are the biggest challenges facing marketing leaders today?

It’s becoming harder and harder to reach consumers across all media channels. You’re competing with so much more content across so many more platforms. Consumers’ attention spans are also getting shorter and more divided. The role of marketing leaders should extend beyond communicating a product during the go-to-market phase to influencing product development. We can help to increase product adoption by making it more relevant, attractive and discoverable for customers so that it requires less advertising effort later on.

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In the face of a challenging economic outlook for 2023, how are Grab’s marketing priorities changing? What does your marketing mix look like for the year ahead?

With more consumers participating in the digital economy, there’s bound to be more choice and greater competition. It wouldn’t be enough for brands to solely compete on a per-transaction basis through pricing and offers. You have to build brand trust and reward users with platform-level benefits.

Our own marketing teams have been using our own superapp platform to discover interesting consumer insights and turn these insights into platform-level campaigns. For example, we’re particularly excited about the potential of GrabUnlimited, our OneGrab subscription program that brings monetary and non-monetary benefits to consumers across our ecosystem of offerings. We believe there’s a lot of potential there, and we’re looking to get more brands involved.

How does Grab work with agencies and to what extent are you evolving that relationship to make it more efficient? Can you give specific examples of what you're doing?

Just as Grab’s business and brand have evolved, so has our agency model. We still retain strong in-house teams for creative, design, social and digital insights but we’ve also added an Avengers-like permanent roster of agencies across Southeast Asia. Almost all of them are known for a very specific superpower – comedic storytelling, asset automation, offline media, B2B content, etc. Many are local homegrown heroes with roots in Southeast Asia – Wolf BKK, Fishermen Malaysia, GIGIL Philippines and Goodstuph – and it’s nice that we all get to learn, experiment and grow together as part of Grab marketing’s “extended family”.

What’s exciting you most about the year ahead?

2023 is going to be a challenging year. Brands will need to do more with less. It’ll be important for all of us to hone our craft so that we can be smarter with each dollar spent. One of the things I hope to do is to be more proactive in sharing our learnings and best practices, to help brands unlock the true potential of superapp advertising.

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