Sustainability in Action: Grobrix

by Portfolio Magazine
Photography by Zulfadli bin Rahman, assisted by Tracey Nguyen
Shot on location at AIR CCC
20 May 2024

From producing eco-friendly alternatives of global commodities to championing conscious retail through e-commerce, these individuals are fearlessly forging a path to a more sustainable consumer landscape.

In exploring the interconnected realms of environmental stewardship and social responsibility, we dive into the dynamic landscape of sustainability in action. Through conversations with a handful of changemakers, we discover how their strategies are driving positive change across industries. At the same time, we learn more about the indispensable role of sustainable investments, showcasing how financial support and capital allocation are essential in realizing transformative sustainability goals.

Mathew Howe, Founder & Designer

Sustainability is at the heart of what you do. Can you tell us what inspired your journey and what the experience has been like so far?
My journey began with me growing fresh greens as a hobby to grow deeper relationships with my family through food. Often, we eat meals together, and in a different time, we would grow food together. Sadly, for most of us now, that time has passed. These warm moments involving the food I’d grown left me with a deep curiosity about produce and agriculture. The farmers, their purpose, their passion. I wanted to know more about their world; I wanted to be a part of it. 

I came from a different world – banking. I was a small part of a large machine with little control over my destiny or the impact we were having on the broader community and the world we live in. Freedom to create or embark on new ideas was scarce and I was looking for something else to help me grow.

The farm wall concept presented itself as an opportunity to break free and explore myself. I believed I could design something that not only addressed a real-world problem, but also had the potential to bring joy, something that might make a difference. This journey represents my aspiration to leave behind a legacy that contributes to a more sustainable future. Our business concept and the work we do is quite nascent. In our early stages, explaining what we do posed a challenge as people were unfamiliar and many did not know what to make of it. We initially started offering Grobrix to individuals, but quickly identified a broader opportunity to advance our mission by collaborating with innovative businesses. 

Gradually, we found ourselves making our way into office spaces, working with companies to incorporate Grobrix walls as part of their workplace wellness strategy to enhance employee engagement. Not only has the incorporation of Grobrix walls in the office space raised awareness of the importance of sustainability and healthier living, but it also fosters conversations among employees and makes new connections.

What kind of impact are you hoping to make in Singapore and the region? At the same time, how do you walk the talk?
Grobrix exists to rekindle the connection between people, food, and our world. We’re on a mission to prove how growing food together can help us grow as humans. Through education, advocacy, and sustainable practices, we want to rekindle the bond between people, their food, and the earth, building healthier, more connected communities and a more resilient food system. 

I personally strive to lead by example in our own operations. Together with my team, I visit my clients’ premises to help with harvesting produce from our farming walls. At home, I pass on knowledge of growing our own produce to my daughters and family members.

I am also actively involved in seeding Grobrix’s business concept to partners locally and overseas, as we aspire to bring the movement towards a more conscious, connected, and sustainable way of growing and eating food to different parts of the world. Another important part of my role is R&D as we look at ways to leverage technology to build better, smart farming walls that allow for our vertical farming to be done at a larger scale. 

Additionally, our ongoing efforts to engage with communities through workshops, educational initiatives, and partnerships further demonstrate our dedication to fostering a more sustainable food system. Ultimately, we believe that by aligning our actions with our values and actively promoting sustainable practices, we can create lasting positive change for both present and future generations.

The sustainability journey is not always easy. What kind of challenges have you encountered and what difficult conversations have you had in pursuit of doing the right thing?
Navigating the sustainability journey indeed presents its own set of challenges. Our clients often want to do the right thing by incorporating sustainability efforts into their workspace or for their customers. However, fostering collaborations and partnerships with like-minded organizations can be challenging, as aligning priorities and objectives may require compromise and negotiation. 

There is more to sustainability than easily measurable metrics, such as carbon emission savings. Avoiding the use of single-use plastic wrappers and reducing food waste are also key aspects that are harder to quantify, but equally important in sustainable practices. Similarly, encouraging individuals to eat less meat and more vegetables can have a significant impact on sustainability from a food system perspective, but this can be a difficult conversation to have and even harder to implement, especially when there is resistance to change.

The other piece is lack of awareness or expertise, which makes it challenging to develop and implement effective sustainability strategies. This is why the education piece is important. At Grobrix, we make it a point to assist every step of the way, from planting the crop, caring for it, harvesting the produce to ways the produce could be used. If we educate them on the possible outcomes, it is easier to get everyone onboard.

Encouraging individuals to embrace sustainable practices often requires challenging ingrained habits and raising awareness about the broader impact of our choices. This sometimes leads to difficult conversations about the trade-offs between convenience and sustainability. We all have to start somewhere – change emerges from small creative acts taken by many and it’s often the small actions, the unassuming beginnings, and the quiet revolutions, that define the course of history.

Sustainable investing is on the rise. Some may see it more as a moral obligation rather than the real value that it can add to an investment portfolio. What are your thoughts on this?
Sustainable investing is undoubtedly gaining momentum, driven not only by moral imperatives, but also by the recognition of its tangible benefits to investment portfolios. While ethical considerations play a significant role in the decision-making process for sustainable investments, the financial value they can add should not be underestimated. 

Investing in companies and assets that prioritize sustainability and environmental, social, and governance (ESG) criteria can mitigate risks and enhance long-term returns. By integrating sustainability factors into investment strategies, investors can identify opportunities that align with evolving consumer preferences, regulatory trends, and market demands. 

Furthermore, sustainable investing promotes innovation and resilience, fostering a more robust and adaptable economy. Companies that prioritize sustainability are often better positioned to navigate environmental and social challenges, thus safeguarding shareholder value over the long term. Ultimately, sustainable investing offers a holistic approach that considers both financial returns and societal impact. By aligning investor interests with broader environmental and social goals, it represents a forward-thinking approach that can deliver value for investors while contributing to a more sustainable and equitable future.

(Related: Navigating investments for a sustainable future)

How do you ensure that your sustainability efforts are sustained in the long run? What kind of support have you received and what more is needed?
Ensuring the longevity of our sustainability efforts requires an approach that involves continuous evaluation, adaptation, and collaboration. To sustain our sustainability efforts, we leverage various forms of support, including: 

- Walking the talk through company-wide commitment: We foster a culture of sustainability within our organization, engaging employees at all levels and empowering them to contribute to our sustainability goals. Grobrix members are encouraged to share learnings and any suggestions to improve our services and the Grobrix experience for clients.

- Stakeholder engagement: We actively engage in dialogue with stakeholders, including customers, suppliers, and communities to garner support and seek feedback on their experience with our farm walls. 

- Strategic Partnerships: We have successfully partnered with many like-minded organizations not just locally, but in other parts of the world, as well as government agencies like Enterprise Singapore, and industry peers to amplify the impact of our sustainability initiatives. These partnerships enable us to leverage collective expertise, resources, and networks to drive meaningful change on a broader scale. 

By adopting a continuous improvement mindset, we strive to refine our strategies, optimize our resource allocation, and enhance our impact over time.