Meet Chee Wee Gan, Rheem’s New Sustainability Leader
Chee Wee Gan, Rheem’s Senior Vice President, Strategy & Sustainability, sat down for a Q&A to share his background and his insights on the company’s sustainability program.
You recently began leading global sustainability at Rheem following the retirement of John Fitzgerald, Rheem’s former EVP, Operations. What are your first impressions in the role?
I stepped into this role shortly before Rheem’s inaugural Global Sustainability Summit in December 2021. I have been a strong supporter of Rheem’s sustainability program, but the Summit was my first holistic experience of the full force of Rheem’s efforts in this area. From start to finish, the event was a big “wow” for me. My impression from the Summit (and since) is that there is so much passion and energy around sustainability throughout our organization, all the way up our leadership chain and across our global businesses, customers and partners. I’ve also been struck by our momentum—Rheem has made an incredible amount of progress in sustainability in just three years. Today our customers are approaching us, asking, “Can you teach us how you did it?” We’re trailblazing in this space and really making a difference.
Tell us about your background in business strategy. How does it influence your leadership in sustainability and your perspective on Rheem’s sustainability program?
I have spent the majority of my career in strategy, and my first role at Rheem was building up the enterprise strategy function. It didn’t take long to realize that there is a major synergy with sustainability in our broader strategy. Sustainability isn’t a separate standalone initiative—it’s a core element of our strategy and part of everything we do.
A key task of strategy development is to identify and create measurable business impact for the short term as well as the long term. At Rheem, our long-term vision goes far into the future—we plan in terms of decades and even generations. This approach is similar to what we’re working to achieve in sustainability: Delivering positive generational impact on our business and our environment.
In addition, the major forces shaping our industry, including climate change and decarbonization, combine to make sustainability nothing short of a strategic imperative. Prioritizing sustainability means that we’re helping ourselves and our partners in the value chain to not just be equipped to survive the transitions to come, but be set up to thrive for the future.
Ambitious sustainability goals like the ones Rheem set for 2025 are prevalent within public companies, but comparatively rare in private companies like ours. What makes Rheem boldly committed to sustainability even in the absence of shareholder pressure?
At the foundation of Rheem’s culture and core values is the fact that we believe in doing the right thing. There is a lot that we do without being required or asked, but just because it’s the right thing to do. The name of our sustainability program, A Greater Degree of Good™, reflects our intention to have a positive influence in our industry and beyond. We know that sustainability has a powerful impact on the environment we live in, our homes and families, our workplace, and our customers. We understand too that the push toward sustainability is evolving our industry, and we want to be a leader in shaping that transition. We want to help change the world.
Rheem recently released its third sustainability progress report, titled People-Powered Innovation. How are Rheem’s people driving innovation and progress on sustainability?
Rheem’s sustainability progress truly is people-powered—there is passion and alignment on sustainability across the entire organization and among our industry partners. This topic affects everyone, and we all feel the passion and urgency to get involved. In recognition of that, we’ve created the opportunity through our GoodWorks program for the more than 11,000 people in our global businesses to engage in sustainability. GoodWorks provides a platform for grassroots mobilization on sustainability, as employees on the ground share their best ideas for sustainability improvements with our top leadership and get these ideas implemented and replicated.
At the same time, we’re proactively creating processes that empower leaders in every area of our business, from R&D to operations to sales and marketing and government affairs, to embrace innovative thinking and execution on sustainability. We’ve done deep research and have worked with stakeholders to infuse sustainability into our existing business practices and metrics in meaningful ways. A great example is our sustainability strategy sessions that now take place at the beginning of the product development process to ensure that sustainability is increasingly embedded in the DNA of our products.
Rheem’s people also include our extended family—the customers and partners we serve—and we’re locking arms to move sustainability forward. We’re ahead on our training goal and achieving success in equipping our plumbers, contractors and other key influencers to spread the message about product sustainability and adopt sustainable business practices. This year, we’re working on enhancing our sustainability training even further through continued collaboration with trainers and outreach directly to trainees. The sustainability training we’re delivering to the industry helps advance innovation and progress on sustainability on a broader scale than we can imagine.
By emphasizing grassroots mobilization, ongoing engagement of business leaders and partners, and purposeful integration into our key business practices, we are institutionalizing sustainability at Rheem to drive accountability and execution. Our aim is to make it easy, accessible and rewarding for our people to constantly innovate around sustainability.
How do you see Rheem’s commitment to sustainability influencing and supporting our relationships with customers and partners, in addition to helping the environment?
We’re committed to the success of our customers and partners, and sustainability is an important way we can support them. Changes coming to our industry as a result of sustainability are going to fundamentally alter heating & cooling, water heating and refrigeration products themselves, as well as the ways those products are sold, installed and used. We want to work together closely with our customers and partners to ensure that they have all the skills, knowledge, and tools they need to be confident leaders in the transition.
Decarbonization is a global trend. What makes Rheem well-positioned to adapt and thrive in the low-carbon world of the future?
Rheem has a strong history of innovation in products and processes, and we’re ready to leverage that capability internally and externally to meet new challenges like decarbonization. In fact, we’ve already begun. We won more than ten industry sustainability innovation awards globally in 2021 across residential and commercial products in recognition of our leadership on decarbonization. We’re seeing that the drive toward decarbonization impacts both our air and water businesses, while also revealing positive synergies in products and channels. Having knowledge, experience, and strong partners across both businesses is positioning us well to not just adapt to global decarbonization, but lead.
How does Rheem plan to advance sustainability this year and beyond?
We’re committed to making progress on the goals we’ve set for 2025: To launch a line of heating, cooling and water heating products that boast a 50% reduction in greenhouse gas footprint; to reduce greenhouse gas emissions by 50% and achieve Zero Waste to Landfill in our global manufacturing operations; and to train 250,000 plumbers, contractors and key influencers on sustainable products or sustainable installation and recycling best practices. Simultaneously, we’re focused on amplifying our impact beyond our four walls, supporting our customers, suppliers and other partners on sustainability.
As we near Rheem’s 100th anniversary and the accomplishment of our first set of goals, we’re already considering what our next-generation goals might be. Sustainability is a marathon, not a sprint, and Rheem is proud to be in it for the long haul.
What does sustainability mean to you personally? What role does it play in your life?
I grew up in Singapore, a small country that must import natural resources like drinking water and energy to meet the needs of its growing population. With its size and where it’s situated, Singapore is also particularly vulnerable to the environmental decisions of its leaders and neighbors. Prevailing winds can bring the smoke from a burning forest in a neighboring country into Singapore, quickly polluting all of its air. This heightened dependency gave me a strong sense of awareness and urgency around protecting the environment. From a young age, I’ve understood that sustainability isn’t just the right thing to do ethically, it’s something that we must do for our survival and that of generations to come. It’s critically important, and I’m very proud to be helping lead sustainability at Rheem.