Meet Josephine Liang, CEO of CauliBox

Josephine Liang

Josephine Liang is a sustainability expert and CEO of CauliBox, the award-winning, tech-enabled reusable food and drink packaging solution for workplace and event dining. Josephine was awarded a special “Women in Food” award by the Mayor of London in 2019 and was named on Forbes 30 under 30 in 2021.  She holds an MSc from the University of Oxford and a BA from Colby College.

Tell us a bit about yourself, background and your current role

I grew up in Hong Kong, and moved to India at age 16 for the last two years of secondary school. I attended the United World College which was really cool as I got to mix with 200 other students from 70 different countries. As I had never been outside of Hong Kong before, it was very exciting.

My love for nature really developed while studying there, as it was a biodiversity reserve. It had all sorts of animals like rabbits, snakes and peacocks roaming the grounds, which began to forge a strong connection between me and nature. The school’s commitment to social responsibility, alongside living somewhere of such incredible natural beauty, sowed the seed of an interest in sustainability.

This interest was strengthened when I moved to the United States for college, studying psychology and chemistry. While studying in an oceanography lab in my third year, I learned a lot about climate change and how much we could see the impact on nature. It shocked me that nobody was talking about what these scientific experts were teaching me. I knew climate change was happening, but it felt like nobody was taking it as seriously in the mainstream as it really should have been.

When I moved to England to study Global Health Science, food waste really grabbed my attention. While many people are going without food, we are wasting 40% of what we produce. Living in Poplar, where poverty is prominent and people have limited access to fresh food, made me think deeply about this. This inspired my idea to pursue a career in social entrepreneurship, as a result of frustrations at problems that were not being solved.

I started my career as a sustainability campaigner, working with companies like Hubbub, Unilever, and Sainsbury’s. Even though I am passionate about food sustainability and enjoy my work, I realise that while raising awareness is important, better infrastructure is essential for scalable and long-term solutions against the climate crisis. This is where Ming [Zhao, co-founder and CCO of Cauli] and I came together to start Cauli, with a mission to tackle a particular tough waste stream in the food supply chain, single-use packaging waste, through smart reuse solutions. We pioneered QR scanning in Europe in enabling reusable borrows and returns. Now, we are on track to divert more than 300,000kg of CO2 emissions by end-2022, the equivalent of the annual CO2 absorption of approximately 15,000 full-grown trees.

Did you ever sit down and plan your career?

Not really, no. my interest in sustainability had been sparked early, and my education furthered this passion, but it was a while before I transformed this into a business. A few years ago, I was working in an office job, doing sustainability campaigning. Although it was a sustainable office that didn’t print paper etc, I noticed how much food packaging waste there always was around me. How despite making all these efforts to be eco-friendly, there was still all this waste. I loved the vibrant street food scene in London, but as the packaging wasn’t recyclable, it produced so much waste. This was when I started to really consider sustainable packaging infrastructures and how I could make a change.

Have you faced any career challenges along the way and how did you overcome these?

The day of the launch of CauliBox, everything went wrong for us! We ended up at the local council building late into the evening using their facilities because the boxes weren’t washed (we had to wash 400!) and then our washing partner fell through. On the day it was raining really heavily, which at an outdoor street food market isn’t ideal. Councillors were meant to come and see how the CauliBox system worked, but only a few vendors and customers showed up because of the weather. Everything we worried could go wrong actually did go wrong!

Rather than admitting defeat, we accepted that this is all part of the process. To overcome these obstacles, you have to look at the long term, not the now. We focused on the successful elements of the launch, the concept was well received and we got over 200 users for CauliBox.

What has been your biggest career achievement to date?

If we are talking about career achievement, it will be being recognised by Forbes 30 under 30 for my work in social impact – it was an honour to be recognised! However, the proudest moments came early in the Cauli journey. After many late nights working with Ming to design and finalise the initial CauliBox, we were able to recruit our first users within 30 minutes, and I remember being in such delightful shock when I saw people actually carrying our boxes and building the habit of reuse. This gave us the hope and validation that reuse can be the future and is the catalyst to what Cauli grows to be now.

I feel very proud that we are not just replacing disposables but building easy and accessible infrastructures. Waste disposal is challenging, especially in catering, as there are so many regulations. Often eco-friendly waste disposal is also not economical, making it harder for people. CauliBox provides an accessible and affordable waste solution that will make disposal easier for everyone.

Level Up Summit 2022

Don’t miss our Level Up Summit on 06 December, where we’re tackling the barriers for women in tech head on. Join us for keynotes, panels, Q&A’s & breakout sessions on finance, people management, negotiation, influencing skills, confidence building, building internal networks, maximising the power of mentorship, and much more. 


What one thing do you believe has been a major factor in you achieving success? 

Surrounding myself with a great network. Ming, my Co-Founder, is the anchor and compass of Cauli. As a founder, especially a female founder, it is an uphill battle, having to overcome barriers from lack of funding – only 2% of VC funding went to female founders in 2021 – to gender stereotyping; it is challenging and lonely going solo, and having a Co-Founder alongside a great network of advisors, other female entrepreneurs, supporters, and more has been essential, opening doors to important connections, resources, and encourage when things are difficult.

What top tips would you give to an individual who is trying to excel in their career in technology?

Passion needs to be at the root of your endeavours. Loving what you do is necessary if you are going to work hard.

Find a great mentor to teach you what they know. Mentors with a shared passion but different skill sets are particularly useful.

Being in tune with the world and aware of all that is going on around you.

Do you believe there are still barriers for success for women working in tech, if so, how can these barriers be overcome?

In terms of food and climate startups, I have been to so many events where there is a clear gender divide: there are way more women in consumer goods, marketing and campaigning, and product innovation, whereas deep tech and industry tech companies are dominated by men. The lack of female representation means there are less supporters and mentors for women breaking into technology.

Another well-known barrier is the stereotypes of traditional gender roles. Coming from a traditional ethnic background, the expectations for women from a young age is deeply seeded; even to this day, there are still expectations for women to conform to certain work or responsibilities.

It is important to curate paid and sponsored opportunities for women to upskill, network, and ultimately break into tech. There is also importance to consider lived-in and other experience and other skills of female applicants – we all know how powerful tech skill paired with other expertise is for any company and startups.

What do you think companies can do to support and progress the careers of women working in technology?

Hire more women! Pay women fairly! Ultimately it is about creating job opportunities and making sure we hire women into technical roles. There are many jobs boards and networks that target women who are breaking into the tech space. Write gender equity (not just equality) into company policy.

Sponsoring and supporting programmes that help women upskill and offering paid internships or projects for women to build their portfolio is also important to nurture the space.

Creating a welcoming environment for women, including a modern maternity and paternity programme and benefits is essential. It is always a shame for any organisations to lose out on bright talent because they adhere to archaic structures.

There are currently only 21 per cent of women working in tech, if you could wave a magic wand, what is the one thing you would do to accelerate the pace of change for women in the industry?

Remove every single trace of prejudice and discrimination towards any minority group. Ultimately this is not just about women in tech, it is about solidarity in equity for women, PoC, sexuality, and more.

What resources do you recommend for women working in tech?

Podcasts – The Peers Project, Big Careers, Small Children

Books – We Should All Be Feminists: Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Brotopia: Breaking Up the Boys’ Club of Silicon Valley by Emily Chang, Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men by Caroline Criado Perez; a favourite classic fiction of mine: The Edible Woman by Margret Atwood

Bootcamps – SheCodes

Networks – AllBright, MeetUp groups, personally, I also love networking at women-only whiskey tastings at Milroy’s, and my Co-Founder Ming likes playing tennis with women’s tennis groups