Green Technology: Inciting change within the individual
Veteran speaker and passionate advocate of all things green, Matthias Gelber works tirelessly to get Malaysians to live more sustainably. The Green Man speaks to Anushia Kandasivam about his inspirations, goals and visions for the future.
A professional speaker, trainer and businessman, Gelber engages audiences around the country with his talks, seminars and workshops that include topics like green living, buying green and green investments.
Gelber has a master’s degree in environmental science from the UK, co-founded a German green building materials company, Maleki GmbH, started his own environmental consulting company dealing with sustainability issues related to natural resources, and was voted the Greenest Man on the Planet in 2008.
But his interest in the environment, environmental management and sustainability was sparked long before that.
Growing up in a small village in Germany called Lippe that had only about 500 people, playing in the forest or in the snow, he felt a connection with and a responsibility for Mother Nature from the earliest days of his youth.
“We were also educated in school to be citizens that make a positive contribution to humanity and the planet,” he says. “We grew up separating our waste, recycling and taking actions against acid rain that was damaging our forests.”
From that early age, it was clear to Gelber that he wanted to use his passion and work to help the planet. At that stage, however, it was not an easy path to take, as his father did not believe it was a good way to earn a living.
But he realised he had to follow his inner voice and seek out a path for himself that would make him happy, fulfilling his specific role on this earth. For that reason he studied chemistry and then earned his master’s in environmental science.
Gelber came to Malaysia under the Malaysia my second home programme. After 10 years in the UK, he says, it was time for him to live in a warmer climate. Malaysia has certainly benefitted from his presence; Gelber works with NGOs and volunteer movements such as EcoWarriors and Pertubuhan Pelindung Khazanah Alam Malaysia (PEKA) and also contributes to inspiring young people to live green and supports the emerging green technology industry, particularly in terms of initiatives that can make a big change for the better.
Gelber’s talks are particularly effective because of the holistic approach he takes. He shares his own experiences — how he keeps his electricity bill around or below RM30, how we can all make our lives more positive and help rather than burden our planet.
He looks at what we buy -— the food, the electrical items, the vehicles, the houses — and questions if they are green, healthy, in line with lifestyles of health and sustainability (LOHAS).
And his talks, workshops and seminars do work. “I get good feedback from audiences. I sometimes have people comment that their way of doing things or how they live changed after listening to one of my talks or they tell me that the things I do and communicate reminds them to live green when they keep track of my actions on Facebook,” he says.
But he is still not satisfied: “Many people agree when they attend a talk or workshop that something needs to be done, but when they are back home nothing major changes. I want to see deep lifestyle changes. Only then we will see the transforming impact of a green society. That requires time and we need to start early with young audiences to move towards a green nation.”
The ultimate goal of his work, he says, is to enable everyone who listens to his talks have an ‘awakening’ that makes them ask ‘Am I a net burden to the planet or benefit? Is my lifestyle, what I buy, what I sell, what I invest my money into helping the planet or doing damage to the planet?’
There have been results: a number of people working in the green technology field have told him how they were inspired by his talks and his way of living. Better still, students have told him how they had previously thought that all this ‘green stuff’ was boring, but are now amazed at how exiting, relevant and important it actually is.
Engaging youth is vitally important, says Gelber. People are still motivated by economics, and it is still too profitable to waste and exploit. Therefore, it is critical that we make a green generation — a generation with green hearts.
THE MALAYSIAN AUDIENCE
While there is a growing interest in all things green in Malaysia, there is still a lot of room for improvement, particularly by putting theories in practice. There are too few people living green and too few events being run in a green manner, too few people are eco efficient or have a green purchasing approach, says Gelber.
Market forces and a strong green living education in schools are the keys to change. “The government and society must work hand-in-hand. Malaysia has some great policies, but it needs more action in implementation,” says Gelber.
“The energy policy should focus first on making Malaysia more energy efficient — there is a huge scope for Negawatts (less consumption),” he continues. “I am convinced that by 2020 solar energy from solar modules produced in Malaysia will be cheaper than nuclear power when you take the whole life cycle cost of nuclear (construction, operation, waste disposal, decommissioning) into consideration. The cost of solar power is on sharp downwards spiral whereas nuclear is going up due to the risks involved. I think this is very important for Malaysia to take into consideration.”
THE MAN IN THE MIRROR
Working in environmental management or in a similar green industry certainly requires passion and perseverance, as does keeping up day-to-day sustainable activities, agrees Gelber.
There will have to come a time when these activities are the norm. The countries with the highest cost for water, fuel and electricity tend to be the most efficient and the countries who have built green living into the education system and domestic household practise have made it the norm.
Soon, the days of heavy subsidies will be gone, and Malaysia will become a net importer of fuel. By this time, it is hoped that green education will be part of the wider curriculum in schools. But at the end of the day change starts with the individual, says Gelber. Ask yourself: Am I part of the problem or part of the solution? Is my life healing or destroying the planet?
For more information on Matthias Gelber and his professional speaking engagements, visit www.greenmanspeaks.com