Matthias Gel­ber

Expatriate Lifestyle - - Cover Story -

The Green Man­

Matthias has al­ways been in­volved in ba­sic ‘green’ prac­tices like re­cy­cling since he was a teenager in ru­ral Ger­many, but two ma­jor events catal­ysed his trans­for­ma­tion from ca­sual en­vi­ron­men­tal­ist to eco-emis­sary: acid rain de­stroy­ing the pine forests, and ra­dioac­tive pol­lu­tion from the Ch­er­nobyl disas­ter mak­ing it im­pos­si­ble to eat the veg­eta­bles from his own gar­den.

“I knew then that my mis­sion on the planet was to help pre­vent pol­lu­tion and to in­spire peo­ple to live a green lifestyle,” he says.

Af­ter cam­paign­ing for the Ger­man gov­ern­ment to tighten leg­is­la­tion against pol­lu­tion and to clean up the en­vi­ron­ment, Matthias be­gan giv­ing en­vi­ron­men­tal talks in South­east Asia around 1996 and found that he had a nat­u­ral affin­ity for pub­lic speak­ing. He chose to stay in the re­gion and help to spread aware­ness through cam­paigns, ac­tiv­i­ties and talks as it was see­ing a boom in pop­u­la­tion and in­dus­trial growth.

In 2008, Matthias was voted the first-ever ‘Green­est Per­son on the Planet’ through a com­pe­ti­tion by 3rd­whale, a Cana­dian-based en­vi­ron­men­tal or­gan­i­sa­tion. While he ap­pre­ci­ates the recog­ni­tion, he sees it mainly as mo­ti­va­tion for him to walk the talk.

Hav­ing made Malaysia his home base for over 12 years, Matthias has been busy – 2008 was the same year that he founded Ecow­ar­riors Malaysia, which has sup­ported the Shah Alam City Coun­cil and spon­sors with tree-plant­ing events; two years ago, he launched the Ne­gawatt Rev­o­lu­tion, which aims to reduce Malaysia’s en­ergy con­sump­tion by 10 per cent; and just last month, con­struc­tion on his Tiny Home was com­pleted and is an en­tirely self-con­tained mo­bile home that oc­cu­pies the size of a stan­dard car park space!

Matthias ob­serves that a big rea­son why Malaysians might be com­pla­cent about be­ing en­vi­ron­men­tally friendly is the sub­si­dies on elec­tric­ity and wa­ter. Cheap util­i­ties don’t en­cour­age peo­ple to em­brace re­new­able en­ergy or save re­sources, and they cost the gov­ern­ment a lot of money. It also con­trib­utes to­wards the per­cep­tion of ‘liv­ing green’ be­ing ‘in­con­ve­nient’ and ‘ex­pen­sive’, but to him, it’s all just a ques­tion of mind­set.

“Holis­tic green liv­ing saves you a lot of money. I don’t spend on car loans be­cause I use pub­lic trans­port, Uber, Grab or walk. But be prac­ti­cal. I took an Uber here be­cause pub­lic trans­port doesn’t reach here. You need to look at the big pic­ture,” he says.

He be­lieves that more ed­u­ca­tional ef­forts are needed to pro­mote a green lifestyle at a grass­roots level and im­ple­men­ta­tion should be done in grad­ual stages. Peo­ple, he says, need to shift away from as­so­ci­at­ing hap­pi­ness with ma­te­rial pos­ses­sions and take back con­trol over their lives and lifestyle. His book, The Green­man’s Guide To Green Liv­ing And Work­ing, was writ­ten to help Malaysians take prac­ti­cal ac­tion to­wards mak­ing a pos­i­tive im­pact on the world.

In the end, he says, liv­ing green isn’t just about pre­vent­ing dooms­day from hap­pen­ing. “There have been many pos­i­tive ex­pe­ri­ences on my jour­ney. It’s more fun be­ing green. I’m not per­fect. You don’t need to be per­fect, but work on im­prov­ing and cre­at­ing more of a pos­i­tive than neg­a­tive im­pact. You can be the change.”

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