You’d be hard pressed to find a passionate environmentalist who has never heard of Gurmit Singh. This veteran has embraced green living in all aspects of his life. Together with his wife, Tan Siew Luang, they are both founders of several non-governmental bodies that champion green initiatives among society. One such organisation to note is the Centre For Environment, Technology and Development Malaysia of which Gurmit is chairman and founding executive director. Having campaigned for carbon footprint reduction for nearly half a century, Gurmit has written countless books and papers about issues pertaining to the environment. Fearlessness and passion aside, he was and still is, most famous for his 1979 feat—during which he had donned a gas mask, got on his bicycle and raced a car from Petaling Jaya all the way to Taman Titiwangsa, in a bid to raise awareness for the environment. It was World Environment Day, on June 6, and Gurmit had wanted to highlight how bad the air pollution problem was, and how slow traffic was in Kuala Lumpur. The car he went against was driven by an Environmental Protection Society of Malaysia exco member. The picture (on the next page) is now synonymous with his identity, and acts as a symbol of fighting pollution and reducing carbon footprint. When we had visited him on a sunny day to get his profile shot taken, he talked us through the various plants that his wife had planted, and how his home functions without air-conditioning. The walls are covered in bright, cooling colours to ensure an indoor temperature between 28ºc and 30ºc, and his roof has solar panels, which help to generate most of the electricity as well as the hot
water used. The house is also equipped with a rainwater harvesting system, aluminium louvres that function to reduce the impact of direct sunlight plus aerated hollow concrete to further dissipate heat. One could not help but think—if everybody were to adopt these initiatives, what positive impact could it bring about for the ecosystem? He was about to leave to run errands—on foot by the way, considering one of his early moves into ensuring minimal harm to the environment was to sell his car, a Fiat 124 ST in the 1980s, and he has since relied on walking, cycling or public transport to go about his routines—when he brought out a copy of his biography, Memoirs of a Malaysian Eco-activist, with the iconic image depicted on the cover, to show to us. And in case you were wondering, Gurmit did win the race, by about five to 10 minutes.