How Earth’s ‘greenest person’ Matthias Gelber lived in Malaysia for 10 years without a car

Tan Mei Zi
The German-born entrepreneur used alternative modes of transport instead of driving a car to reduce his carbon footprint. — Picture courtesy of Matthias Gelber

PETALING JAYA, Nov 4 — Matthias Gelber is serious about his commitment to living a green lifestyle.

The entrepreneur hasn’t owned a car for almost 20 years and more than 10 of them were spent living in the busy metropolitan city of Kuala Lumpur.

During that time, he relied solely on alternative modes of transport such as trains, buses, and bicycles, as well as Grab and taxi services.

Not only did Gelber reduce his carbon footprint by choosing to forego owning a car, but it’s also netted him major savings.

He holds strongly to the 5Rs (reduce, reuse, recycle, rot or compost and refuse) and emphasised how the “refuse” element is the easiest and most pocket-friendly practice to adhere to.

“People think that a green lifestyle is expensive but the opposite is true,” he told Malay Mail.

“A holistic green lifestyle includes asking yourself the question, ‘Do I really need this?’ The things that you don’t buy end up saving you money. Holistic green living has a net effect of saving you more than it’s costing you.”

Gelber also has a monthly electricity bill of just US$10 (RM41) as a result of his eco-friendly lifestyle.

The 42-year-old’s dedication to zero waste practices and sustainability in everyday life resulted in him being voted the “Greenest Person on the Planet” during a 2008 competition conducted by 3rdWhale Canada.

He will be sharing his views during WOWComm 2019 in a talk titled, “Let’s Make a Living from Healing the Planet, Rather than from Destroying It”.

WOWComm 2019 will bring business icons, industry legends, key government officials, high net worth investors, and industry influencers together to discuss the importance of sustainable business practices. 

Deputy Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Wan Azizah Wan Ismail and PKR president Datuk Seri Anwar Ibrahim are slated to be the guests of honour at the one-day conference.

It will take place at Putrajaya Marriott on December 5.

A child who grew up with Mother Nature

Growing up in a rural village in the forest taught Gelber the importance of preserving the planet’s natural beauty. — Picture courtesy of Matthias Gelber

Gelber’s green values are rooted in a childhood spent playing in the forests of Burbach-Lippe, Germany, where he treated the serene woodlands as his own little “playground”.

When acid rain began pouring down on the trees in his village, Gelber knew something had to be done to protect the forest that he knew and loved.

“We had a problem with acid rain and the pine trees in Germany were dying.

“I started reading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and I understood the link between industrial chemical pollution and its impact on human health and the planet.”

The ascension of a German political party known as the Greens in the 1990s inspired Gelber to embark on his career as a green entrepreneur and environmental activist.

“I realised as a teenager what my mission was and that it was to save the planet. 

“My late father once told me that I couldn’t make money from hugging trees so I had to prove that perception wrong.”

Gelber then moved to Malaysia to continue his green mission and has given several TEDx talks on sustainability to students at Universiti Malaya and Universiti Putra Malaysia, to name a few.

Making sustainability relevant

Gelber believes that every individual can be an agent of change in the fight against the climate crisis. — Picture courtesy of Matthias Gelber

Some tips Gelber had for Malaysians to embrace eco-friendly living in their everyday routine included taking public transport rather than driving, substituting red meat in their diets for plant-based foods and replacing single-use plastics with reusable bags or containers. 

One of his methods to spark a sense of urgency in people regarding climate change is to link it to something that they care about. 

He added that one of the best audiences that he has had was a group of cancer survivors in Malaysia as they wanted to know about sources of pollution and how to live more environmentally friendly.

“They were the most attentive audience because they personally experienced the impact of the environment on their health. 

“Generally, we need to find a language that people understand and understand what drives or motivates them. It might be the health aspect or how a green business can make you good, clean money.”

Gelber is currently serving as director of sustainability at eco-friendly business hub Global Sustainability Exchange and is a strong believer in the ability of organisations to make a profit from green practices.

Tickets for WOWComm 2019 are at RM250 per person, RM220 for more than 10 sign-ups, and RM200 for more than 20 sign-ups.

Malay Mail and Bernama are media partners for the event.

For more information, surf over to the WOWComm website.

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