To us he is Mr Green but that’s not actually his real name. It would’ve been cooler if it was. Matthias Gelber is saving the planet one tree at a time. Having recently won the award for the Greenest Person on the Planet, the 41-year-old German has been making headlines all across the country. Matthias came in ahead of the 600 other participants from around the world to emerge as the champion in this annual competition held in Canada. The organisers of the award, 3rd Whale, call it the American Idol for green people. Aside from winning this prestigious accolade, Matthias is also currently residing in Kuala Lumpur under the Malaysia My Second Home (MM2H) programme.
So how did it all start? Hailing from the small town of Lippe in Germany, Matthias’ passion for nature and the environment was instilled when he was a kid playing in his backyard. “Suffice to say I grew up in my own ‘kampung’ in Germany where there were only about 500 people. The woods, mountains and snow were always at our disposal. My connection to the environment was always here,” he says.
It was also Matthias’ dream to work with the environment. “I always wanted to learn chemistry to know better about pollution and how we can produce less emissions.” He earned a Masters in Environmental Science in the UK and went on to start his own environmental consulting company to deal with sustainability issues. To put it simply, his passion is in protecting the environment using some of his personal practices including reduction of consumption, living without a car, recycling, using energy efficiency strategies and other practical environmental actions. Matthias is also the initiator and board member of Maleki GmbH, a German-based start-up company, specialising in Low Carbon footprint high performance Green Building materials.
No doubt he could have retired doing anything else, but he chose to stick to his passion. “Life is more enjoyable if you follow your passion. It’s not only about being out in the sun playing golf but living a meaningful life and leaving a legacy behind and making the world a better place,” he says. But why Malaysia? From an environment point of view, Matthias says Malaysia is one of the top five countries that are rich in biodiversity. “You have the verdant jungle, amazing flora and fauna, tropical climate and beautiful islands… it is truly a fascinating country. It is, however, quite a challenge to have a balance of economic development and environmental preservation. The enforcement of environmental legislation should also be enhanced but it is great to see the younger generation of college students working hard towards this goal.”
Why did you choose the MM2H programme? “I have received such good feedback from many expats on how wonderful Malaysia is. I spent 10 years in the UK and then I came to Malaysia. I found the MM2H programme attractive in that it provided me with a solid framework that has allowed me to live here under the five-year visa.”
Always resplendent in his signature green Treehugger T-shirts, Matthias has travelled the world and spoken in 38 countries on related issues such as climate change, green technology, green building materials and corporate social responsibility. He currently has many trees planted in his name in Thailand and Panama and these capture a lot more CO2 than he emits in his day-to-day living and travels.
Bagging the Greenest Person on The Planet award does definitely come with a lot of pressure to project a certain image within his lifestyle. “My practices aren’t as totally out there as you might imagine. My day-to-day habits include recycling and purchasing things I really need so as to not generate more waste. I do pledge to buy another 1,000 trees in the Plant-A-Tree-Today (PATT) scheme and I plan to launch a project to have one million trees planted worldwide before 22 April (Earth Day) next year.”
By Aida Ahmad