Matthias Gelber, the GreenMan is an avid environmentalist and comes from Burbach-Lippe, a small German village surrounded by the forest. He developed a strong connection with nature from a young age, and has been a passionate advocate of green living ever since.
In 2008, he was voted ‘Greenest Person on the Planet’ in an online competition by 3rdWhale in Canada. Matthias lives in Malaysia without a car and a monthly USD$10 electricity bill. He also started Eco Warriors Malaysia, a community movement focused on taking positive action to combat climate change.
Matthias graduated with Masters in Environmental Science from Brunel University in the UK and went on to start a successful environmental consulting company in 1999. In 2007, he co-founded Maleki GmbH, a German Green Tech company specialising in high performance, low carbon footprint construction materials. He also was a Board Member of Solexel Malaysia Sdn Bhd, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Solexel Inc in Silicon Valley for the last 4 plus years.
Matthias is also a consummate speaker and trainer on environmental issues, and is often seen giving green talks to corporates, government organisations and schools in the South East Asian region.
Matthias has also published his first book, “The Greenman’s Guide to Green Living and Working” which teaches the How To’s of incorporating Green Living in all aspects of your life, your home and all your business.
When I spoke to Matthias, he was in Malaysia. Most of the time we will currently find him in the Philippines because of his work with the ADB (Asian Development Bank) Business Forum for their upcoming event.
Matthias, how did you get involved in doing what you do?
I’ve always been an environmental advocate. When I was a teenager already I knew this is my mission in life. I was involved in campaigns for cleaning up the air in Germany. We have acid rain coming from factories, polluting the environment. This was coming down as acidic rain. And we were basically doing public protests against acid rain.
We were asking the government to initiate legislation to cut down on factory pollution. So already as a teenager I was involved in environmental issues and campaigns. It was a time when in Germany the Green Party was rising to very significant political prominence. So, we were the post-war generation and our teachers were educating us to be different, to stand for peace and to be in harmony with the planet.
The focus has always been to make a positive difference, so we were trying to address those issues by doing stuff that was helping Mother Earth.
Our teachers challenged us to look at issues, to think deeper; to do critical thinking and analysis and to look after humans and the planet from a perspective of peace and harmony.
I grew up in a little village. You know we grew our own potatoes and vegetables. Everything that we were eating was coming from our own stuff that we were growing. I was playing in the forest after school so I was very much a nature and countryside boy.
What are you doing at this specific moment?
The Asian Development Bank Green Business Forum
I am working as a consultant for the Asian Development Bank (ADB) in the Philippines to assist them with their first ADB ‘Green Business Forum’ (GBF) for Asia and the Pacific, which takes place from the 22 – 24th of November 2016.
It is all about how the private sector can make a contribution towards the challenges of the planet. We are working on things such as polution control / prevention, waste management / minimization, clean water, sustainable forest, land and water management, sustainable development goals, climate change and much more – how a business can do it’s best to be a part of the change rather than waiting for governments and legislation and all of these macro policy instruments to make the changes. The question is how can we change the economy from within?
The GBF brings together experts, business practitioners, and key stakeholders to share knowledge and identify avenues for promoting green business solutions in the region. The GBF aims to provide a platform for knowledge sharing and lesson learning on the best policies/incentives, institutional arrangements, and financing modalities that can best support rapid green business development in the region. So it’s a great opportunity for people to get access to the latest trends and developments with regards to green business. So it’s a great opportunity for people to get access to the latest trends and developments with regards to green business.
Shaking up the Malaysian Residential Landscape with GreenManTinyHome
I am also currently building a tiny off grid carbon-neutral eco friendly home in Malaysia which will be the first home I guess that will be completely focused on addressing as many environmental features as possible. http://www.greenmantinyhome.com
I have wondered why we build homes that are hot and without good air circulation pushing millions of people into living with air-con or sweating in their homes in countries with hot and humid climates. This does not need to be the case and it will not cost more money. That is what I want to prove with the help of my team and inspire many others to create and built homes that are designed for the local climate and enable comfortable and cost saving zero carbon footprint living.
We are designing the home to be insulated and cool so that we for instance don’t need air-conditioning. We have eliminated the major energy requirements and we will power it with small, cheap 200 US dollar solar home system that will provide ongoing free electricity and we will use rainwater harvesting as a way to supply all the water. We have a toilet without the need for water and connection to waste supply. We will just recover everything as fertilizer. And so it’s going to be a completely green home that I am promoting energy efficiency with the so-called mega-watt revolution and doing inspirational talks. This home is basically crowd sourced. Most of the materials are contributed by the suppliers. Most of the labor is contributed by the suppliers. It will be my home in Malaysia and my priority is it being an educational, inspirational tool to show it can be done here. People are interested to scale this up for low cost housing. So I’m very happy for all the people that are involved in it – the suppliers, the architect, the engineer – and believe that they will get a lot of business from it because then it will be successful. My own goal is I want to inspire others to make it happen. The walls and the roof are already done. Tomorrow we will put the water and electricity conduit pipes into floor. Then we’ll do the floor and finish that so that the shell of the home is finished. And we just need to do the interiors, the windows, the solar home system and stuff like that.
Here are some updates on how the GreenManTinyHome project is evolving:
Below, The GreenMan shares his eco-responsive home concept during a TEDx talk at University Putra Malaysia.
Miss Earth 2016 Pageant
Since speaking with Matthias, he was a pageant judge and led an Environmental Seminar at the MISS EARTH Competition! I’m sure that a lot of his male friends were ‘green’ with envy!
Here are some pictures and a bit of Matthias’ feedback from this amazing event.
‘Last Year I read about the Miss Earth finals in the papers, this year the “German Environmentalist” had the honor to be there as one of the judges – I guess if you do your service for the planet you get sometimes rewarded right ? Thanks Miss Earth for putting up another amazing show and running the most meaningful pageant event with a most worthy cause. My highlight was meeting so many genuine Women of the Earth full of passion to serve for Mother Earth in their country and beyond. Thanks ladies for making my day and for your commitment and advocacy! I love to watch on FB how you continue your great work for the planet while you are back home again in your countries – thanks for inspiring me!’
Matthias led an Environmental Seminar with the 84 Miss Earth 2016 candidates.
Rock Your Life’s MBA Entrepreneur X Factor Business School in Bali Dec. 2016
Matthias continued: All of the above will keep me going until the end of the year and then I’ll most likely be the Green Mentor of Rock Your Life’s MBA Entrepreneur X Factor Business School in Bali in December. So that’s another project that I have in mind for this year as well.
I have also received an invitation to be a member of an Indian foundation but I didn’t have the time to do it because I need to put a bit more emphasis on the launch of the green home here in Malaysia, which I think I can only do once I’ve completed my Green Business Forum consulting contract with the ADB, which is happening from the 22nd to the 24th of November this year.
I’m also involved in two different Green Tech businesses. One is a company that I co-founded in Germany, which is called Maleki. Maleki GmbH is a specialized, developing and manufacturing company of exceptional and environmentally friendly building materials in the fields of building construction, civil engineering, agriculture, landscaping and acid protection.
We are already nine years old and among oher things, we basically replace cement in building materials, using recycled material. We massively reduce the environmental impact because cement has a huge carbon footprint. About six or seven percent of all the world’s carbon dioxide emissions come from the manufacturing of cement. So we massively reduce the carbon footprint of those building materials and we actually improve the performance. Usually when you recycle things you think all the recycled stuff is not as good as the original, but we make the product even better. We mainly use fly ash which is a by-product of coal fired power plants or we use the blast furnace slack of both of those. In theory we can also use recycled aggregate to replace sand.
But this all depends on what is available locally. In most cases, it’s much more expensive and logistically difficult. We can use it but it depends on local availability.
The other Green Technology initiative that I am supporting at the moment is one that has won two significant global awards from the ICT industry. It’s basically a green Data Centre concept where you massively reduce the amount of electricity needed for cooling all of your data centre servers The normal concept is to do this with air, which is very expensive as it requires a huge amount of electricity. But in this case you cool it with liquid, by placing the computer servers into liquid. People are scared of using this technology as they believe it could cause electrocution and damage to the servers but this liquid doesn’t conduct electricity, so you can put your server in there. You can take it out two years later and it’s clean and beautiful and it’s like brand new even though it’s been working and operating in the liquid. So instead of you needing a very fast running fan that cools everything, you have the liquid cooling everything. This reduces your electricity cost and the impact thereof on the environment by 80 to 90 percent. There is also the huge advantage you don’t have any dust building up in your servers, which is a normal headache with air and fan principled cooling. There is no way for the dust to come in, therefore no dust and no wear and tear on your computer servers.
What is your end goal – your mission with everything that you’re doing?
My mission is to inspire a lot of other people to believe that they can Be The Change in terms of living a lifestyle that isn’t a burden on Mother Earth but rather living in a way that has a the healing impact on the planet, both from a personal perspective as well as in the organisational or business scale. We can be Healers rather than Destroyers.
Tell me about a time when you were challenge to stay committed to a project
Maleki, the Green Tech Germany-based business was very difficult to start off and very difficult to get established for the first three years. We really struggled with unrealistic expectations in terms of how quickly we would take off. We had loads of emotional blame issues and financial constraints in the business. We had to pour in a lot more money than we originally expected so everybody was pushed to the limit and I was kind of in the middle holding it together because I was responsible to answer to the technical guy as well as to all of the investors. So with Maleki I had to really show some bite, some determination and stamina. Also the ability to become the punching bag at times, both in terms of who is to blame and who stretched themselves beyond their available financial means. So that was a time where I really had to bite the bullet and stay committed to the big vision, otherwise it would not have come to life. I knew it was my mission.
What is your greatest success story to date?
I think it is when individuals share with me that they have heard my talks some years ago and they still remember it, and that it has changed their lifestyle, their way of thinking and their behavior. So the accumulation of those small little changes is maybe my biggest success.
What is your best advice to others about raising funds for sustainability projects?
In my case the funds that are raised came from people that I knew very well, people that believed in me and that trusted me. So it was more in my circle of friends and colleagues. This at the same time is difficult because when something doesn’t go as expected, there’s a lot of emotional stuff and responsibility involved. But this way has kind of worked for me and those guys who were the investors actually became strong supporters on the journey when the going was getting tough. And I think they believed in my sincerity in the big vision even though we may have battles with other people involved in the project. They were sticking with that big vision and that’s made the whole thing work. So I personally found it easier to tap into those contacts especially at the early stages when we didn’t have all the paperwork necessary these days. And we never ran the company in the super professional way of having all the legal investment paperwork involved in the beginning. We just didn’t have the expertise or the money to finance that kind of super professional fundraising level. So it was done from a personal, private and a trust perpective and it has worked well.
And actually the first business that I started was an environmental management and training company. I started with no money down and I met this guy at the event that I was running and he said: ‘You know what? Your sales pitch sucks.’ And I had to agree with him because I was trying to sell some environmental management software that day and even though I had a lot of big companies there, nobody bought anything. But then he continued and said: ‘For you to get these people to this godforsaken place is quite amazing. You couldn’t sell, but you have a pull factor. You have a brand. Let’s work together. Let me do the sales. Just you focus on doing what you’re good at doing – the inspiration, the content, the technical knowledge. Let me do the sales tactic.’ And out of that we created a complimentary collaboration. We started the business April ’99. And he had this idea that I would have never have had in the same month when we started the business. I was the main speaker on environmental management at a peak Green Technology exhibition. We had one of the largest UK companies came to me after my talk saying that they have exactly those problems that I was referring to in my talk. My new partner put a mobilization fee in the proposal contract, even though we haven’t done any work yet. So suddenly we had 20000 pounds sterling in our bank account andthere was a cash flow for our company. So I would have never had those ideas I would have never been able to write such a proposal or pull that one off. But this guy was much more experienced and shrewd in financial matters and he came up with with such a proposal and it worked, but it worked because there was a combination of my reputation and credibility in the marketplace and he knew how to basically do deals. So as a combination we raised funds just through a smart design of a project flow and asking the customer for some upfront money. So that was a fund raising way without giving any equity away.
We started the business on a shoestring and we were the the shareholders there were we we gave our employees some incentive share kind of allocation but we were holding you know 100 percent of the shares and we sold the business less than two years after starting it. And so we we walked off with a good chunk of money. So it was a zero money down high return. We sold the business at a time when we realized all we have to expand we have to look for bigger office and all we have different opinions on how to run the company in the future. So it kind of all fell into place that selling the business was the best way forward. Mark and I are still friends and last time I was in the UK we met up for drinks.
What would you like to inspire people to do when they read about your work?
I would like to inspire them to realize and believe that within everyday life activities, in all the things they have control and influence over – in their own life, their home, their family, their house, their place of work or the business that they run, that they can actually start changing things without losing out financially. In many cases actually financially benefiting from it by putting measures in place so that what they do in their every day living and life has a healing impact rather than a destructive impact on Mother Earth. And that includes things like how can you minimize the waste at home. How can you reduce your electricity bill, your water consumption. How can you live healthier, by re-connecting back with Mother Earth by eating more eco-friendly, healthier food. To have a home that is not full of toxic chemicals and pollutants but a healthy place for your children or for you and your family to live in with good indoor air quality. Ask questions such as: How can you engage in the community? How can you make your office eco friendly? How can you create your business through innovation?
By using new green technology, new green, healing products. By reducing your electricity and water consumption which are both ongoing costs that you’ll have to pay. How can you flip it around and turn all of those aspects of your life that you have control and influence over, into the healing impact rather than destructive impact.
I want to make people believe that they can be the change. It can be done. It’s not so burdensome it can be fun and entertaining and if you keep doing those kind of things one day you might be rewarded by being asked to be the judge of the Miss Earth competition! My male friends ask me: ‘Green Man how do you get these kind of gigs?’
The only thing I can say is that I guess it’s Mother Earth rewarding me for all the service to her over the years.
Which of all the new green technologies that are currently out there do you think has the most significant impact on sustainability at the moment?
I actually think solar is starting to really take off like a rocket in certain countries and the cost of solar is becoming so competitive, especially when you look at it over the full duration of time when the solar panels deliver electricity. I mean just buying good decent solar panel you get a 25 year plus warranty. So you’re investing into the next 25 years of power. And once the price of storage comes down, as Elon Musk is doing with Tesla batteries and others are also focusing on this; within five years time, solar plus battery technology will be as cheap as coal fired power plant.
So we see a transition in how we can generate electricity and in 10 years time, I think that coal fired power plants will be a liability because solar plus battery technology will be beating them in terms of speed, time of delivery and cost per unit of kilowatt hour. So there is a revolution that’s already happening as we speak. You just need to have a long term horizon. You need to have cheap financing and economies of scale.
And then the solar and wind revolution, the revolution of renewable energy, is unstoppable.
So, there you have it! Mother #Earth rewarded Matthias Gelber for all that he has done for her thus far: inviting him to be a judge at the Miss Earth competition – how is That for Brownie points!
Keep in touch with The GreenMan’s sustainability journey and the difference he is making in our World: