City&Country: Green Moves-- Setting an example

It has been about two years since German Ambassador to Malaysia Dr Guenter Georg Gruber took up his post in Kuala Lumpur. 

Every morning, except when it rains, he  cycles to work — in his suit! His office is on busy Jalan Tun Razak in the city centre,  about a mile away from his home on Jalan Kia Peng. “It takes me about 5 minutes to get there,” he tells City & Country.

In case you are wondering, the ambassador has not taken to cycling to stay fit — playing golf and tennis takes care of that. Rather, he is passionate about green issues and walks the talk in his pursuit of a greener world.

“I also cycle to functions if they are near my office. But the main problem I have is once I reach the hotel, for example, there is no place to park my bicycle amidst the luxury cars!” he quips. These days, however, some of the valets at the nearby hotels recognise him and are aware of who he is.

Cycling to work and nearby events is his way of setting an example in reducing greenhouse gas emissions. He wants to be a role model, as well as save some time instead of being stuck in KL’s traffic jams. A father of three, this 61-year-old is anxious to leave a better world for his children and the future generations.  He lovingly refers to his children as “my most precious possessions.”

Born in Munich, Gruber says Germany is the world leader in environmental technology. It is currently the biggest solar-power producing country and 20% of its energy production mix comes from renewable energies (RE).

It was no easy feat, of course. In fact, it took Germany 40 years to be where it is today. Gruber says Malaysia, with its focus on development, is in a way how Germany was like back in the 1970. “I personally believe Malaysia has what it takes to become a world leader in RE. The tropical climate will be great for solar, as well as biomass. Malaysia can then set an example for countries such as Cambodia, Vietnam, India and Africa,” he says.

The RE technology sector can also create new jobs, he says. “Environmental technology is in fact creating the highest number of jobs in Germany now. It is no longer the car industry, as one may think,” he clarifies. The initial cost may be high in the beginning but it pays off eventually, he adds.

Gruber says it is important to have role models to help change the mindset of the people. “For a start, people must first make a commitment to save the environment. It should be a bottom-up approach. Look and learn from other good examples and role models.

“I remember some time ago when we had a river clean-up activity in Germany, after which our environment minister actually drank half a litre of the river water and swam in the river,” he adds.

Asked about his daily routine and green practices, Gruber says aside from cycling to work, he also makes sure lights in the office that are not necessary are not turned on. “If only buildings have double or even triple glazed windows, we would not need to depend on air conditioners so much.”

He also sometimes walk up to his office instead of taking the lift. “For example, whenever I come to my office during the weekend, I do not take the lift. I walk,” he says. No easy feat, as his office is on the 26th floor!

As for vacations, Gruber prefers eco-tourism destinations. Most Germans, he says, are willing to fork out more money on such trips as it is something they are passionate about. He cites Sabah and Sarawak as beautiful local eco-tourism destinations. Changing mindsets is a process and it does not happen overnight, he admits. However, “once we change our behaviour, many other changes will follow suit,” he believes.

This article appeared in City & Country, the property pullout of The Edge Malaysia, Issue 799, Mar 29 – Apr 4, 2010

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