The role that the younger generation will play to preserve the environment was recognised by multinational Bayer, which brought 48 university students from 16 countries together for a weeklong tour of Germany. HARIATI AZIZAN followed the young environmentalists on their study trip.
WHEN a visit to a “rubbish dump” can create such an excitement among a few hip young individuals, you know instantly that this is no ordinary group. They are aspiring environmentalists – a rare breed, at least in our part of the world. But at a time when our earth is changing so rapidly due to global industrialisation and development, the congregation of these young “greenies” has never been timelier. The young environmentalists were brought together under the Bayer Young Environmental Envoy (BYEE) 2006 programme for a week-long study of Germany's environmental and sustainable development initiatives. And given the chance to experience environmental protection first hand, specifically those practised by the leading global enterprise at its headquarters in Leverkusen, North Rhine Westphalia state, Germany, the group of 48 university students from 16 countries wasted no time to share ideas and network with each other. As Malaysian student Goh Meei Ying, 23, aptly put it, “It’s a global problem, what one country does affects others. I think if we go on as we are doing without control, we won’t have a future. Not just in Malaysia but everywhere in the world.” Sustainable programme First initiated in 1995 in Thailand, the BYEE programme was conceived by the country’s Bayer office out of concern for the environment. In 1997, the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) regional office for Asia Pacific adopted the project and the programme was expanded to include participants from other countries in the region, namely Singapore, Philippines, India and China. In 2004, BYEE became one of UNEP’s flagship programmes as Bayer became its first private corporate partner to promote environmental educational projects for young people. Other countries, including those from other continents such as Brazil, Colombia, Poland and Kenya were then invited to participate. This year, Malaysia and Vietnam came on board, and two students were selected to represent each country. Bayer, which has a long history in promoting environmental protection, recognises that youth will play a major role in determining the environmental future of their communities. Hence, BYEE is intended to provide young people from around the world with broader perspectives of their environment while helping to spark new ideas for protection work and build their networks. The study tour was definitely enlightening, shares the other Malaysian participant, mechanical engineering student Azmil Md Ikram, 21, from Universiti Tenaga Nasional (Uniten). “My interest in the environment has changed significantly because I thought it would cost a lot of money to set up an environmental programme. But this field trip has shown that this is not the case if everyone takes responsibility. It has changed my perception on the possibilities of environmental protection.” Valuable exposure The weeklong field trip was crammed with visits to Bayer environmental facilities and production plants, as well as lectures by experts from Bayer, the European Union and UNEP. This not only provided the envoys with an insight into the technology and policies that make Germany a leading advocate of sustainable development in the world, but also gave them the opportunity to discuss related issues with the experts and their peers. Speakers included Bayer AG’s management board member Dr Wolfgang Plischke, who briefed the envoys about the global company’s commitment to environmental protection and sustainable development, and Frithjof Finkbeiner, the co-founder of two global environmental programmes: the Global Contract Foundation and the Global Marshall Plan Initiative. Finkbeiner’s fiery presentation on global responsibility in creating a worldwide Eco-Social Market Economy to ensure equal distribution of wealth for everybody sparked a lot of discussion on the current imbalance in the global economy. Another speaker that got a lot of attention was UNEP director of communications Eric Falt who spoke on UNEP programmes and encouraged the envoys to stay committed to their environmental work. Representatives from the State Environmental Protection Agency (LUA) also received a lot of interest as they talked about the policies implemented and their enforcement work to ensure the continual quality of air and water in the state. However, it was the visits to the various environmental institutes and plants that really opened the envoys’ eyes as they provided them with hands-on learning opportunities. On-site learning As a leading global producer of healthcare, nutrition and innovative materials, Bayer provided a lot of things to see and absorb at its institutes and plants. The guided tours not only enlightened envoys on the company's environmental-friendly production processes but also provided them with an in-depth view of cutting edge research and technology. Bayer's plastic products, especially the recent FIFA World Cup 2006 official football, created a buzz of excitement among the envoys when they were taken around the Bayer showrooms at the Bayer Communications Centre BayKomm. At the BayerCropScience institutes, where advanced biochemistry experiments and researches are conducted, envoys were exposed to the latest findings on fighting plant diseases and shown cutting edge experiments on residues, ecotoxicology and consumer safety. “The most important thing at Bayer is to make it safe, safe, safe for consumers,” was a continual refrain of the Bayer experts as the envoys learnt more about Bayer’s commitment and responsibility in sustainable development. Still, the highlight of the trip was the visits to the municipal waste management plants and the LUA laboratory ship Max Pruss on the River Rhine, where envoys got the chance to witness how water quality control experiments are conducted. The “oohs” and “ahhs” that reverberated among the envoys on their visits said it all. Azmil, who was very impressed by the Germans’ efficiency, says that the visit has opened his eyes to the need for a more efficient waste management system in Malaysia. “Germany's waste management systems are very efficient compared to the waste management system in Malaysia. Of course, the Germans are far more advanced compared to us but it has shown me the importance of having an efficient system if we want to protect our environment.” Cultural experience Apart from the environmental activities, the envoys were also exposed to German culture to give them a deeper understanding of the close relationship between society and the environment. As such, the envoys stayed in Cologne, a historical city about 10 minutes from Leverkusen and a sightseeing tour was slotted into their busy schedule to give them a taste of what the city had to offer. Taken on a walk around the city, the envoys were introduced to its Gothic architecture and Roman heritage. However, it soon became apparent to them that the quality of life in the city was possible because of the efficient environmental programmes conducted by the government and the green practices of its people. Above the din of excitement of the group, the words “The sky is so blue and the air is so fresh,” were heard. For Azmil, the cultural exposure was a bonus. “On this trip, I have achieved my aims – to travel and learn about a new culture as well as environmental protection.” His favourite was the dinners, he shared, which not only provided a taste of German cuisine but also the chance to mingle and make new friends. Capping the trip was a visit to Bay Arena, the home of German football club Bayer Leverkusen, which has benefited from Bayer's innovative product developments and environmental-friendly programmes. Goh, an environmental engineering student, shares that the visit has been very useful as it was very relevant to her field of study. However, she adds, it has also highlighted the differences between the two countries. “Programmes like this are good in exposing students to the possibilities but at the same time it has made me aware of the problems in Malaysia. It will be difficult for us to directly apply all the concepts and programmes they have here in Malaysia. “We are two different countries – Germany is developed but Malaysia is still developing. We have different economic situations, different political structures and different regulations. For now, we can only think of ways to adapt what they have.” For Azmil, getting the chance to visit Germany was rewarding enough. “And I hope after hearing what a good programme this is, many students will be interested to participate http://thestar.com.my/education/story.asp?file=/2006/11/26/education/16117478