Not everyone is happy about Meattle’s environmental activism. He says that his life was threatened as a result of one of his antipollution campaigns. However, he has no qualms about filing public-interest litigation or directly confronting those he believes are part of the environmental problem. In the late 1990s, he learned that benzene was being used in India as a fuel additive. Meattle says that benzene exposure greatly increases the chances of getting leukemia; he is especially concerned about traffic police, who are constantly exposed to exhaust fumes. “I told an oil company executive that he was going to hell for poisoning people,” he says. (Since then, and with the urging of others like Meattle, India has begun reducing the percentage of benzene in gasoline.)
Such harsh tactics seem surprising in a man who exudes serenity. Even when impassioned, Meattle doesn’t raise his voice. But he still manages to make himself heard.
Although he’s a member of India’s upper class–he was school chums with Rajiv Gandhi and is on a first-name basis with several dignitaries–Meattle works in modest surroundings. His office is barely large enough for his desk and a small table. A man who decries American SUVs, he says that excess space is wasteful. But he is proud that every office in his office hotel has mesh screens on the windows and hanging plants outside on enclosed balconies, the combination of which, he says, lowers the building temperature by 2 °C and saves 2.4 million BTUs of air conditioning each day.
Meattle also has big plans for solar energy: he wants to use photovoltaic strips to provide power for his next office hotel, which is now on the drawing board. Slated to open in 2008, Haryana Technology Park will be a bigger, better Paharpur Business Centre, on the road to the Taj Mahal; it will employ all the latest green technologies. The goal, Meattle says, is to develop the world’s most energy-efficient building, which fellow MIT alumnus Jasbir Sawhney, MArch ‘65, is designing.
Meattle’s activism began humbly. In 1986 he formed the Save the Trees Organisation, hoping to stop trees from being cut down to make wooden apple boxes in the northern Indian state of Himachal Pradesh. “I learned that two acres of trees were being chopped to make boxes for every one acre of apples being harvested,” he says. “There had to be a better way.” With the panache of a marketing executive, he enlisted the help of schoolchildren and adapted apple-box designs from New Zealand manufacturers to come up with a sturdier, recyclable corrugated box made of recycled paper and fibers. Because it takes about a cubic foot of wood to make a single wooden box, Meattle estimates that approximately 100 million trees have been saved since 1986. He adds that the corrugated boxes have worked so well for apples that they are now being used for mangoes, oranges, grapes, and cherries, too.