Written on the 8 March 2010 by Tom Reid

WHATEVER you do don’t call Matt Keys a ‘greenie’.

The managing director of Habitat Environmental Management may be a passionate conservationist at heart, but his success is built on the mind of a businessman.

“For environmental sustainability to be achieved, it must first be economically sustainable,” says Keys.

“My staff’s approach when they get out of bed in the morning is the same as mine, to deliver a positive outcome for the client and the environment; and the two can co-exist.”

Keys stays well clear of unrealistic ‘greenie’ environmental practices and has built his company’s success on ‘results that are cost effective and meaningful for clients’.

“There have been many well meaning, but frankly hair-brain proposals over the years that have diverted attention away from the fundamental issues,” says Keys.

“One of the few positives of the GFC is that it has sharpened the focus on the critical concerns affecting the environment and not muddied the waters with ‘greenie’ tripe.

We’ve gone from a huge, mind-boggling range of environmental issues and drilled it down to what’s essential.”

Keys started his career in environmental management at the age of 19 with the Australian Conservation Foundation before moving on to an executive director position with the Surfrider Foundation.

He founded Habitat in 1998 after ‘seeing an opportunity’ and is quick to reflect on how significantly the sector has changed in less than two decades.

“When I started out 20 years ago there was very little that used to take any effect. If anything, environmental concerns were an afterthought.

"Those were the days when if it moved we shot at it and if it stood still we cut it down,” says Keys.

“Now, existing and prospective clients call us in before they even consider making a move on any development or project.”

Heading a $3 million a year company and working regularly with clients including Stockland and Sunland Group hasn’t changed Keys’ core motivation.

“For me, it’s always been an inherent care in the environment and a belief that Australia can constantly improve its performance. There was no grand plan to create a multimillion dollar company, it came down to the desire for the greater good,” he says.

“The first job we did at Habitat was the assessment of a six hectare site for $750. That was about a week’s work between three blokes, but we were stoked that someone would pay us at all to look at the flora and fauna on the site. There is obviously a lot more to it these days and the figures reflect that.”

The 39-year-old maintains that the opportunity is there to generate five times current turnover, but is adamant in maintaining the ‘quality over quantity’ core practice that founded the company’s success.

“I am a firm believer that you could have 100 staff and turnover $100 million but unless I’m convinced that the quality in work is there, it won’t happen,” says Keys.

“What it comes down to here on the Gold Coast is that we want to protect and enhance our quality lifestyle. I live in a nice house and drive a nice car and believe there is no need to be greedy when you’re in that situation.”

Author: Tom Reid





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