“regardless of what situation or mood I’m in, I always wear a smile”

Sustainable happiness

Dave Mateo


September 2020 EBC Personality / Text by Toby Waters

It’s been easy to feel down this year. Many of the things that make us happy — such as trips, festivals, and parties — had to be cancelled because of the coronavirus pandemic. But Dave Mateo, senior public affairs and sustainability manager at Danone Japan, has developed a personal philosophy that helps him to keep an upbeat attitude and a smile on his face, no matter what life throws at him.

To Mateo, the key to living well is to live life in the moment.

“In my experience, when you give 100% of who you are or what you can do to the moment you’re in, that’s what lasts,” he says. “I think that I’m a much better version of myself when I’m with people I love, when I give, and when I submerge myself in experiences with new people, cultures, and environments.”

He also believes that happiness itself is not a final or permanent goal.

“Everyone is obsessed with being happy — but they don’t really understand what happiness is for them,” he states. “Real happiness is about finding a little happiness, no matter how small, in every minute of your daily life. And regardless of what situation or mood I’m in, I always wear a smile.”

Sharing moments with others is one important way Mateo finds happiness. Originally from the Philippines, he has travelled on every continent except Antarctica, and extensively within Japan, and always carries his Polaroid camera with him. The immediacy of the photos it produces allows him to capture and share small moments with friends and strangers alike.

“Every time I travel, even if I’m alone, I get to meet people just by giving them a photo,” he says. “One family in Sri Lanka even invited me to dinner, and I ended up eating a feast with almost half the village — all because of one Polaroid photo.”

Mateo has learned to take life as it comes. Fretting about tomorrow means that you suffer twice — once by worrying and again when tomorrow actually comes. Moreover, in the end, even unpleasant moments can take on a different hue once you put them in perspective.

“Regardless of what your experiences are — bad or good — it’s all about how you perceive them,” he says. “You may be quite disappointed when you get splashed with mud on a trip to Vietnam, for example, but give yourself a month or two and you’ll be laughing about it.”

Underpinning Mateo’s philosophy is the value of living with purpose. In his case, it is to help improve environmental sustainability any way he can, referring to himself as a “zero-waste evangelist”. In addition to studying environmental engineering and management at Kyoto University, he has worked for two decades in the area of sustainability in academia, at a UN organisation, as an auditor, at a major retailer, and now at a manufacturer.

In his current role, he works towards making Danone Japan a more socially and environmentally responsible company. He is dedicated to seeing the firm continue its positive transformation as a certified B Corp and using its business as “a force for good”.

In his personal life, too, Mateo strives to cut out waste as much as possible.

“Being a zero-waste person is an ambition,” he says. “It may not happen, but having the goal reminds me to do something every single day to reduce my impact on Earth.”

Taking the steps towards making the world greener does mean being more thoughtful about what you buy. But if you go through with it, it can be a lot of fun.

“During sakura season, I organise zero-waste hanami. I tell all my friends not to bring any single-use plastics, just homemade food. It helps us to connect in a different way, asking each other what we made and what we brought,” Mateo explains. “And if you bring any single use plastics, you’re fined ¥1,000 — and we use that for more booze.”

Even if he’s fining people, Mateo can find a way to put a smile on everyone’s face.•