Greg Schreiner

Sustainability scientist, CSIR

Greg Schreiner was a self-confessed mediocre scholar throughout his school career, and for his first two years of university. There, he shifted between courses, handed in assignments late and paid the price by doing supplementary exams. But then he sat down and did some serious introspection, realising that he needed to do something that he was actually passionate about.

An undergraduate degree in environmental sciences at the University of KwaZulu-Natal followed. Then honours at the University of Cape Town. And then a MPhil in environment at Cambridge University. In the exploding field of environmental sciences, Schreiner’s focus meant he got snapped up for a job as a sustainability scientist at the Council for Scientific and Industrial Research (CSIR).

Despite his young age, in 2015 Schreiner helped to coordinate the Strategic Environmental Assessment for Shale Gas Development in the Central Karoo. The two-year project was the largest scientific assessment undertaken in this country’s history. While fracking is hugely controversial, the guidelines put in place by Greg and other scientists, alongside their professional focus on facts, resulted in a series of publications on fracking that are taken as fact in any debates around the process.

That work saw the CSIR award him with its Excellence Award for Emerging Leader. Undeterred by the workload, Schreiner also oversaw the establishment of a programme to offer environmental services to previously disadvantaged communities.

The six interns from that programme b r o u g h t critical skills to comm u n i t i e s that otherwise always bear the brunt of environmental issues. For this work, Greg was given the CSIR’s Excellence Award for Human Capital Development. Now he’s working under one of South Africa’s most famous environmental scientists, Dr Bob Scholes, doing his PhD. Starting in June, this will be looking at how to translate good science into policy. Key to that is in being able to communicate well, especially in complicated fields. As an accredited commercial mediator with the Centre for Effective Dispute Resolution in London, this is now second nature.

One to understate his achievements, Schreiner hopes that his work has done its small part in helping South Africans to be more aware of environmental issues. His particular wish is for people to be more aware of the consequences that their actions have on the natural world around them. That’s a critical realisation in a drought-affected country. It is then down to citizens to work with scientists and government to make smart, deliberate choices, based on evidence. This is Greg’s passion, and one that keeps him hammering away to create the evidence on which decisions should be made. But that doesn’t get him out of bed in the morning. Intrigue does. That and the need to train intensely for a surfski race between Richard’s Bay and Durban in October.

— Sipho Kings

LinkedIn: linkedin.com/in/ greg-schreiner-40437217