His Royal Greenness
While the Prince of Wales is rarely out of the press, it’s not usually for his multitude of social and environmental endeavours, but rather his celebrity. Element takes a deeper look, and finds a man hugely knowledgeable about all things organic and genui
His Royal Highness the Prince of Wales is by no means your average eco-activist or icon of health consciousness, but the heir to the British throne has spent decades working on these issues throughout the world.
It is something that evidently goes back a long way and lies deep in his psyche. He describes his feelings as a teenager, growing up through the 1960s, when the rise of modernism and rush for progress seemed to be pushing all before it:
“I felt deeply about what seemed to me a dangerously shortsighted approach, whether in terms of the built or natural environment, agriculture, healthcare or education. In all cases we were losing something of vital importance.”
Next he recalls being invited to chair the Welsh committee of European Conservation Year 1970, work which inspired him to take on many of its concerns under the banner of his various charitable organisations. Because of the special nature of Prince’s role as heir to the throne as well as his relatively reserved personal style, you are unlikely to see him at a road protest or destroying genetically modified crops. But a brief look at some of his recent speeches is enough to show the breadth and depth of his concern for similar issues up to this day.
“Why do we tip the balance of the Earth’s delicate systems with yet more destruction, even though we know in our heart of hearts that in doing so we will most likely risk bringing everything down around us?” he says. “If we wish to maintain our civilizations then we must look after the Earth and actively maintain its many intricate states of balance so that it achieves the necessary, active state of harmony which is the prerequisite for the health of everything in creation. In other words, that which sustains us must also itself be sustained.”
That these words are coming from the mouth of a man at the very heart of the establishment, let alone somebody with the unique access to the power mongers of this world, makes them all the more potent. Interestingly, speeches like this from the Prince have also benefitted from the advice of Tony Juniper, the leading environmental campaigner, former executive director of Friends of the Earth and now special adviser to the Prince of Wales Charities’ International Sustainability Unit: a fact that adds further weight to the Prince’s eco-credentials.
Juniper credits the Prince with helping to inspire a group of major countries to pledge about six billion US dollars worth of additional funding for rainforest protection.
“His Royal Highness puts a gargantuan effort behind staying abreast of all that is going on in the broad field of sustainability,” he adds. “He reads a tremendous amount, spends a lot of time in conversation with experts and seeks out new material on cutting-
edge issues as he hears about them. As a result he carries more than four decades of learning, and this enables him to make a unique contribution on these vital issues, for example in how he is able to convince leaders of major companies to act.”
But these efforts go way beyond words or lofty lobbying in marble halls. In 1980 his commitment to the environment literally found fertile ground in the shape of Highgrove House near Tetbury in Gloucestershire, which was purchased by the Duchy of Cornwall as a residence for the Prince and his family. Six years later he began work to convert farmland on the property to organic production. The first public fruit of these endeavours appeared in 1992: an oaten biscuit launched under the Duchy Originals brand at Waitrose supermarkets in the UK, and certified as organic by the Soil Association. It was from the outset envisaged as a way to set up what the Prince refers to as a ‘virtuous cycle’.
“I wanted to demonstrate that it was possible to produce food of the highest quality, working in harmony with the environment and nature, using the best ingredients and adding value through expert production,” he said. “I also wanted to engender increasing funds for my charitable foundation, which receives all the profits through which I can then support an increasing number of worthwhile projects.”
The Duchy brand caught the wave of increased interest in organics and contributed to the evolving perception of organic food as a mark of premium quality, rather than just a fad for hippies and health food fanatics. Today Duchy originals covers a wide range of products, from beer to body care.
True to form, the Prince was also ahead of the game in instilling key aspects of environmental corporate responsibility in his own operations headquartered at Clarence House in London. During the refurbishment of the 19th century building after the Prince took up residence in 2003, sustainable wood certifiers the Forest Stewardship Council were engaged to help source materials and timber from responsibly managed forests. In 2006 the Prince announced plans to make travel arrangements for his family and staff more eco-friendly, including reporting on their overall carbon footprint and creating targets to see it reduced. He has also had many of his various cars converted to run on locally produced biodiesel.
At the same time, the Prince has expressed his interest in wellbeing through numerous interventions in the health sector. Criticism of this has focused on his support for homeopathy and other therapies variously referred to as ‘complementary’, ‘alternative’ or ‘natural’. But Prince Charles himself prefers to describe his approach as ‘whole-istic’: it takes in everything from hospital food to homegrown herb gardens and is explicitly linked to his concerns for the health of our environment as a whole.
He has said: “Western medicine has tended to regard disease as a parcel of symptoms to be dosed or chopped out, losing sight of the whole person behind the rash or lump and the various emotional and environmental factors that may contribute to their physical problems.”
Criticism turned to controversy in the later years of the Prince’s Foundation for Integrated Health, first established in 1993 to promote this approach. In 2004 the Foundation received £900,000 (NZ$1.8 million) from the UK government to “develop robust systems of regulation for the main complementary healthcare professionals”. But it then ran into its nemesis, in the form of Professor Edzard Ernst, a specialist in complementary medicine as well as one of the sector’s most outspoken and consistent debunkers. Ernst was asked to review a draft report for the Foundation commissioned by the Prince, but subsequently withdrew from working with it, describing it publicly as ‘outrageous and deeply flawed’. He has since referred to the Prince as a “snake oil salesman”, and said that allegations of breach of confidence made by the Prince’s staff ultimately led to his early retirement.
Then, in 2010 the Foundations finance director, accountant George Gray, was convicted of theft totalling £253,000 and sentenced to three years in prison after a ‘black hole’ in the Foundations finances was discovered. The Foundation closed the same year, although similar aims are now being pursued by several of its directors as part of a new organisation called College of Medicine.
“That which sustains us must also itself be sustained.”
In one of his most recent speeches on this subject this year the Prince said: “I have been saying for what seems a very long time that until we develop truly integrated systems, not simply treating the symptoms of disease, but actively creating health, putting the patient at the heart of the process by incorporating our core human elements of mind, body and spirit, we shall always struggle, in my view, with an over-emphasis on mechanistic, technological approaches. Please don’t misunderstand me, and I’ve said this over and over again and been systematically misunderstood: the best of science and technology constantly needs to be harnessed and deployed to best effect. But, I would suggest, not at the expense of the human elements which, after all, provide the whole rationale for medicine and healthcare going back to our roots.”
There are those who argue that the existence of a Royal family in the UK in the 21st century is an anachronism, and that the Prince himself is simply ill at ease with the modern age. But for a 64-yearold leading member of a centuries-old tradition, Prince Charles has frequently distinguished himself as a man ahead of his time. He has also been accused of hypocrisy, because the lavishness of his international lifestyle seems to contrast so starkly with his advocacy of a simpler life using fewer resources. He remains an easy target on that score, but it is difficult to imagine him maintaining the positive international influence he has on these issues if he refused to meet people personally and simply issues video calls from a small cottage in the Brecon Beacons like some kind of ecologically minded Osama bin Laden. The argument can also be flipped on its head: being born into such a privileged and sheltered position it would have been all too easy for Prince Charles not to have cared about these issues at all, and not devoted so much of his life and resources to them.
Juniper says: “I would say that he is one of the most active and successful sustainability thinkers in the world today. Looking back on what he was saying years ago, there is no doubt that he is a real pioneer, and that fact confers great credibility on his efforts.”
The Royal philosophy
The book: Harmony, by HRH Prince of Wales with Tony Juniper and Ian Skelly, published in 2010, is the frankest account of the Prince’s philosophy to date. It is an uncompromising read. It begins, rather ironically considering the Prince’s position, with a call for revolution. “‘Revolution’ is a strong word and I use it deliberately. The many environmental and social problems that now loom large on our horizon cannot be solved by carrying on with the very approach that has caused them. If we want to hand on to our children and grandchildren a much more durable way of operating in the world, then we have to embark on what I can only describe as a ‘Sustainability Revolution’ – and with some urgency.” The central tenet of the book is that humanity must re-establish its harmony with nature. This, the Prince argues, can be done through a deeper understanding of the patterns of nature and their limits, as well as by re-establishing the kind of humility, reverence and spiritual connection that has been largely bulldozed out of the way by the modern tendency to think exclusively in materialistic terms. Tony Juniper comments: “The conclusion that the Prince has reached is that the main challenge we face in relation to sustainability is not an absence of technology or different policies, but more what he calls a ‘crisis of perception’. There are several faces to this, but one recurrent theme expressed by the Prince is how we have come to collectively perceive that we are outside nature, and therefore come to believe that we can do without all that nature provides for us.”
Above: The Prince’s Garden, Highgrove, has been transformed over his 30-year tenure.
The Prince of Wales gets a close-up look at a Northern Royal Albatross and her chick during his last visit to New Zealand in 2005.