The Daily Telegraph - Saturday

From seaweed packaging to non-polluting stoves, how Prince William is saving the planet

Three years after its royal launch, winners of the Earthshot prize are seeing results. By Hannah Furness

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THE Prince of Wales has lost count of the number of cups of tea he has been offered in his decades of public engagement­s. So too the glasses of water and endless specialty drinks as he has travelled the globe.

This week, during a visit to a Hackney start-up in east London, it was time for something very different. Offered a tray of patriotic red and blue edible bubbles filled with liquid, it was a memorable moment for more than one reason.

First, the bubble the Prince chose was Cosmopolit­an cocktail-flavoured and seemingly delicious. More importantl­y, it holds a key to saving the planet.

Developed by Notpla – one of the winners of Prince William’s Earthshot Prize – made from seaweed and called an Ooho, the packaging can replace single-use plastic water bottles and can disappear without a trace.

The same company (whose moniker is short for “Not Plastic”) is working on a seaweed-based bag of pasta which can be dropped into boiling water, the container disappeari­ng as dinner cooks. Packages containing coffee will similarly melt into hot water, infusing the drink with sugar if you choose to leave the bag in long enough.

They sound like the kind of invention Willy Wonka might dream up. If Prince William’s Earthshot Prize has anything to do with it, such innovation­s will soon become part of daily life in homes around the world.

Little wonder the Prince describes what Notpla is doing as “breathtaki­ng”.

The company, founded by two friends in the kitchen of their student flat, is one of ten winners of the Earthshot Prize so far.

Each of the winning companies have secured £1million of funding for their most creative ideas to save the planet.

The prize is now a quarter of the way through its ten-year mission to find ways to repair and protect the environmen­t.

It is known to the public for its glitzy annual award show, featuring a green carpet, celebrity performers and a turn from the Prince and Princess of Wales on their most sparkling form. But quietly, quickly, Earthshot is spreading its influence across the world to create a network of the brightest brains solving problems most royal-watchers do not even know exist.

From non-polluting “clean” stoves saving lives in Kenya to the “greenhouse-in-a-box” doubling farmers’ incomes in India while using 98 per cent less water, the Earthshot network – or “family” as finalists increasing­ly call themselves – is beginning to take shape.

It is where old-fashioned working royal life – the global travel, the small talk with local heroes – meets the modern monarchy. And it is how Prince William hopes to leave his legacy. The ambition is big: to entirely shift the public mindset from despair to optimism.

The creativity needed to save the planet is all there, he believes, it just needs spotting and scaling up to make a difference.

Earthshot began as the seed of an idea in 2018, as the Prince visited a conservati­on project in Namibia. Seeing the success the project had achieved in combating poaching (helpfully, William glimpsed a rare black rhino while he was there) he was left wondering how such progress could be replicated elsewhere.

As he travelled around the world on royal tours, he saw project after project that had produced results but that weren’t being scaled up.

At the same time, back in Britain, he watched with growing concern as young activists seemed to be becoming ever-more anxious and despondent about the state of the planet. This eco-anxiety, he and experts feared, would leave a young generation too overwhelme­d to realise they had the power to change things.

William tasked his team with getting on with what they now call “obsessive research”, wanting to create something which above all would be useful.

The prize they created is named after the environmen­tal equivalent of US president JF Kennedy’s “Moonshot”: the mission to put a man on the Moon. “We have this seemingly impossible vision, that by 2030 we need to be well on the way to repairing and regenerati­ng the planet,” says Hannah Jones, chief executive officer of The Earthshot Prize.

“And the distance between where we are today and that seems a bit like stretching to the Moon. But with the ingenuity and imaginatio­n of innovators around the world, we believe that can be delivered.

“We’d love to see “to Earthshot” as a verb in the dictionary. We want this to be something where people find inspiratio­n and think ‘Oh gosh, I could take bold action too’.”

In 2020, The Earthshot Prize launched as a “decade of action to repair the planet”.

Every year, it will award five £1million prizes to the most innovative projects across themes of clean air, oceans, waste reduction, climate change and nature restoratio­n. It has a formidable network of scientists, politician­s, celebritie­s, business leaders, sector experts and billionair­e philanthro­pists working to support it with funding, mentoring, advice and nomination­s to broaden the search for future winners to every continent.

Even those who do not win stay in the fold, with finalists given access to benefits such as pro-bono legal advice for contracts to introducti­ons to potential investors.

“What really convinced me was meeting Prince William himself, and his vision and aspiration for what this needed to be,” says Jones, formerly Nike’s chief sustainabi­lity officer who was appointed to Earthshot in 2021. “One thing that really spoke to me was this idea of urgent optimism.

“This is way more than a prize, we want it to be a platform for impact.”

Prince William, staff say, is across every detail, bombarding Earthshot finalists with questions to understand how he can best help.

At a retreat hosted in Windsor earlier this year, he told them to present him with a “shopping list” of what they needed to succeed.

“I’m going to be writing long letters and making a lot of phone calls,” he promised them.

He met winners again at a hotel in Hertfordsh­ire last week to hear about their progress. The Earthshot Whatsapp group is said to have been buzzing over personal messages of encouragem­ent sent from the Prince. There have been video calls and, this week, a catch up over pizza.

“He is in the weeds with this. He keeps us on our toes, he knows every detail inside out,” says Jones.

“The atmosphere changes when Prince William steps into a room,” says Sebastian Groh from Solshare, the world’s first peer-to-peer energy exchange network which has expanded to charge electric vehicles in Bangladesh. “Everyone makes a genuine effort to engage with us. Suddenly Bill Gates will walk by your product and say ‘that’s interestin­g’.

“I was very surprised by the pull of the Royal family, especially in the US.”

He has been particular­ly pleased, Groh says, by Earthshot’s determinat­ion to include projects from around the world, and is convinced the key to saving the planet will be found in the emerging markets that are already bearing the brunt of changing climates.

“Innovation is quicker and easier here,” says Groh.

“If you are closer to the problem, you have a better understand­ing to come up with a solution.”

Sam Teicher of Coral Vita, which grows coral 50 times faster than nature to replenish that lost in the wild, said the prize had been a “game changer”.

“To have Prince William as a hype man is a really great asset,” he said.

“It’s put the spotlight on the plight of coral reefs.”

The prize money has allowed Coral Vita to upgrade equipment, plant 10,000 coral fragments, and hire staff locally in Grand Bahama.

For Rodrigo Garcia Gonzalez of Notpla, the key is not to ask consumers to switch to something more sustainabl­e only for the greater good, but to do so because the product is simply better. Jones agrees.

“I would love one day to have the word sustainabi­lity disappear for innovation,” she said. “Because actually what we’re talking about is great design which solves friction in people’s worlds and makes life better.

“It’s about giving people something better, not something less. We need to compete on price, on design, on performanc­e – that’s when you’re going to get it to become the new normal.

“When you have a great sustainabl­e solution, you don’t think about it, you just want to use it.”

Notpla’s seaweed-based inventions include takeaway food boxes, now adopted by sports stadiums including Prince William’s beloved Aston Villa, the Oval (owned by the Duchy of Cornwall) and in eight countries via a partnershi­p with Just Eat.

The £1million prize fund has allowed the company to hire ten new members of staff and buy new machinery. Paper made from seaweed is distribute­d internatio­nally, and edible water bubbles recently saved 25,000 plastic bottles at a Swedish half marathon.

Last year, Notpla replaced two million single-use plastic objects. They expect to hit five times that amount next year.

Overall, the Earthshot team has calculated, the 15 finalists of the inaugural year protected or restored almost five million acres of ocean – roughly the size of Wales – and saved 35,000 tons of CO2 emissions. More than 40,000 tons of waste have been removed, upcycled or avoided thanks to their projects.

Next, the Prince will turn his attention to his newly-inherited Duchy of Cornwall, and how Earthshot innovation­s can be adopted to shore up its eco credential­s.

One of the ultimate goals of Earthshot, Jones said, “like all good not-for-profits is to put yourself out of a job because you’re not needed any more. We’re slightly worried that we might still be needed”.

Asked about the balance of optimism and concern at Earthshot, she added: “No one can look at the world and not be concerned.

“The narrative of the past was that you need to protect the planet for your grandchild­ren.

“My point is it’s not just your grandchild­ren, it’s actually about you and us – this is happening now.”

In November, the Earthshot team will gather in Singapore for the third awards ceremony.

The Prince will deliver his annual speech and the next cohort of winners will have their moment in the spotlight.

“It’s incredible what we humans can build,” says Prince William. “We can create a different future, a better future, but only if we reach for it now.”

Green carpet glamour will give way to the next wave of invention. And the cocktails, one assumes, will be served in seaweed bubbles.

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Coral Vita in the Bahamas. Below, Hannah Jones of The Earthshot Prize
Tour de force: Prince William samples edible bubbles at Notpla, top, and visits Coral Vita in the Bahamas. Below, Hannah Jones of The Earthshot Prize
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