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Prince William’s Earthshot prize rewards five eco-innovators

More and more celebrities are getting involved in the discussions about sustainability. Royals are no exception and have become eager to use their title to promote the circular economy. I’ll admit I’m somewhat sceptical when famous people speak about topics they have little knowledge of although, on the other hand, it does keep the conversation going, hopefully sparking our curiosity and the drive for innovation.

The republic of Costa Rica is one of five winners to be awarded £1 million from Prince William’s Earthshot prize. The first edition of this annual competition rewards innovators coming up with new ways to battle some of the toughest problems of our time.

The Duchess of Cambridge, Kate Middleton, co-hosted the ‘green carpet’ event with the support of Emma Watson, who wore a ‘recycled’ dress made out of ten different dresses. One could argue whether the outfit was actually sustainable seeing as the ten garments looked in pristine condition and could have well been reused…

Andrea Meza, Costa Rica’s minister of environment and energy, received the accolade for the country’s successful programmes to pay citizens who protect forests, plant trees and restore ecosystems. She says her nation has long battled deforestation but hard work has yielded ‘extraordinary results’. Costa Rica’s forests have doubled in area since 1997. Flora and fauna have thrived, leading to a boom in eco-tourism, contributing US$ 4 billion (EUR 3.4 billion) to the nation’s economy.

Also claiming the spotlight is Indian start-up Takachar, run by Vidyut Mohan who points out that the world generates US$ 120 billion of agricultural waste every year. ‘What farmers cannot sell, they often burn, with catastrophic consequences for human health and the environment.’

Mohan has developed a cheap, small-scale, portable technology that can be attached to tractors in remote farms. The machine converts crop residues into sellable bio-products like fuel and fertiliser. This smart solution reduces smoke emissions by up to 98% which will help improve the air quality that currently reduces the affected population’s life expectancy by up to five years.

Another winner is Milan which has launched a dedicated food donation scheme to counter food waste, alleviate poverty and curb unnecessary consumption. Today the Italian city has three food waste hubs, each recovering about 130 tonnes of food per year or 350 kg per day: an estimated 260 000 meals equivalent. Furthermore, Milan has created a blueprint that can be used and scaled up by different communities across the world. 

Meanwhile, entrepreneur Vaitea Cowan claimed the prize money in the ‘fix our climate’ category. She grew up on a small island in the South Pacific and co-founded Enapter to boost the prospects of renewable energy (Please note: around 30% of all energy is renewable nowadays). Within only three years of starting her business, her team developed a special hydrogen technology that she says ‘could change the way we power our world’. 

Her AEM Electrolyser method transforms electricity into emission-free hydrogen gas. ‘Developed quicker and cheaper than once thought possible, the technology already fuels cars and planes, powers industry and heats homes,’ Cowan explains. The Earthshot Prize will help scale mass production of the idea, which is planned to begin in 2022. Enapter’s mission is to fulfill 10% of the world’s hydrogen demand by 2050.

Finally, best friends Gator Halpern and Sam Teicher happily share their prize money. Together, they established Coral Vita, a company in the Bahamas that grows coral on land to replant in the oceans, ‘giving new life to dying ecosystems’. The young duo was previously recognised in the Forbes 30 Under 30 Social Entrepreneurs.

Fun fact: music from artists performing during the show, including Ed Sheeran and Coldplay, was powered by 60 cyclists pedalling on bikes.

Here are all the 2021 finalists >>

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