Winners of Prince William's Earthshot Prize Didn't Attend the Awards Ceremony

The five recipients weren't flown to the U.S. due to carbon footprint concerns. So, celebrities came in their place.

Prince William and Kate at Earthshot Prize ceremony 2022
At least Kate rented a gown and Will wore his old velvet blazer.

Karwai Tang / Getty Images

On December 2, a star-studded crowd gathered in Boston to watch Prince William present the winners of his second annual Earthshot Prize. The guests were there in person, but the winners attended virtually.

Each of the five winners received a £1-million ($1.23 million) prize for their work in "ground-breaking solutions to five of the greatest environmental challenges facing our planet." These five challenges, or "Earthshots", were divided into the following categories: Protect and Restore Nature; Clean Our Air; Revive Our Oceans; Build a Waste-free World; and Fix Our Climate.

While the awards ceremony itself raised some serious environmental questions (more on that below), the winners themselves are well-deserving. They work on a wide range of fascinating and innovative projects that are sure to make a difference in the world. 

The Winners

2022 Earthshot Prize winners
Winners of the 2022 Prize.

The Earthshot Prize

Clean Our Air: Mukuru Clean Stoves, Kenya

This female-founded social enterprise designs, produces, and distributes cleaner-burning stoves to low-income households in Kenya. It's named after the third largest slum in the country. 

Cooking over open fires and burning solid fuel is notoriously bad for human health, exposing families to air pollution levels that far exceed World Health Organization recommendations. Using a cleaner stove can reduce fuel consumption by 30-60%, reduce toxic smoke emissions by 50-90%, and lower risk of burns among children under 5 by 40%. 

Mukuru's stove are made from upcycled waste metal and burn processed biomaterial made from charcoal, wood, and sugarcane, rather than more dangerous solid fuels. The stoves only cost US$10, making them an affordable option for many households.

Protect and Restore Nature: Kheyti, India

Kheyti makes simple greenhouses for subsistence farmers to protect their crops from pests and inclement weather and to improve yields. It's a simple yet effective strategy that has already had dramatic results for over 1,000 farmers in India. Kheyti offers training and support to ensure the greenhouses are used properly.

"Plants in the greenhouses require 98% less water than those outdoors and yields are seven times higher. 90% cheaper than standard greenhouses, Kheyti's solution is more than doubling farmers' incomes, helping them invest more in their farms and their families. Using less water and fewer pesticides, they are protecting the planet too."

Revive Our Oceans: Indigenous Women of the Great Barrier Reef, Australia

A group known as the Queensland Indigenous Women Rangers Network is working to train the next generation of female rangers. It strives to establish a new approach to natural conservation by passing on Indigenous knowledge through stories and shared wisdom. 

From the Earthshot press release: "The data they have collected has given us critical insight into one of the most important ecosystems on the planet. As custodians of the land, the rangers have also protected sites of great cultural and spiritual significance."

Build a Waste-Free World: Notpla, United Kingdom

Notpla has been on Treehugger's radar for a while. This company started out making edible water pouches called Ooho and is now focused on seaweed's potential as a fully biodegradable alternative to single-use plastics. Its innovative product "can be used to create a range of packaging products, such as a bubble to hold liquids, a coating for food containers, and a paper for the cosmetic and fashion industry." It's cool stuff—and a definite game-changer.

Fix Our Climate: 44.01, Oman

Named after the molecular weight of carbon dioxide, Oman-based 44.01 is in the business of making rocks—transforming CO2 into literal rocks that can be stored permanently underground. This happens through a process of remineralization: 

"Peridotite mineralization is a natural process, but in nature it can take many years to mineralize even a small amount of CO2. 44.01 accelerates the process by pumping carbonated water into seams of peridotite deep underground. Unlike carbon 'storage', which involves burying CO2 underground in disused oil wells or aquifers, mineralization does not require long-term monitoring or insurance, and ultimately makes the process more cost-effective, scalable, and safer."

44.01 plans to remineralize 1 billion tons of CO2 by 2040.

An Odd Awards Ceremony

No doubt the hefty prize will go a long way toward helping each of these companies and organizations achieve their noble goals, as will the guidance on scaling solutions for a broader reach; however, one can't help but wonder at how the ceremony was organized—and who took priority. 

The strangest thing was that none of the award winners was present in Boston. A decision had been made not to fly them to the United States in order to reduce the event's carbon footprint. Instead, "all finalists were filmed on home turf, joining the ceremony via a live video feed."

This might be lauded as a smart move in the fight against climate change, except that William opted to fly in all sorts of other celebrities, presumably to glamorize the event and make viewers more keen to tune in. According to a press release, attendees included Costa Rican diplomat Christiana Figueres, business executive Indra Nooyi, Chadian activist Hindou Oumarou Ibrahim, and Japanese astronaut Naoko Yamazaki, as well as musicians and actors Annie Lennox, Billie Eilish, Catherine O'Hara, Chloe x Halle, Clara Amfo, Daniel Dae Kim, Ellie Goulding, Rami Malek, and Shailene Woodley.

Online critics appeared most annoyed by the fact that David Beckham flew from Qatar, where he's taken on a role as an ambassador for that country during the World Cup, just to present an award to a winner who wasn't even there. 

Hopefully the Earthshot organizers will rethink their approach for future ceremonies. It seems more logical to see the proud winners than random celebrities. If all goes according to plan, the prizes will continue to be handed out annually for another 8 years—part of a decade deemed crucial for keeping global warming below 1.5 degrees Celsius.

As I pointed out in 2020, when the Earthshot prize was first announced, I don't think solutions are what's missing. We have plenty of those floating around. What's lacking is implementation—both the ability and the will to do so. I'd also like to know how the previous year's winners are doing at scaling up, and whether the Earthshot Prize and its illustrious board have made a significant difference in their work. An annual recap would be helpful and might add credibility.

View Article Sources
  1. "About Us." Mukuru Clean Stoves.

  2. "Protect and Restore Nature." Earth Shot Prize.