Are the Earthshot awards the most important sustainability prize today?

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Saving the planet with the Earthshot prize

Web Summit has been announced as one of the key Earthshot nominators for 2022. But just what is Earthshot, and how is the sustainability prize shifting the mindset around radical eco-solutions?

“That goal will serve to organise and measure the best of our energies and skills … the challenge is one we are willing to accept, unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

That’s an excerpt from former US president John F Kennedy’s famed 1961 Moonshot speech, which laid out a bold vision to put an astronaut on the moon before the end of the decade.

The challenge seemed insurmountable, but the opportunity to advance humanity was unmissable.

That sentiment can just as easily be tied to the obstacles we face in addressing today’s climate crisis. It also speaks to the necessity of the challenge to better the whole planet.

The Earthshot awards were inspired by this spirit of endeavour.

Launched by the UK’s Prince William and the Royal Foundation in October 2020, Earthshot is, arguably, the most prestigious sustainability prize in history. And Web Summit is proud to be one of the Earthshot nominators for 2022.

What is the Earthshot prize?

The Earthshot initiative was established to reverse the pessimism surrounding environmental issues by highlighting how human ingenuity can bring about change and inspire collective action.

The awards are centred around five ‘Earthshots’ – simple but ambitious goals (underpinned by the UN Sustainable Development Goals) for improving life on our planet. This sustainability prize will continue throughout this decade, providing 50 solutions to the world’s greatest environmental problems by 2030.

The Earthshot prize will award GB£1 million to the winners of each of the five Earthshot categories, with shortlisted candidates also receiving support and contacts to help scale.

The Earthshot categories

1. Protect and restore nature

“By 2030, we choose to ensure that, for the first time in human history, the natural world is growing – not shrinking – on our planet.”

2. Clean our air

“By 2030, we choose to ensure that everyone in the world breathes clean, healthy air at World Health Organisation standard or better.”

3. Revive our oceans

“By 2030, we choose to repair and preserve our marine habitats for future generations.”

4. Build a waste-free world

“By 2030, we choose to build a world where nothing goes to waste; where the leftovers of one process become the raw materials of the next – as in nature.”

5. Fix our climate

“By 2030, we choose to fix the world’s climate by building a carbon-neutral economy that lets every culture, community and country thrive.”

Earthshot key dates:

  • February 24, 2022: Nominations close
  • March-July 2022: Application screening
  • July-September 2022: Candidate selection
  • Late 2022 (date TBA): Awards ceremony

Using the Earthshot prize to protect the planetImage: Avigator Fortuner/Shutterstock

Who were the most recent prize winners?

The Earthshot prize winners in 2021 came from all corners of the globe with far-reaching solutions for climate change, biodiversity, and sustainability challenges.

Anyone from an individual to a business, charity or even a government, can be chosen to compete for the prize. This gives greater breadth and scope to the range of solutions seen by Earthshot’s nominators.

Meet some of the Earthshot prize winners for 2021:

Republic of Costa Rica – Protect and restore nature

In the 1990s, Costa Rica’s rainforests were devastated by industry. However, the Costa Rican ministry for environment soon adopted a plan to save them by paying citizens to plant trees and restore natural ecosystems.

The results over the last two decades have been extraordinary, with Costa Rica’s forests doubling in size. Meanwhile, flora and fauna thrive again, which has led to a boom in ecotourism that has contributed US$4 billion to the national economy.

Takachar – Clean our air

Globally, we generate US$120 billion of agricultural waste every year. What farmers cannot sell, they often burn, with catastrophic consequences for human health and the environment.

Social enterprise Takachar has developed a small-scale, portable technology for tractors. The machine converts crop residues into sellable bio-products such as fuel and fertiliser, and reduces smoke emissions by up to 98 percent. This helps to improve air quality in the surrounding area.

Coral Vita – Revive our oceans

Ocean warming and acidification are set to destroy more than 90 percent of reefs by 2050.

Coral Vita grows coral on land to replant in oceans. Its methods grow coral up to 50 times faster than natural growth and improve resilience to climate change. As well as restoring reefs, the startup works with local communities, public officials and private companies to improve education, create new jobs and secure more funding for environmental protection.

The City of Milan food waste hubs – Build a waste-free world

A third of all food produced is wasted, yet food production still generates around 30 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions and hundreds of millions suffer from food insecurity.

Milan’s food waste hubs tackle these two problems in one. Launched in 2019 with the aim of halving waste by 2030, each hub recovers food (mainly from supermarkets and companies’ canteens) and gives the supply to NGOs to distribute among the neediest citizens.

AEM Electrolyser – Fix our climate

Around 70 percent of all energy produced around the world is from non-renewable sources.

Enapter’s AEM Electrolyser technology turns renewable electricity into emission-free hydrogen gas. Developed quicker and cheaper than once thought possible, this technology can fuel cars and planes, power manufacturing, and heat homes. By 2050, Enapter’s vision is to account for 10 percent of the world’s hydrogen generation.

What is our role as Earthshot nominators?

We are honoured to again be named as Earthshot nominators. In 2021, we were invited to contribute to the Earthshot prize as nominators for the first time. It was an experience we relished being part of as sustainability is core to our mission, both as an event series and as a convener of world leaders and innovative thinkers.

Web Summit’s Impact startup programme will be utilised to find entrepreneurs and emerging companies that can make key contributions to the aims of the Earthshot prize.

The enterprises in our network are already selected for their forward-looking focus and entrepreneurial abilities. With the Earthshot prize, even more of our exciting startups can have the chance to share their vision for the future with the world.

To be eligible as a nominee for the Earthshot prize, you must have joined Web Summit 2021’s startup programme, or be registered as a startup for Collision 2022.

Want the chance to make a difference? Submit your Earthshot prize application for consideration before nominations close on Thursday February 24.

Main image: Dima Zel/Shutterstock

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