In just a few weeks, there will be much buzz around Prince William and Kate when they visit Boston to host the Earthshot Prize awards. As they make their first trip to the U.S. in 8 years, people from around the world will watch the royal couple join other famous faces on the red (or green) carpet for a night of celebrating solutions to save our planet.
For many of the 15 Earthshot finalists having their work showcased in the December 2 event, this is a truly pivotal moment, regardless of whether or not they go on to win the £1 million prize for their category. Many have been working for years to develop and gain backing for innovations that will now have a unique global profile alongside another most coveted of things—royal backing.
“These kind of prizes and recognitions are so important. Challenging the status quo is very much an uphill battle,” says Pierre Paslier, co-founder of Notpla Hard Material which makes packaging out of seaweed and is a finalist in the Build a Waste-Free World category of the awards. "While we have managed to create a product that is very eye-catching and very engaging; we’ve had videos that have gone viral and people paying attention because it’s edible packaging or seaweed packaging, that only gets you so far. It’s about getting access to manufacturing facilities or convincing brand owners to make a change and embrace an innovative material rather than business as usual. That’s really hard if you don’t have any kind of track record or any credible validation point."
The London-based start-up, which Pierre founded alongside Rodrigo Garcia after the pair met while studying Innovation Design Engineering at Imperial College and the Royal College of Art, developed their packaging as an alternative to plastic. Their first product, edible water bubble Ooho, has been billed as the solution for on-the-go hydration at events to avoid waste. They also make paper from seaweed fibers, packaging for food and pipettes for edible oils. They have had some success and recognition, providing Oohos for the London Marathon and with a deal to make takeout boxes for Just Eat Takeaway. “We realized that there were so many other ways that we could use seaweed and apply it as a packaging solution for replacing single-use plastics,” says Pierre. “And at the end of life you have something that is naturally biodegradable, doesn’t require any kind of human intervention, unlike bioplastics, and is really using something that is very abundant in nature.”
Pierre recognizes, however, just how big a role that the Earthshot Prize can play in their journey. “I think this kind of award is an amazing chance to say we have solutions, they can work at scale but we need to take it seriously," he says. “My thought when we got announced as a finalist was ‘Wow this is going to save us years in getting this out there’…It’s really the power of creating a platform. Being part of these 15 finalists where everyone has an incredible solution, and we’re going to be working together. The amazing thing about the prize is not just the cash prize for the winners but it’s this program to support the 15 finalists for the whole year to really leverage their innovation in the maximum way.”
Notpla is joined by leather alternative Fleather and the city of Amsterdam’s circular economy in the Build a Waste-Free World category of the Earthshot Prize. The other four categories are Protect and Restore Nature, Clean Our Air, Revive Our Oceans, and Fix Our Climate.
At the event in Boston’s JFK Presidential Library and Museum one winner from each category will be announced. Chosen by an Earthshot Prize Council which includes Prince William, Queen Rania of Jordan, Sir David Attenborough, and Shakira, the five winners will each receive £1 million to develop and expand their environmental solution.
“The innovators, leaders, and visionaries that make up our 2022 Earthshot Finalists prove there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of our planet," Prince William said in a statement when the finalists were announced. “I am so excited to celebrate these fifteen Finalists and see the five Winners of The Earthshot Prize announced in Boston—the hometown of President John F. Kennedy, who shared The Earthshot Prize’s belief that seemingly impossible goals are within reach if we only harness the limitless power of innovation, human ingenuity, and urgent optimism.”
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