It wasn’t exactly Beatlemania, but there was a buzz in the air when Prince William walked into the Plaza Hotel ballroom for a summit celebrating the Earthshot Prize, the environmental award he launched in 2020. When he took the stage Tuesday, William got a rapturous greeting from the room full of business leaders, investors, and philanthropists from around the world. Just three years after launching what has been described as the environmental equivalent of the Nobel Prize, it has become a badge of honor and has shown results in terms of waste prevention and carbon emissions reduction.
A handful of last year’s winners were also on hand to share how winning the prize last December has already allowed them to raise their ambitions, and even William said he was surprised at the strides that have already been made. “I’m really pleased with the team and how we’ve achieved the first three years. It’s gone better than I’d hoped,” he said. “But there’s still a lot of work to do.”
In conversation with Vaitea Cowan, a cofounder of 2021 winner Enapter, William explained that developing the Earthshot Prizes took years. “It was a very sweaty process, Vaitea, over many years,” he said with a laugh. “At the very beginning, I think it came about from a desire to see more change and to highlight wonderful people doing incredible things—as we’ve all seen today—across the world.”
The idea came from his work as a royal. “I’m very lucky that I get to meet a lot of people in different circumstances,” he added. “I kept being shown these amazing things that were happening, but I just felt the impact from it wasn’t being achieved, or the potential wasn’t there when it could be.”
On Thursday, the prince joined a crowd that included Mike Bloomberg, Bill Gates, Caroline Kennedy and her son, Jack Schlossberg, former New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Ardern, José Andrés, and members of the prize council to announce 15 new finalists across the prize’s five categories (Protect and Restore Nature, Clean Our Air, Revive Our Oceans, Build A Waste-Free World, and Fix Our Climate). The five winners will be announced at a ceremony in Singapore on November 7, and each will take home 1 million British pounds ($1.2 million) of prize money.
From his Monday visit to the Billion Oyster Project on Governors Island to his meetings with United Nations secretary-general António Guterres and Guillermo Lasso, the president of Ecuador, the theme of William’s two-day trip to New York City is helping environmental solutions scale up to the magnitude of the climate crisis. During the onstage conversation, William said that he is still trying to figure out how the Earthshot Prize can help its winners to get to that level. “Something I haven’t quite cracked yet is how do we scale faster,” he said. “You guys provide the product. You provide the inspiration and the solution. My role is to get you as big, as fast, and as scalable as possible, and we still have some work to do on that.”
The event began with an address from Bloomberg, who broke the ice by emphasizing how much respect Americans have for William, referencing a recent Gallup poll naming the prince as the nation’s most popular figure. “The prince has clearly won over Americans of all stripes.… The poll also showed that the prince is viewed positively by 60% of Democrats and 60% of Republicans,” he said. “America has not seen that kind of bipartisan consensus since 1776. But this time we’re all drinking to the king’s health.”
On a more serious note, Bloomberg praised William for following in the footsteps of King Charles III and Queen Elizabeth II in building an environmental legacy, and remembered the prize’s earliest days. “When the prince first mentioned the creation of this prize, I was glad to come on board as an adviser and its first financial supporter, because I knew back then that once word got out, a lot of people would want to get involved, including our environmental team at Bloomberg Philanthropies,” he said. “The Earthshot is not about yesterday. It is about today and tomorrow.”