Hannah Jones is the CEO of The Earthshot Prize, a prize and a platform founded by HRH Prince William and the Royal Foundation in 2020 to search, spotlight and scale solutions that can help repair and regenerate the planet in this decade.
Hannah Jones is a social and environmental advocate believing in the power of entrepreneurism, innovation and collaboration to affect systems change. She started her career in radio, at the BBC, before working as a social entrepreneur in a British Charity, founding and leading pan-European AIDS/HIV prevention and anti-racism campaigns across 100's of Radio stations. She then worked on the founding team of Microsoft’s philanthropy program in EMEA before joining Nike to help start their first Corporate Responsibility team in EMEA.
For 16 years, as Nike’s first Chief Sustainability Officer, working to the CEO and the Nike Board of Directors, Hannah helped lead the transformation of Nike’s labor rights and sustainability efforts, turning both functions into engines of business model innovation and industry change. Following that, Hannah founded Nike Valiant Labs, a venture to bring a culture of lean startup, human centered design & entrepreneurialism to Nike, housing a vibrant diverse culture of entrepreneurs delivering a growing portfolio of new disruptive digital businesses and offerings with purpose at their core.
Named twice to Fast Company’s top 100 Creative People list, a World Economic Forum Young Global Leader, and winner of the C.K Prahalad 2013 award for leadership in Sustainability, Hannah has served on the board of the Method Soap & Ecover brands, was the co-chair and co-founder of We Mean Business, a coalition of progressive businesses working to influence climate policy, and has served on the boards and councils of Mercy Corps, the UNHCR Business Advisory Council and the Purpose Climate Lab.
Paul Romer, Nobel Laureate, on the different types of optimism:
ML: Before we start, if you're enjoying these conversations, please make sure that you like or subscribe to Cleaning Up, it really helps other people to find us. Cleaning Up is brought to you by Capricorn Investment Group, the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation. Hello, I'm Michael Liebreich, and this is Cleaning Up. My guest today is Hannah Jones, CEO of the Earthshot Prize set up by Prince William, the Duke of Cambridge. Prior to that, she was the head of sustainability with Nike, and set up the Nike Valliant Labs. Please join me in welcoming Hannah Jones to Cleaning Up. So Hannah, welcome to Cleaning Up. Thank you very much for joining us.
HJ: Thank you. It's lovely to be here with you.
ML: Now, where are you today? You look like you're in front of the old BBC, you know, close of play board that used to be up there from midnight through until the next morning.
HJ: I do, don't I? Well, I am in London. So you're close. And I'm actually very close to the BT telecom tower, which is where the BBC, some of the BBC is. But I'm actually in Arup's offices, Arup, you know, the engineering firm, and they have been incredibly generous and given the Earthshot Prize, a home. And so we hang out with a ton of amazing engineers and live in Soho.
ML: Fabulous and presumably you do a bit of hanging out with Isabel Dedring, my former boss, the Deputy Mayor of Transport when I was on the Board of Transport for London who's now very senior and I think she's on the board of Arup.
HJ: Oh, well, well, we haven't we're all getting to know each other because literally, we're all just coming back from the pandemic and you're starting to see life reemerge, and we've only just moved in. So it's all very new. We're still getting lost everywhere. And wandering into corridors where we're not sure where we are.
ML: Oh how funny. So at this point, I might know Arup better than you do. But it is a tremendous organization who's hosting you.
HJ: Yes, yes, they're one of our founding partners. And they've just been incredible. And they're really bringing all of their insights and their talent to also support all our finalists. So it's just a fantastic kind of synergy.
ML: Great. And, you know, while while we were preparing for this, I was trying to remember where you and I first met. And something tells me it was World Economic Forum, which of course, as we film this is going on in Davos, but I don't think it was in Davos, I think it was in Dubai.
HJ: You know what I think it was in Dubai, which I remember vividly. And we were all working with one of the Global Agenda Councils, as they call it, on sustainability, which at that time, I'm afraid to date both of us and explain to everyone how old we are. But at that time, sustainability was definitely not sexy and interesting or on the agenda. And we were pushing really hard to get it on the agenda. And I remember being in Dubai and feeling like it was all a bit surreal, to be honest. But then we met and that was fantastic.
ML: And that would have been 2009, I think because we'd have the sort of first bit of the financial crash, the first, the Lehman Brothers, and so on 2008. And then we as the Global Agenda Councils that were these little sort of cells of specialists on 70 topics. We were all told to come up with radical ideas for the future to kind of jumpstart the economy and get things going again, that's my memory of what we were doing there.
HJ: Yeah, I think that's exactly right. But what you also may remember is that I think it was about a year before or maybe two years before, we had all convened in the winter Davos. And there was this huge everybody was in the conference room, and there was voting going on about what were the top global issues that the Forum and the world should care about. And they hadn't even put climate change on the list. And I remember we kind of led a collective revolution, some of us from the sidelines going stop, climate change has to be on the list. And we got it on the list. But I think it was down at number 10. And then you've watched that list over the years, obviously, unfortunately, climate change's climb to one of the top ones. And that kind of is an interesting part of my journey, I suspect.
ML: Well, it has reached it. In fact, I think last year, it reached the top as the top global risk. So Davos World Economic Forum, they had their members vote. And climate change was number one, and I think it was actually lack of action on climate change was the top risk. And of course, the problem with those lists is that World Economic Forum risk lists have been consistently wrong, because they didn't think about the pandemic, they didn't get the financial crisis when that hit, they didn't get the pandemic when that hit and they didn't get the Russian invasion of Ukraine when that hit. Nevertheless, we're both I think, pretty comfortable with it being fairly high up there in the top few, right?
HJ: Well, I'm not comfortable with it because I wish it were otherwise But absolutely, I think I think not only does it need to be up there on the top, I think it is defining so many of the other risks that have come out of left field for many of us. And this is one of the risks that quite clearly, we can never look back and say This came out of left field, we've had the science, we've had the data, we knew this was coming. And here we are.
ML: Right. And so I think we need to take a step back just slightly at this point in the proceedings, because you are the CEO of the Earthshots. And there'll be people out there listening to this, who don't know what they are. And I think that it would be a good time for you to explain what are the Earthshots? Where did they come from? What is it what is it all this about?
HJ: Yeah, I'd love to. So yes. Last year, I joined as the CEO of the Earthshot Prize, the Earthshot Prize, was founded by the Duke of Cambridge, for some of you, you'll know him as Prince William. And the founding story is actually worth telling. He has been a longtime advocate for conservation and spent a lot of time working with conservation organizations. And this was around 2019 pre-pandemic, he was in Namibia visiting a particularly successful conservation project that had managed to turn poachers into educators and ecotourism managers, replenish the community whilst also replenishing the biodiversity. And he just felt this enormous sense of frustration, because he said, you know, his point was, I keep visiting solutions, but I don't see these solutions going to scale. And at the same time, if you can cast your mind back, really, and I think this has continued, there was just this overarching narrative around climate change, of fear and anger, and huge kind of polarization in the world around this, which, of course, we know continues. And his point was, yes, we need to have a great deal of fear, because this is real, and we need to take action. But actually, we have cause to have optimism because there are solutions, we simply are not scaling them fast enough. And we're not spotlighting these solutions as really viable, livable things that could change our world for the better. It's not that we are moving into a place where we have to give up things as much as we are moving into a world where things will be better. So his point was, how do we take inspiration from John F. Kennedy, President Kennedy, who all those years ago, if you remember, well, I don't remember because I was a kid, I was a baby, put a challenge to the American people and said in 10 years, we will land a man on the moon and bring him home safely. And with that unleashed an innovation revolution, innovations which have spawned so much of change in our lives that we've all benefited from. And also, every young person, every child wanted to grow up and be an astronaut, which I suspect maybe you wanted to be an astronaut, Michael, I don't know. But that generation did. And so what that did was it sparked this, the public's imagination, and it made the impossible become possible in their minds, which then actually materialized. And so we took inspiration, and him and the original team took inspiration from the Moonshot and suggested why don't we do an Earthshot prize, because what we know is clear is that this decade has to become the Earthshot decade in which not that we land a man on the moon and bring him back safely. But we change the trajectory of how this planet is being run, we change our way in towards green growth, sustainable livelihoods, and reducing our impact on the planet. So with that as the framework, we have five Earthshot Prizes, and it's a global award that happens once a year. And those five prizes are around the key areas of change that we know must happen in order for us to be able to move into a more sustainable state. So we focus on biodiversity. We focus on oceans, we focus on waste, we focus on clean air, and then ultimately we focus on climate change. And what we do every year is we scour the earth for innovations that have shown progress that are working prototypes that have real sign of traction, and that we can see that if they were to be scaled or reproduced, would really have a significant impact either on greenhouse gases, biodiversity, and also sustainable livelihoods which we think is a key component of this. Now, we had our first awards last year, we ran our first process. We have nominators all over the world that submit nominations, and uniquely what we do is we are business model agnostic. So we're looking for solutions, whether they're a startup or a not for profit, an academic, a government, a city or an activist. You know we are absolutely neutral about the type of sort of model, what we care about is is the solution, something that can be reproduced and scaled and make a significant change. And so that is really the basis of the Earthshot Prize. But wait, there's more. Because the Duke has enormous ambition, as you can imagine. And his ambition is that we go beyond the prize money, and that the prize monies are in fact, catalytic, to raising additional support for these innovations to go to scale. So behind the innovation, behind the Prize, we're building out what is in essence, an innovation engine, to support eco innovators around the world, to nurture them to give them the support they need. And then with our amazing partnerships, that we have to actually become a matchmaker between the solutions and potential supporters. So we're looking at blended capital. And we're talking to philanthropists, we talk to venture capital, we talk to impact investors. And we're really trying to play a role of matchmaking to speed up the investment cycle to scale. Because at the end of the day, and the example I always use is it's taken, I don't know, you correct me, you'll know this better, anywhere between 50 and 70 years, for solar panels to go from R&D to something resembling scale. We don't have 50 to 70 years. So we have to compress that innovation cycle. And we have to take the friction out of it by giving an unfair advantage to eco innovators who have solutions that if we were to scale them as fast as possible, could really make a difference.
ML: That's fantastic. And you've answered a lot of the questions that I would immediately have peppered you with. I do love one thing, particularly about it, which is it's fundamentally optimistic, because it is taking things that already work and saying, you know, these deserve a better audience, a bigger audience, and how do we help that? And I think there's a thread in a lot of the guests, I believe you'll be episode 90 of Cleaning Up and a lot of I think, with very few exceptions, the guests have all been optimistic. And maybe that's because I like to surround myself with optimistic people. And there are notable exceptions. I recently had Farhana Yamin, and, you know, she clearly lives in a world of despair and, and dark gloom laden clouds. But you know, you have managed to remain very optimistic and then align around, the Duke obviously feels optimistic, and your process is based on a sort of optimistic worldview. Can you comment on that? Because I think that's very important. But what do you think?
HJ: Well, I think it's fundamental. And in fact, our theory of change is urgent optimism leads to action. And we really believe in urgent optimism, and we want to inspire others to feel that urgency and that optimism. And before I came to the Earthshot Prize, I actually worked alongside a neuroscientist. And we did a lot of work for about a year on people's mental health and on joy, and on what makes people move and what makes people change. And the thing that I came away with was that when your mind is in a state of fear, and negativity, actually, what you find is people resist change even more, and they can shut down. And so as climate activists, as people that are trying desperately to do everything we can, whether it's in policy, business, finance, wherever I actually think this idea of urgent optimism is not just a nice thing to do. It is a neuroscientifically critical thing to do. Because we have to get people to a place where they say I want to adopt this change, I want to pull this change towards me, as opposed to fearing change or resisting it, or sinking into the abyss of despair, and not acting. And so I actually believe very strongly that as much as I am not immune to reading the latest IPCC report and feeling desperate, what I noticed is when I do feel desperate, I sort of my shoulders come round, and I kind of feel like despair and giving up and wondering, and, you know, we've seen the numbers 42% of young people have climate anxiety, it's just a tip of the iceberg. So I actually think this idea of urgent optimism, or as our new chair of the Earthshot Prize, Christiana Figueres would say, stubborn optimism. So we are a mix of urgent and stubborn optimism, and we do it deliberately because we actually think it is part of the theory of change.
ML: Well, so Christiana Figueres was our guest on one of the early episodes something like number seven, she is, of course, famously optimistic. I think her podcast is Outrage and Optimism. But there's a great economist Nobel Prize winner a couple of years ago, Paul Romer talked about optimism. And I discussed this with another great optimist and a psychologist or <inaudible> no psychologist, Bertrand Piccard. The chap who flew around the world in a solar aeroplane now runs the Solar Impulse Foundation, also great optimist, technooptimist as well. And but Romer's advice was around the nature of optimism, there's two sorts, there's the optimism of a child who says, I hope I get a good a nice Christmas present. And there's the optimism of a child who looks at a tree and said, man, that would be great place to build a tree house, which is an active optimism. So I'll add to your list. You've got to be what is it, urgent, stubborn and active, proactive optimism. And I believe this is absolutely critical, fundamental to climate action.
HJ: Yes, because I've, you know, I think I've said this before, to some people, hope is not a strategy. But urgent optimism is a strategy, if it links into how you enable action to take place, and that is absolutely at the heart of why we marry, building, finding innovators, selecting innovators, supporting innovators into scale, whilst wrapping that in storytelling to spark the public's imagination, into realizing that there is cause for urgent optimism.
ML: Now, you are in a sense, modeling that urgent, active optimism, but we are surrounded, those people who are educated on climate are also surrounded by people who believe that the model for getting action is to be more and more negative more and more fear to amp it up more and more extreme scenario, always to emphasize the worst scenarios when the IPCC, even when the IPCC itself says they're not happening. They talk about 200 extinctions a day, when there were there's no scientific background to that, and then say, follow the science. I mean, we swim in a sea of negativity amongst those that want action. So other than modeling the right behaviors by working on solutions, which I think it's fair to say you and I've been doing for quite some time. What else can be done to change the public debate around urgent, optimistic, stubborn action?
HJ: Well, first of all, what I will say is, what we're embarked on is the greatest transformation in the history of the world, I would argue. We are asking an entire civilization to change everything upon which we were built. We were built in the last two centuries, maybe you just think about it, you go, we've been built on extractive, we've been built on fossil fuels, we've been built on economies that were about relentless growth, etc, etc. So we are asking people to go through an enormous transformation. In doing that, as you and I both know, that's a systems change game at an epic proportion. I believe, fundamentally, that all of the different actors actually have a role to play. So I have no problem with the people that want to align themselves with the activism that is more negative and is out in the streets, I have deep respect for the activist movement. However, where I have chosen personally, to stand in this systems game that we're all trying to push forward is to hang my hat on urgent optimism and innovation. And you know, for me, is you look at it, I go back to some of the examples that we have all looked at great innovation, you don't actually even think about the disruption to your life, because you've adopted it and loved it, and you've left the dinosaur stuff behind you. If you think about the day that Apple 22 years ago, came out with an iPod. Overnight, you went out and bought an iPod and stopped using vinyl. Now I know vinyl is hip now. So we're bringing it all back. But if you think about the smartphone, who knew 15 years ago that your bed would be an asset, or that you'd want to go and sleep in someone else's house instead of a hotel. These are all disruptive innovations that we've watched happen to us and adopted without any kind of feeling of oh my gosh, a loss or change is difficult. And so I think there's part of this is the role of innovators around the world is to bring solutions to the table that actually make the world feel better and not like a compromise, not like less, less value, less performance, you know, sacrificing something. And so I'm very much focused on this combination of you drive a narrative of urgent optimism, but it is grounded in this recognition that there are solutions out there, that can actually make the world a lot better for everybody and don't require us to be quite so caught up in this dynamic of resistance that you see around us in the world. Now, I'm not minimizing that there are enormously hard pathways to transformation that have to be gone through. And I'm certainly not minimizing that there is going to be pain and disruption for many of those transformations, often for those that have the least power and the least privilege. And that's why we also emphasize the importance of all solutions, looking at equity and looking at sustainable livelihoods. Because unless we bring those solutions to the fore, where everybody benefits, we will not reach that goal that we have. Because when people suffer as, one of our wonderful finalist says the Pole Pole Foundation out of the Democratic Republic of Congo says "empty stomachs have no ears".
ML: Yes, that is such an important point. empty stomachs have no ears, because it is very easy for us sitting here in London with our frankly quite comfortable existences able to spend discretionary income or making changes to our lives. But billions and billions of people who have to make similar changes, if we're going to go to net zero and address climate and these other planetary problems, billions more people have to make the same changes who don't have the resources that we have.
HJ: Totally agree. And it's incumbent on us to build equitable solutions, and to ensure that we figure out ways in which we make it something that can be across the world for everyone. Otherwise, this will not work.
ML: And this would be a good time just to shift focus slightly, and talk about the arc of your career because, you know, it's absolutely clear, you're the right person in the right place at the right time, working with optimism on innovation, disruption, disruptive innovation. But how did you get there? Where did your career start? I believe in radio.
HJ: It did. It did, indeed. So I actually started just down the road from where I am now at the BBC on the radio. And I worked as a reporter, and a researcher and a producer on Radio One, which is the big as you know, music channel, and on the public, social action team. So we basically were the ones that would interrupt the music, to talk about drugs, sex, not rock'n'roll, racism, unemployment, and really trying to use the fact that because we reached into the homes and the lives of young people around the UK, could we bring into that messages and support to them so that if they were in a place of need, they had access to help lines and information and voices that would come through the radio, of people like them that were going through really tough experiences. And I did that for a few years. And then the BBC said to me, well, you know, you're on our fast track. So we're gonna send you over to Women's Hour. And I was like, oh, oh, that's not at all what I want to do. Wasn't I couldn't knit at that time either. Now, Women's Hour has become this amazing thing. But at the time, it was a bit more kind of like, you know. And what I realized was that I had fallen in love, not so much with the medium, but with the issues. And I'd fallen in love with the idea that we could create, change and give people hope. And so I went over to a not for profit that was doing something very similar, ran AIDS campaigns, anti racism campaigns. And then this was all in the, in the 90s, I needed to do some fundraising. And this is in the era when there was no such thing as corporate social responsibility, the words did not exist. And so I naively sent letters out to lots of people in corporations asking for fundraising for my AIDS campaign, to which one company who will remain nameless, famously sent back a note saying AIDS is not an issue for our consumers, please go away. In fact their consumers were aged five to 20, I suddenly realized that corporations were an untapped potential for social change, and that I wanted to be a part of changing corporations so they could have a powerful play for good with their consumers. So very fortunately, I went and worked for Microsoft, who were just setting up their early philanthropy programs, and from there was hired into Nike. Now I joined Nike in 1998, which was at the time of the height of the sweatshop campaigns against the company. If you go back in time, this was you know, this was the anti globalization movement's birthplace, it was Seattle. It was people beginning to really see and although we did not articulate it like this, what the activists were really saying was we have created business models that have externalized social and environmental impacts. Now none of us had that language at the time, we barely had the language of corporate social responsibility. So I really joined the movement, almost by accident at the very birthplace of our movement, and was in one of the first companies that had a very public difficult encounter with having to have a reckoning about the impact of its supply chain. And its impact on young women in particular. 80% of apparel and footwear is done in factories around the world, most of whom are staffed by young women. It was an incredibly formative experience for me. And you know, if I have what so much of a focus on social justice and equity, really, a lot of that will come from understanding what inequity looks like on the factory floor. But what became very clear to me was the we needed to join up the dots, and that two things were going to happen. First of all, we needed to think about the environmental and the social impacts. And secondly, that this would become license to operate for every company in the world. Now, at the time, the climate change, and the sustainability discussion was yes, of course, it was out there. But it really wasn't at the surface. And we were this new generation of people living in companies trying to make a difference from the inside. And that was really a very clear choice for me. I had a mentor when I was much younger. And I was a punk when I was 16, I had white hair and you know, rebelled against everybody.
ML: Hannah, photos, we need photos, but continue.
HJ: No, you will not get photos. There's only a few around there. And some people have seen them. But it's pretty bad I had a white Mohican, I always looked gloomy, hadn't learned, urgent optimism yet. But my mentor, who sadly has now died, said to me, he sat me down when I was about 17. And he said, Hannah, one day, you're going to have to decide whether it is better to shout from the outside, or try to work from the inside. And that was really the pivot for me about why I took a commitment that I would no longer be on the activist side, but I would try to work from the inside. And so from there, I became Nike's first Chief Sustainability Officer, we had a brilliant VP of Corporate Responsibility, who's there before us very much focused on labor, my role was to really push forward on sustainability. And we went from looking at it as a risk and reputation issue, to realizing that it was a source of transformation for the company, and that we needed to treat it ultimately as an innovation and growth opportunity. And that if we could go in and look at our footprint, and understand how to change our processes, our materials, our supply chain, our way of designing, we could actually find ways to not only just create not just eliminate risk, but create efficiencies, we could create new products, and we could actually build out new revenue sources. So I did that for 16 years, and from there began to really hit up against the ultimate piece of this, which is actually it's about business models, and changing the business model fundamentally, to be dematerialized, and to think of alternative ways of creating revenue that do not rely on stuff. And so seeing the digital kind of transformation that was happening at the time, I built Nike's first digital incubator, in which I began to work with entrepreneurs to build new businesses, that could actually be woven into Nike's offerings to its consumers bringing new services that would then allow us to test things like the leasing and the rental of products, different ways of engaging, that would have a lower footprint from a sustainability <inaudible>. So when... I'll end by saying that when COVID hit. I really sat with that, because I hadn't, I missed that. As much as I'd done scenario planning for the company and being in Davos and looked at all the global risks. This one hit me sideways, too. And I realized that for all the grief and the pain that COVID was bringing us all that climate change was going to make it look like a walk in the park. And then I needed to reengage completely. And I needed to think about just a radically different way in which I could try and play a role for the rest of my career. And that is what led me to the Earthshot Prize.
ML: Wow, what a story and listening to this. It's easy to forget how bizarre these ideas were. And I have this experience in the energy sector. I go back to some of the presentations that I gave in 2004-2007 Particularly around 2007-2008 Talking 15 years ago. And they were way out there. You know, we could only speak to a handful of people within BP or within Shell the rest thought we were absolutely no, not not even hostile because they just thought we were funny.
HJ :Yeah, no, we were, we were out in the desert for sure.
ML: We were out in the desert. And yeah, so you were at that period where I think it was Mahatma Gandhi, who says, you know, first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. And you in corporate social responsibility, and me on clean energy, we were in the kind of, they ignore you to they laugh at you era. And now, you know, I have Mark Carney saying the things I used to say, I've got Boris Johnson saying the things I used to say, we've got, you know, completely mainstream around corporate social responsibility. You have all of the big banks, you have oil companies talking about their products, the way that you were talking about Nike's products back then.
HJ: Totally, it's been fascinating to be a part. I mean, it's a privilege first of all, it's also you know, you just wish it had all gone faster, because we all know too much. But one of the things that I have really loved in coming into this role is most of my career in sustainability felt like I was pushing. And you know, that gets exhausting, that gets really, really draining and exhausting. And you're constantly pushing up against people and the status quo. And you're constantly to your point fairly isolated. And I have to say the community of practitioners has been the lifeblood to supporting us each. Well, I'm now in the Earthshot Prize. What's been amazing to me is that we're in a pool market. I used to be in a push marketplace, I'm im in pull market. My phone. There's not a day when I don't have an incredible person phoning me up saying, okay, we're doing this, like, what do you need me to do? How can I be helpful? How much do you need? What do you need? I'm in I'm in. And it is stunning. And I think the challenge we now face is we need to move with speed. But we need to move with deliberateness. And we need to make sure that we harness these trillions in capital that are supposed to be out there looking at ESG. And really deploy those with thoughtfulness because otherwise we're going to have a backlash. And we need to make sure that we are stewarding the matching of solutions to capital and showing that this is good for the world that this is the right way to go. And that these are the new markets, this is what growth is going to look like.
ML: And for those who are listening on a podcast rather than watching on YouTube, when she said ESG, Hannah did some little air quotes there. And we are recording this in the week that Stuart Kirk of HSBC got suspended for throwing shade on on not just on the flaws in ESG. But on the whole area of of ESG. But let's come to a there's a word you've used a number of times. And that is speed. You've talked about how we have to do this fast. And you used the example of 70 years for solar from kind of I'm guessing that was sort of Albert Einstein identifying the photoelectric effect or perhaps not quite that far back. But maybe the first functioning Bell Labs solar piece of silicon through till where it becomes if not ubiquitous, it's certainly on route there. So speed. I think we all understand the need for speed. Earthshot has got a particular model for delivering it, which is around prizes. You've been a venture capitalist with the in the last few years of your time at Nike. But you've chosen not to try to... not not to stick with that model. But to go to this prize model. Why are prizes why and when the prize is better?
HJ: Well, it's great. First of all, I don't think I qualify as a venture capitalist, although I'm highly interested in it and definitely see the work that people do. And we've done some work around that. I actually think that we probably don't fall quite into the straight category of being a prize. But let me walk you through this, I think of us as a prize and a platform. So I think that prizes have a really powerful role to play in the world, in part because they are a spotlighting mechanism and a catalytic mechanism. You know, the prestige that comes with winning an Earthshot Prize, or a Nobel Prize or whatever the prize is X prize. Yes, there's the award money. But let's face it, that is catalytic. we're awarding 1 million pounds to each Earthshot a year. That is not going to get us to scale clearly. But what we are doing is using the global stage that we have to showcase and spotlight solutions and innovators that the world simply didn't know about, and to help people get inspiration. So they have this massive cultural ripple effect done well, the catalytic piece of it is then also around. Whilst we are not a VC, we are constantly matchmaking and talking to VCs, impact investors and philanthropists. And so how do we stitch together coalitions of the willing to put innovations and solutions together with the right kind of blended capital mix that will help them go to scale. So beneath our prize, we're building out a platform to do that kind of matchmaking. And actually, to help our finalists get to be investor ready, which often they're not. And this is where I do tap into my experience of nurturing entrepreneurs, which is, as you and I both know, being on an innovator's journey. I've seen this at Nike for the last 15 years being on an innovator's journey, to take something from idea to prototype, to Series A equivalent to IPO and become an eco unicorn. Very rare, and very difficult. And it's not just about capital, it's about do you have the right team? Do you have the right advisors? Do you have access to networks of privilege and power? Do you have a great procurement deal that comes to you from a company, all of these things, which you and I know make up the <inaudible> it's a hero's quest, to be an innovator is to go on a hero's lonely quest, otherwise known as a huge roller coaster, we want to support them on that.
ML: So I'm smiling because those things you listed, when I started New Energy Finance, I had none of them. Because I came from outside the Information Industry outside the energy industry, outside the climate industry, outside the environmental industry. And I had an I had, because I was coming out of the back end of the.com, boom, bust, all of my mentors were essentially unemployed and all of my peers that I had been working with as well. So it was a tough, tough time. So if you can make that easier for people, I can tell you that that's valuable.
HJ: Well, exactly. And so that's where our global alliances and partnerships really come in. So we have this enormous platform of partners who are incredible. And obviously, you know, we have with the Duke of Cambridge, the ability, he can pick up the phone to so many people, and he's very purposeful, about recognizing his platform and his privilege, but using it for good.
ML: I have to ask, I have to ask, and this will be good to... How involved is he? In what you do? I mean, how often do you see him? How often does the team see him? How often does he pick up the phone?
HJ: Oh, you have to think about this, the Duke is our founder. And he... this is his passion. And so there is yes, I meet with him on a regular basis. I'm seeing him tomorrow. And every time I meet with him, the thing that I love the most he's fantastic. And I say that completely straightforwardly. Every time I meet with him, he challenges me to think bigger. And I have so much respect for that. Because his sense of urgency and his sense of possibility. And he asks, why not? Why can't we do that now? Why can't we break down that barrier? Why don't we push against that door? That is one of the biggest motivating forces that the team and I have, because we watch his commitment and his dedication. And it's phenomenal. So you need to really think of him he is our founder. And he lives it with a passion.
ML: But he also seems to live this optimism, the urgent optimism, where which was the founding story of of the Earthshots. Which is interesting, because I worked a little bit with HRH Prince Charles on rainforests. Now what he was doing was shining the spotlight on the problem, but not really... you know letting other people come up with the solutions, but his shoulder was to the wheel of the spotlight on the problem not of the solutions. And it sounds like Duke of Cambridge, William is much more on the solutions. He wants to see more solutions, bigger solutions, moving faster.
HJ: Yes, and I will say this. Prince Charles has been an incredible force for good in this movement. So, you know, I think that he was one of the early high level adopters of understanding the impact on the environment. And I think he had to at the time, shine a spotlight on the problems because nobody was listening. That was what he had to do. And he was courageous in doing it. He changed my life. He sent me as an early young corporate executive on one of his go and see visits to go and understand the impact in Cairo, of waste and the communities that had to live next to the landfills and what they were doing with it. And it fundamentally ironed together this idea that you had to have social and environmental. So I think it's really important to follow the curve of the Father and the Son. I think Prince Charles has been unbelievably powerful in changing how we all think about, putting the spotlight on the problems when we needed to have our ignorance taken away, and is now doing incredible work as well on solutions trying to move through the sustainable markets initiative, for example, moving trillions in capital, and having very, very significant debate on that. So it's very interesting to watch and it was very moving moment pre-COP 27 when the Queen spoke about the Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Charles and Prince William's commitment to the environment, and they have each of them been of their time, and enormously dedicated to that change.
ML: That's right, I think you misspoke, they said COP 27. But I know you meant COP26 but it is fascinating because of course, yes. The Duke of Edinburgh when was what came out of a much more traditional sort of nature conservancy view of nature, where you might have to shoot a few things, but it's sort of for their own good in terms of controlling populations and keeping things healthy. And then you have Prince Charles spotlighting the real problems, and then William, helping to come up with solutions. Fascinating, incredible story, I just want to come back to the point about the prize, the design of the prize, because your prize is, in a sense, future looking, right, you're looking for the companies that could contribute to solutions. Whereas historically, if you go back to the beginnings of prizes, things like the Longitude Prize, it was here is a specification that we need, or a task or a job that we need done. And here's some money if you get it done in the case of Longitude, it was for a timekeeper that would enable you to to find Valparaiso after a long sailing expedition, or Montevideo, or wherever. And and if you go to some of the other prizes, like Elon Musk has $100 million carbon removal prize, there's a $20 million carbon recycling prize. Those are more those are, in a sense, classical prizes. And then yours is different. And I was very involved with Zayed, it was called Zayed Future Energy Prize now the Zayed Sustainability Prize, which is much more of this kind of find people on the cusp of being able to change the world and then amplify them.
HJ : Yes, you're right, it's a really good point. And thank you for picking up on it because it's a really important point. It comes from a place of also recognizing we believe that there is an incredible spread of people out there dedicating their lives and their careers to trying to come up with solutions that will matter and make a difference. And actually, I think that movement of innovators is largely unnoticed and very fragmented. You know, think what was it Buckminster Fuller said, you know, the future is here, it's just unevenly distributed. And I think the what we are doing is, is scouring the earth for these innovators, and then spotlighting the work. And to your point, when we see them on the cusp, how do we accelerate their journey to the future? What that also says is, I think that we're onto something in terms of recognizing that there's incredible wave, there is a revolution happening underground, where I see people leaving their careers that were more traditional, and applying their talents and their knowledge to these solutions. It's no longer good enough. And maybe this is post COVID, as well. People don't want to live their purpose on the periphery, they want to live it in the center. And so what we also are doing is trying to think through, how do we not just support the top, top 15 finalists? How do we put a spotlight on the top 100, the top 500. And actually, when we meet with investors and philanthropists, what they say to us is ha, you've got a deal pipeline, that's really interesting. You have an insight into what's happening around the world that I couldn't possibly have. Could I have access to that? Because I'd like to meet those other top 100. We think that's very interesting.
ML: So have you talked about that with Bertrand Piccard and his Solar Impulse Foundation. So he was the chap who flew around the world in a solar aeroplane with Andre Borschberg. And he the last few years, he's been assembling a thousand... He calls it 1000 efficient solutions. So these are 1000 technologies or business models that do something better than the conventional way and I've been on the advisory board since the beginning. And the reason I jumped to that is that he's actually got he's working with a couple of funds in particular, there's one that's been assembled by Banque Paribas to invest specifically in his first of all, there's 1000. To your point, there's more than just four or five a year. But his he's gone one stage further and said, yes, I'll work explicitly with the financial community to raise money or to, you know, for money to flow into these solutions.
HJ: Yeah, I would love to be introduced to him, we are absolutely seeing ourselves as an open and collaborative platform. And we're absolutely here to figure out how we collaborate. I mean, I think the other piece to this is, we are a platform where sometimes I'm like, we're going to become like a DAO, you know, we're going to become like a distributed autonomous organization, because we're very keen to work with people and say, what are you doing brilliantly, then we're not going to reinvent the wheel, let's partner and that the underpinning all of this is the power of collaboration and partnership has never been more important. That is part of the speed equation that we have to move forward.
ML: Well, so an introduction to Bertrand is one of the easiest sort of action points that I can take away from this. One question is, you know, you say you're not a VC, you're not a venture capitalist. And yet, you know, and I think it's absolutely fascinating that you've chosen one country, Costa Rica, one city, Milan and then you've chosen some other projects. But one business in particular stands out as pretty much a classic venture fundable business. And I'm, you know, I'm thinking of the hydrogen, I think modular hydrogen electrolysis business. And I've been dragged into the hydrogen wars, and I have my views, particularly on the demand side, I'm enormously skeptical. I guess my question is, aren't you sort of treading on? Aren't you getting involved in venture? And of course, one of the things that happens in venture is, most things go wrong. But you know that the majority of venture funded businesses are not unicorns, and some of them just disappear. And some disappear quite quickly. Not that any of the five choices will necessarily, but how will you deal with that when you know, some of your Earthshot Prize winners don't work out?
HJ: Some won't work out, because the ideas no longer can scale, some won't work out because they'll be outpaced by others and new incumbents others will fail because the team explodes. And they're badly managed. We know this. So we actually take a kind of VC mentality to this. And I think of our nominations, almost as a portfolio play, I think of our nominations and what we talk about is, how will we know our impact? Well, I think what we'll do is we are at the minute building out our ability to say, of these nominations, for example, of the top 100 how many of the ones that we have actively supported touched, tried to help actually do end up going to scale? And we know that this, you know, I think it's in the portfolio, what is it 85% of startups fail. So we know that it's a numbers game. And we want to give unfair advantages to as many eco innovators as we can. Because we also know that it's there are some things you can do to help people to do, to get to scale faster. Much of which have I mean, you know, we have our take Reeddi capsules, for example. So Reeddi is a really interesting, low cost leasing of solar batteries to local communities. Well, they're not walking down, you know, Sand Hill Road in Silicon Valley, bumping into VCs who might want to fund them. There is a privilege thing here, there is a there is a lot that can be done. But what we're doing is through our corporate partners, and through our investment partners, we're directly curating that conversation, despite the Reeddi leader being in a different country to where the VC might be, and maybe never having been on their radar. So I think one of the things is really being very clear about how do we, how do we give them this unfair advantage? How do we make sure for example, the Takachar, which is this really amazing team out in India, who have figured out a way to take in to replace the burning of agricultural stubble, which is an air pollution and a climate change issue, and turn it into high rich fertilizer that not just reduces air pollution, but also creates increased productivity and yield for the farmers who are very low subsistence farmers. They're now in a conversation with Unilever, about becoming a part of their supply chain. That is game changing. If you think that they would have met Unilever. That wasn't gonna happen. But the amazing piece is how can we do that? So I think I think there's all these different ways in which we're trying to increase the odds, but we know that there will be failures and we'll all have to learn from that.
ML: Right? I think there's a question of just managing the failures. And obviously, there's a reputational question, particularly because of the involvement of the Duke. But I'm sure you've thought that through what you just said, put me in mind also of another something that we did, while I was still running. At the time, Bloomberg New Energy Finance after selling it to Bloomberg. But before leaving as CEO, we created something called FIRE. And FIRE was an NGO, and FIRE stood for finance for resilience. And it was a, it was actually a bit like a sort of Y Combinator. It was a, it wasn't a prize. But it was a way of anointing, some winners, with business models that could attract lots more private finance was the idea. And one thing we did was we recruited coaches from amongst essentially my network, our network at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. And then every company or every group, it wasn't just companies that came through was allocated a coach to prepare their pitch, and then to form a bit of connective tissue and maybe take them to see a Unilever or whatever. And it sounds like you are maybe not formally doing that. But that's the direction you're going to go.
HJ: Well, what you have to remember is, and this is me giving you a non answer deliberately, all you have to remember is we are in essence, a startup ourselves. So year one, we took it from an idea to the first award ceremony that won a BAFTA and has been on the global stage. Year two was spinning out of the Royal Foundation to become an independent organization, which was always the trajectory. And we are in full startup mode around building capabilities, really understanding our client, which is the eco innovator, building our partnerships, and to your point, looking at what are the new sort of things and elements that we need to build into this process to be successful? So what I will say is, that is a brilliant idea and watch this space.
ML: Well. So you talked about building it as a DAO, as a distributed autonomous organization. And there are people out there that would make fabulous coaches, and would love to get involved. Which brings me to my final question. What would you like, people listening to this, or people watching it to do? Because they can't all pick up the phone and call you at once? Or maybe that is what you want? But what would you like to have happen once this episode goes out?
HJ: Well, it's a really great question. And we've actually been thinking a lot about this, because it's the question we get asked almost every day, which is what can I do to support you? And what can I do to help? I think we need to get behind these eco innovators, whether they're in government, in cities, whether they are in, you know, startups, individuals leading not for profits. If you have disposable income, rethink about becoming an angel investor, rather than going investing in something else get behind these innovators, they're taking huge risks. They're on a hero's quest. And often it's really lonely and really difficult. If you have a talent or a skill, give it to them, be that advisor. Give them time, be a mentor. If you work in a corporation, think about the procurement deals you can give. Think about the grants you can give, think about how you help pull them through the innovation pipeline, I really believe that we need to start a movement, which is about actually curating and nurturing this community of eco innovators and letting them scale create new markets that we can all thrive on, and seeing it as how we can be supporters. And by the way, if you have a great idea, become an eco innovator. You know, I used to say at Nike, every single person at Nike's job is a sustainability job. If you look at your role, there is something you can do to make a difference, go do it. I can't do it on my own. And so my call to action is be the change you want to see within what you are great at. And if you have disposable capital, or you have networks and access, do it, go the mile and help someone to succeed and become the next eco unicorn.
ML: Well, so we had very early on Cleaning Up we had Barbara Buchner, Climate Policy Institute. And I made her at the end of it, because she comes from the same part of the world as Arnold Schwarzenegger. And I made her say, I'll be back. But you've just pretty much said, "just do it".
HJ: Yes, absolutely.
ML: And on that note, thank you so so much for joining us here today. It's been a privilege talking to you. And I hope that people do make those changes, become the change that we all need to see, become eco innovators. And if they can't figure it out, and maybe they do pick up the phone to you or one of your staff and get involved in your growing organization. Thank you so much for joining me here today.
HJ: Pleasure. And watch our awards that will be in America this year?
ML: I will certainly do that.
HJ: Thank you. Thank you so much.
ML: So that was Hannah Jones, CEO of the Earthshot Prize. My guest next week is Simon Morrish CEO of Xlinks. That's the cable that will be bringing solar power and wind power from Morocco to the UK. Please join me at this time next week for a conversation with Simon Moorish. Cleaning Up is brought to you by Capricorn Investment Group, the Liebreich Foundation and the Gilardini Foundation.