The Earthshot Prize Shoots for Sustainability

The Earthshot Prize was launched by Prince William, Sir David Attenborough and The Royal Foundation in October 2020 in an effort to find, celebrate and scale innovative solutions to Earth’s many environmental challenges. Featuring Prince William, Attenborough and other members of The Earthshot Prize Council, the five-part docuseries The Earthshot Prize: Repairing Our Planet centers on the five Earthshots—Protect and Restore Nature, Clean our Air, Revive our Oceans, Build a Waste-free World and Fix our Climate—and highlights the work of 15 prize finalists. Produced by Silverback Films for Discovery and BBC One and iPlayer, the series culminated in the global streaming of The Earthshot Prize ceremony, which endeavored to emulate the environmentally conscious focus of the series and the initiative itself.

“We’re extremely proud to have partnered with The Royal Foundation, BBC and Discovery in the U.S. to bring The Earthshot Prize to a global audience,” said Suzanne McKenna, director for unscripted and content partnerships at BBC Studios. “This is a groundbreaking and ***Image***unprecedented global search for innovative environmental solutions to the greatest challenges facing the planet.”

The Earthshot Prize ceremony was filmed at London’s Alexandra Palace and around the world and broadcast on BBC One, BBC iPlayer and globally on Discovery’s Facebook page. Its aim was to combat pessimism about environmental issues with optimism and serve as a celebration of the first-ever Earthshot Prize finalists and winners who were featured in the docuseries.
The idea behind The Earthshot Prize “was that the climate crisis we’re facing can feel like quite a major challenge, quite a big hill for everyone to climb,” explains BBC Studios Productions’ Mark Sidaway, executive producer of The Earthshot Prize ceremony. “It can feel quite daunting. [Prince William and Attenborough] felt like there was a lot of pessimism and gloom around the whole issue. What they wanted to highlight was that actually around the world there were people and companies that were coming up with amazing innovations that each help our planet become greener and cleaner, and they wanted to celebrate those moments to try and inspire people.”

“If all around the world, everybody is coming up with ideas of such caliber, then we can make a real difference,” adds Sidaway. “They wanted to create a show that was both celebratory and optimistic about the environment. Not at all to downplay the sense of urgency, but to showcase that there are people coming up with things to make a difference.”

According to Sidaway, the plan is for The Earthshot Prize to run every year for the next ten years, celebrating five winners in five different categories, with each of those winners receiving £1 million that would go toward their innovative solution. All told, £50 million will be awarded over the next decade. Each year, The Earthshot Prize is to travel to a new country, with the next edition set to be held in the U.S.

No matter where the ceremony is held in the years to come, it stands to be an environmentally conscious event. “We set off from the outset that if we were going to be talking about the environment, we had to be as good as our word,” says Sidaway. “As a production, we had to come up with a blueprint of how you stage a huge international award show and a major broadcast in an environmentally friendly way.”

Ultimately, they created a “green memo” to send out to all departments, teams and crews to outline the centrality of sustainability in production and employed an eco officer to advise how the process could be even more environmentally friendly. They challenged themselves to create a set design with no plastic, asked talent to consider what they wore (The Duchess of Cambridge wore a dress she had first worn ten years previously), used vegan and cruelty-free makeup, reduced the number of scripts, encouraged the crew to use public transportation and only considered inviting artists to participate who would already be in the U.K.

As Caroline Lloyd, line producer for the show, points out, they didn’t just have the live event. “We had lots of filming around the world,” she notes. “We used local crews, and we didn’t fly anyone to any location. We even filmed in Milan. And we did send a producer-director. It’s the only film where we did send a PD abroad—but he got a train rather than fly because it was so much better on carbon emissions. In every single step of the way and aspect of production, sustainability considerations were at the forefront of every decision made.”

Additional sustainable decisions included having vegan and vegetarian catering, choosing venues that were already set up and required little additional infrastructure and featuring a performance by Coldplay that was pedal-powered by 60 cyclists.

Both Sidaway and Lloyd hope that the commitment to sustainability celebrated through The Earthshot Prize, its series and ceremony influences the larger world of TV production. For this production, they sent out a sustainability questionnaire to all their suppliers, who varied in their ability to supply sufficient answers.

“Those answers to the questionnaires were more important than the price point that they came back with,” says Lloyd. “If we send out these green memos and green questionnaires to all our suppliers, and they realize that we’re not going to go with them because their green credentials aren’t good enough, they are going to have to start looking at what their green initiatives are.”

Sidaway, noting the often wasteful practices of TV making—from the use of plastics to going through excessive amounts of paper and transportation costs—hopes their work can help lead the charge to change.

“There’s a lot of waste and a lot of eco-damaging practices that it would be great to reverse and rethink,” he says. “Television should be a forward-thinking, young-focused industry. It’s crucial to broadcast to advertisers that you’re getting to that 16-to-34 demo. If there’s anyone who’s leading the march on the environment, it’s the young. I think if we’re going to attract young people into the industry and we’re going to want young people watching our programs, we’ve got to be thinking in a more environmentally friendly way.”