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A speech by HRH The Prince of Wales at the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards, Buckingham Palace

Published on 30th January 2014

Ladies and Gentlemen, I am delighted to be able to announce the winner of the Unilever Sustainable Living Young Entrepreneurs Awards and I am enormously grateful to Unilever for creating them in association with the University of Cambridge Programme for Sustainability Leadership.

Twenty years ago I commissioned the University to set up what has now turned into C.P.S.L. because I was so concerned that there was no effective forum where senior business leaders could come together and explore the impact of sustainability on business and indeed vice-versa!  I have happily been Patron of C.P.S.L. ever since, because it helps businesses realize that sustainability has to be at the heart of their thinking if they hope to “future-proof” themselves against the many environmental and social problems that now threaten our entire economic stability.  And, in so doing, it has helped prove that sustainability and healthy profit margins can go together.  Many companies are actually seeing better returns since they embraced sustainability.  And this is why these awards are so important.  The sort of creativity and brilliant innovation that the young entrepreneurs have displayed here tonight are ingenious, but they also show great leadership in the way they are putting their ideas into practice.  

As you may possibly have noticed from time to time, I have tended to make a habit of sticking my head above the parapet and generally getting it shot off for pointing out what has always been blindingly obvious to me! Perhaps it has been too uncomfortable for those with vested interests to acknowledge, but we have spent the best part of the past century enthusiastically testing the world to utter destruction; not looking closely enough at the long-term impact our actions will have.

Forty years ago, when I started raising these uncomfortable issues, most in authority could not see alternatives to carrying on with business as usual.  Now, however, there are signs of a different story.  For one thing, thousands of scientists from around the world agree that, by the end of the century, global temperatures could be four degrees higher than they were at the start of the Industrial Revolution, which points to terrifying consequences for humanity.  Given the impact we are already witnessing, without concerted, urgent action on climate change we stand to deny prosperity to millions of people in the developing world and roll back decades of sustainable development elsewhere.

It is baffling, I must say, that in our modern world we have such blind trust in science and technology that we all accept what science tells us about everything until, that is, it comes to climate science.  All of a sudden, and with a barrage of sheer intimidation, we are told by powerful groups of deniers that the scientists are wrong and we must abandon all our faith in so much overwhelming scientific evidence.  So, thank goodness for our young entrepreneurs here this evening, who have the far sightedness and confidence in what they know is happening, to ignore the headless chicken brigade and do something practical to help.

What would also help, if I may say so, is if we were to address two key issues.  Firstly, to respond to those many scientists whose work informs the latest advice from the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change.  And that is, to keep future global CO2 emissions within a so-called "atmospheric budget" of around a trillion tonnes.  That means establishing a zero emissions economy by 2050.  And the only way we are going to do that is by unpicking a whole range of subsidies on fossil fuels which, unfortunately, last year alone grew by thirty per cent.  The trouble with those subsidies is that they tend to boost emissions rather than encourage a reduction.

And what would also really help is if the world agreed a proper price for carbon so that it genuinely reflects the damage caused by climate change.  At the moment it is deemed bad for business to make the polluter pay when actually what happens is that the polluter thinks twice about polluting.  Take the impact of new taxes on landfill.  Suddenly, we are seeing local authorities very keen on everyone recycling and, meanwhile, businesses becoming more conservative in their use of so many raw materials.  I was recently told by industry experts that there is already enough steel in the world that all we need do is recycle it for all future purposes.  It could be the start of an all-important circular economy.

This is why I am so inspired by this evening's event.  We have just seen a whole range of ingenious ways that young people are applying their imagination to move away from the "take, make and dispose" economic model and towards this much more circular, sustainable approach.  And they deserve our support.

So I would like to salute Paul Polman and Unilever for backing these awards.  It is a company which has never shied away from driving progress on the thorny issue of sustainability.  I have no doubt it will offer tremendous support to the winners of these awards by giving them access to the expertise within Unilever and beyond.  Needless to say, I will be following progress closely, I promise you!

Now, at last, we come to the whole point of this evening...

I can assure you, the judges listened very carefully to presentations from all of the award winners yesterday, and it has clearly been agonising to choose an overall winner from so many brilliant and diverse projects.  However, they did so and I am delighted to announce that the winner of my inaugural Young Sustainability Entrepreneur Prize for 2014 is Gamal Albinsaid.