The 15 inaugural finalists for The Earthshot Prize were revealed last week, including two Indian projects: Tamil Nadu-based 14-year-old Vinisha Umashankar’s solar-powered ironing cart and New Delhi-based Vidyut Mohan’s social enterprise, Takachar, which has developed an agricultural waste recycling technology.
The Earthshot Prize is a prestigious global environment prize, designed to incentivise change and help repair the planet over the next ten years. The Royal Foundation of The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge is currently running the Prize until it becomes its own entity by the end of 2021. Five of these 15 finalists will be awarded the Prize and will win £1million in Prize funding for the best solutions of the five Earthshot goals: Protect and Restore Nature; Clean our Air; Revive our Oceans; Build a Waste-free World; and Fix our Climate.
“Over half a century ago, President Kennedy’s ‘Moonshot’ programme united millions of people around the goal of reaching the moon. Inspired by this, The Earthshot Prize aims to mobilise collective action around our unique ability to innovate, problem solve and repair our planet,” Prince William said on Friday.
“I am honoured to introduce the 15 innovators, leaders, and visionaries who are the first ever Finalists for The Earthshot Prize. They are working with the urgency required in this decisive decade for life on Earth and will inspire all of us with their optimism in our ability to rise to the greatest challenges in human history,” he added.
Each of the finalist’s solutions excelled in the rigorous screening process, which considered over 750 nominations, and were assessed on their potential to create game-changing impact around the world and their ability to help Earthshot reach its goals.
The search for the finalists began in November 2020, when nominations opened and were submitted by over 200 official Earthshot Prize Nominators from every region of the world. These nominators were selected for their experience in environmental research, policy, advocacy and grassroots action, as well as their global networks with individuals, teams and organisations who are leading on solutions to these environmental challenges.
The two Indian projects shortlisted for the prize include Vinisha Umashankar’s. Hailing from Tiruvannamalai, Tamil Nadu, she proves that you are never too young to help the environment through innovation. Aged just 14, her solar-powered ironing cart is a clean alternative to the charcoal powered street irons that press clothes for millions of Indians each day.
One day, on the way home from school, Vinisha saw an ironing vendor dumping charcoal in the garbage. Curious, she began researching the impact of charcoal. She saw how smoke causes lung disease among vendors. And she was shocked to learn of the connection between charcoal and deforestation — each year industrial quantities of trees are felled to make charcoal.
Vinisha’s solar powered cart replaces dirty charcoal with clean energy from the sun. Five hours of sunshine powers the iron for six hours – a win for the environment is also a win for vendors. Extra mobility means they can sell on doorsteps as well as the roadside. ￼Built in phone top up and charging points bring extra income too. Overall, the ironing cart helps 13 of the 15 UN Sustainable Development Goals.
Passionate about innovation, Vinisha traces her love of science to the encyclopaedia she received on her fifth birthday. It instilled a fascination about how things work – one that intensified as she realised the power of invention to do good.
Vinisha plans to manufacture the solar ironing cart in India and sell it at an affordable price. She wants to export it to Asia, Africa and wherever the sun shines throughout the year. Vinisha’s example shows that by innovating today, the next generation can create a cleaner tomorrow.
The other shortlisted Indian project, Takachar, belongs to Vidyut Mohan from New Delhi. Globally, we generate $120 billion of agricultural waste every year, he says. What farmers cannot sell, they often burn, with catastrophic consequences for human health and the environment. The burning of agricultural waste causes air pollution that in some areas has reduced life expectancy by a decade.
This plays out every year in the fields surrounding New Delhi. Smoke from man-made infernos fills the air, with serious consequences for the health of locals. Mohan’s social enterprise, Takachar, is putting out the fire.
Takachar has developed a cheap, small-scale, portable technology that attaches to tractors in remote farms. The machine converts crop residues into sellable bio-products like fuel and fertilizer.
Takachar’s technology reduces smoke emissions by up to 98% which will help improve the air quality that currently reduces the affected population’s life expectancy by up to 5 years. If scaled, it could cut a billion tonnes of carbon dioxide a year: a win for India’s farmers will be a win in the fight against climate change.
All 15 finalists will receive tailored support and resources from The Earthshot Prize Global Alliance Members, a network of private sector businesses around the world who will help scale their solutions to realise an even greater impact with their ground-breaking work. The winners will be announced during an awards ceremony on 17th October from London’s Alexandra Palace, broadcast in the UK on BBC One and globally on discovery+.