Earthshot Prize’s Hannah Jones on how ‘radical’ collaboration can drive climate action

EXCLUSIVE: The Earthshot Prize recently unveiled a new online platform to link climate solution innovators with investors and philanthropists. Here, edie asks the Earthshot Prize’s chief executive officer Hannah Jones about the importance of collaboration in combatting climate change and the first action steps businesses can take.

Earthshot Prize’s Hannah Jones on how ‘radical’ collaboration can drive climate action

In London earlier this week, Earthshot Prize’s founder Prince William and trustee Jacinda Ardern, the former Prime Minister of New Zealand, inaugurated the Earthshot Prize’s ‘Launchpad’, an online match-making platform that aims to finance and scale climate solutions.

In its pilot phase, the invite-only platform currently spotlights 25 solutions from six continents, with funding needs exceeding £400m.

Earthshot Prize’s chief executive and former Nike chief sustainability officer Hannah Jones has long been at forefront of corporate-backed innovation, having originally founded Nike’s Valiant Labs, a digital incubator focused on fostering sustainability solutions and start-ups.

Speaking at the event, Jones tells edie that the benefits of corporate innovation and collaboration are multifaceted.

“One of our goals is to take the friction and the time that is spent out of the system that connects potential investors and donors with amazing solutions,” says Jones.

She explains that these solutions that now form part of the ‘Launchpad’ are solutions that are chosen from a pool of nominations received every year by the Earthshot Prize, a global environmental prize and platform designed to discover, accelerate and scale solutions to repair and regenerate the planet.

And all the thousands of innovators in this pool of nominations encounter a common set of challenges.

Jones says: “Many of these innovators are from the Global South. They maybe women-led or indigenous-led, and often those are precisely the groups that have the least network of power and connections into the investor and donor community.”

Research from CDP found that nearly half of the global climate resilience projects currently seeking funding are located in the Global South.

Jones elucidates that by facilitating connections and providing support beyond just monetary prizes, the Earthshot Prize seeks to catalyse further growth and scalability for impactful solutions.

She says: “We know our prize money is catalytic, but it’s not enough. So, if we can be a convenor to speed up the process of connecting supporters with solutions, pushing them out of the valley of death out to scale, then we feel like that is our contribution.”

Collaboration: Emerging trend or overdue imperative?

While green groups are playing their parts to bridge the gap between climate ambition and action, Jones highlights a dichotomy in the response of the wider corporate sector towards collaboration to mitigate climate change.

“On one hand you see some incredible leaders taking bold actions and being very brave with the changes they are making and collaborating with startups that are working in the field of climate, water, oceans, nature and zero waste,” says Jones.

“And, on the other hand, you have another group that is clearly in the place of inaction.”

The latter group, according to Jones, lacks commitment to the urgency and risk-taking required to meet ambitious targets such as protecting 30% of oceans, freshwater and nature by 2030, under the Kunming-Montreal Global Biodiversity Framework.

These businesses remain focused on protecting future growth; however, Jones argues that the only sustainable path forward is by embracing a greener and regenerative future.

“The only way businesses are going to protect that growth in the future is by becoming part of the future that will be greener and regenerative, because those that aren’t will find that the materials they use or the ways they structure their operations, products and services will start to no longer become legal,” she explains.

Action plan for businesses to avoid falling behind

According to an analysis from the World Business Council for Sustainable Development (WBCSD), global environment, social and governance (ESG) regulations have increased by 155% in the last 10 years as nations get serious about climate legislation.

As more and more regulatory frameworks get introduced to measure and mitigate the impact of corporates on climate, Jones proposes a structured approach for businesses to avoid lagging behind.

“First step is to really understand your footprint,” says Jones.

She suggests beginning by thoroughly understanding the company’s environmental impact across the entire value chain, including areas such as water usage, chemical usage, carbon emissions, waste generation and impact on nature.

Jones acknowledges that “sometimes at that stage people get confused and overwhelmed, because they realise that they didn’t know there were so many impacts.”

A recent report from the Science Based Targets initiative (SBTi) found that hundreds of businesses did not follow through on their commitment to set verified net-zero targets, citing the magnitude of Scope 3 emissions as the biggest barrier.

Jones suggests prioritising addressing the most impactful areas where the company can make substantial changes.

“Go for the big ones where you can actually also make a big impact because you have control over the levers, and then start experimenting and figuring out how to reduce and revolutionise that,” she says.

Jones explains that by thinking within the “design constraints with sustainability in mind”, companies can discover new ideas for products and services. For instance, integrating sustainable materials into the supply chain or creating zero-waste products can lead to innovative solutions that benefit both the environment and business operations.

She adds: “It can feel frightening at first but get the data and turn it into a strategy, then innovate and lead.”

On being a smart business: Collaboration Vs competition

While collaboration is deemed an imperative for mitigating climate change, businesses in their nature tend to be competitive. Jones underscores the importance of discerning between the two approaches.

Jones elucidates that some aspects of sustainability, particularly those involving market disruption, require a competitive approach, aiming to be the first to market and initiating new trends. Here, maintaining a diverse startup portfolio can provide insights into potential innovations to integrate into a company, according to Jones.

However, Jones also emphasises the significance of collaboration, particularly in what she terms “pre-competitive” areas of sustainability.

She clarifies that businesses cannot compete when they are in the process of shifting systems, attempting to influence regulations through government collaboration, or aiming to alter industry standards. In these situations, businesses are required to engage in collaborative efforts across the entire ecosystem.

Jones concludes: “Smart companies know when radical collaboration is required and when to be kind of competitive and a bit mischievous.”

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