The King of Sustainability

While I still can’t really fathom a world without Queen Elizabeth in it, her passing this week means that one of the most consistent, outspoken champions of the environment is now the King of England. King Charles III gave his first speech about the importance of protecting the environment over 50 years ago. According to a biographer who has written volumes about Charles and the royal family, he was considered truly eccentric at the time. “At the beginning, everyone thought he was crackers, the mad prince who had these strange ideas. They wrote him off completely…but the world has caught up to Charles, hasn’t it? He’s certainly not a crank now.”

The new King is an organic farmer and a beekeeper. He has installed solar panels and uses hydro-electric power at several of the Crown’s properties. His car is 51 years old and runs on bioethanol waste from wine and cheesemaking waste. He is royal patron to over 400 organizations including Surfers against Sewage and the British Deer Society. He wrote a book, Harmony: A New Way of Looking at Our World, about tackling global challenges by adopting nature based principles. He founded the Sustainable Markets Initiative to catalyze private sector adoption of sustainable practices. He uses his royal platform to speak to, and yes criticize, world leaders and CEOs, most recently at COP 26. He told those assembled that “the eyes and hopes of the world are upon you to act with all dispatch, and decisively — because time has quite literally run out.”  He has called for a “Marshall Like Plan” for the planet.

His latest project is Dumfries House, where he and a consortium restored a crumbling estate to become a health, wellbeing and sustainability education center open to the public. School children come to learn about soil health and plant vegetables. Yoga, mindfulness, and holistic medicine classes are offered. There’s coursework to train in traditional building arts, sustainable textile manufacturing and organic farm-to-table cookery. There’s also a rare-breed farm populated by Scots Dumpy hens and Tamworth pigs.

While not as outspoken as her son, the Queen herself was known for taking action to protect the environment. When she stated that she would no longer wear real fur, online searches for faux fur jumped 52%. She famously was that mom who folded and reused all the wrapping paper at Christmas and went around the house turning off the lights. Her request for her platinum jubilee was for everyone to plant trees. The new King has also passed on his passion to his eldest son, Prince William, who founded the Earthshot Prize.

There is much to criticize about any billionaire’s footprint and of course, the Royal Family and Prince Charles come under fire regularly for many other reasons. And yes, the monarchy’s role is now largely ceremonial. But the King of England still has a huge platform and I think it will be really interesting to see what happens now that the eco-Prince is King. Some speculate he may have to temper what he says. He himself has suggested that while of course the roles are different, there are areas he will refuse to be silenced. “You are accused of being controversial just because you are trying to draw attention to things that aren’t necessarily part of the conventional viewpoint,” Charles said in a magazine interview to mark his 70th birthday. “My problem is I find there are too many things that need doing or battling on behalf of.”

It may be his actions that speak louder over time. Many point to the fact the family owns 1.4% of British land, much of which could be “rewilded,” which in turn sends a message to many other aristocratic, land-owning families. Solar panels may soon be on Buckingham Palace. He will be speaking weekly to a Prime Minister who has a somewhat questionable track record so far on environmental appointments. 

So while we mourn the passing of an iconic, incomparable Queen, we can simultaneously celebrate that the planet now has a climate King, at a time when we need every leader to be a climate leader.

Quote of the Week: “I can only urge you, as the world’s decision makers, to find practical ways of overcoming differences so we can all get down to work, together, to rescue this precious planet and save the threatened future of our young people.”

Prince Charles

Are you ready to build a better working world?