Why Sustainability Became a Natural Priority for the Royals

Climate change and sustainability have been at the forefront of the royal family’s philanthropic endeavors for decades, serving as a common thread across generations. But now, with the environment in even greater peril, the cause has taken on new importance for Prince William, Kate Middleton, Prince Harry, and Meghan Markle.

“The younger generation of royals are focused on climate change because we’ve reached a critical juncture,” Victoria Arbiter, royal commentator and author of Queen Elizabeth II: Pocket Giants recently told Vanity Fair. Extreme weather events have propelled citizens and governments around the world to implement long-term change.

By prioritizing protecting the planet, William and Harry follow in the footsteps of their father, Prince Charles, and their grandfather, the late Prince Philip. Prince Charles was ahead of his time, first addressing the damaging effects of single-use plastics, chemical contamination, and air pollution more than 50 years ago, something William has publicly praised him for in the past. Charles gave his first big speech on climate change in 1970, when he emphasized his desire to tackle pollution.

When William and Harry were young, they were aware of the need to protect the environment because they witnessed the work that was done by Prince Charles and Prince Philip, Arbiter said. Charles reportedly made an effort to take his children to pick up litter during the holidays, influencing his sons to now use their own platforms to champion environmental causes.

Aside from speaking publicly about conservation efforts, William and Kate have implemented eco-friendly practices in their home life. Reports suggest, for instance, that the royal couple had an electric-car charging point installed at Kensington Palace, and the pair is dedicated to making the electric car a symbol of their passion to fight against climate change. Last year, William and Kate made a statement when they arrived at the inaugural Earthshot Prize ceremony in London in a fully electric Audi that operates without emitting any carbon dioxide. Prince Charles made a similar declaration when he arrived at the opening ceremony for the Commonwealth Games earlier this summer in an Aston Martin that runs on wine and cheese byproducts. He also installed solar panels to generate electricity at Clarence House, where he lives with his wife Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall.

“The royal family has no power—other than the power to educate, inspire, and motivate,” said Andrei Cherny, the CEO of Aspiration, a financial firm that seeks to tackle climate change through “green banking.” This brand of leadership is central to what is needed to confront the climate crisis, he added. “Billions of people around the world will have to change the way they eat, travel, spend, and save, and the royal family is uniquely positioned to drive that cultural transformation,” Cherny said.

Prince William homed in on this leadership role by launching the Earthshot Prize, an annual prize awarded to five winners who are committed to creating environmental solutions. This effort cemented his stance on climate change and made his dedication to the cause more visible to the public. “He’s managed to bring together some of the brightest minds along with a host of celebrities and public figures,” Arbiter said, reflecting on the initiative. “He doesn’t profess to know everything,” she added. “But he’s actively sought to educate himself and he has surrounded himself with experts in the field.”

Additionally, William and Kate have been praised for using fashion as a means to express their environmentally conscious lifestyle shift. In October, at the Earthshot awards, royal observers were quick to notice that Prince William was wearing the same green velvet suit jacket he wore to an event in 2019, paired with 20-year-old pants. Kate wore an Alexander McQueen dress that she had previously worn to a BAFTA event in 2011. “Instead of buying low-quality budget items with quick churn, save up and invest in pieces that last longer, and when you can, opt for repairing rather than replacing,” Cherny said. The cycle of short use leads to a demand for more clothing, which in turn has a negative impact on global resources, he added.

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