Following the passing of Queen Elizabeth II this week, we’re taking a look back at some of the ways she championed sustainability and how King Charles is likely to carry the torch.
Over the course of her 96 years, Queen Elizabeth saw many changes to the planet. They’re changes British naturalist Sir David Attenborough, now also 96, illustrated in his 2020 witness statement about the impact industrialism and climate change has had over the last century.
“The natural world is, fading,” he wrote in A Life On Our Planet: My Witness Statement And Vision For The Future. “I’ve seen it with my own eyes. It will lead to our destruction.”
The monarchy and colonialism had much to do with the destruction of the planet over the Queen’s 70 year reign and perpetuating harmful practices to status quo. But in recent years especially, things started to shift.
Investing in climate action
In 2009, the Queen praised the Commonwealth for shaping international response to “emerging global challenges,” she said during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in 2009.
“The threat to our environment is not a new concern. But it is now a global challenge which will continue to affect the security and stability of millions for years to come. Many of those affected are among the most vulnerable, and many of the people least well able to withstand the adverse effects of climate change live in the Commonwealth,” she said at the time.
As one of the largest landowners in the world, the Royal Family’s Crown Estate has been granting licenses to offshore windfarms in England and Wales. Six projects in total thus far are expected to generate up to £9 billion over the next decade. Efforts like this are crucial to not only reduce the U.K.’s energy impact on the planet, but to also help protect the region’s biodiversity.
According to National Geographic, nearly half of the U.K.’s wildlife and plant species have been lost since the Industrial Revolution—putting Britain in the bottom ten percent of the world “and as the worst among G-7 nations.”
The Crown Estate is also planning to invest between £500 million and £1 billion over the next decade to update its property estate including improvements to energy efficiency.
In recent years, the Queen started traveling in electric vehicles, including a hybrid Range Rover. The estate has a fleet of energy-efficient hybrid cars. A hybrid was used for her husband Prince Philip’s hearse last year.
Like the Queen, her husband, the Duke of Edinburgh was also an advocate for the planet.
“It is a source of great pride to me that the leading role my husband played in encouraging people to protect our fragile planet, lives on through the work of our eldest son Charles and his eldest son William. I could not be more proud of them,” the Queen said after his death.
“We are going to have to change the way we do things really,” the Queen said during a tour of the Edinburgh Climate Change Institute in 2021.
Last year, the Queen announced an initiative urging the public to plant trees ahead of the Platinum Jubilee, which happened this past summer.
“Whether you are a seasoned gardener or a complete novice, we will guide you through the process of planting trees so that they survive and flourish for years to come,” an official announcement said.
The goal was to create a “legacy” in honor of the Queen’s leadership for 70 years in order to benefit future generations.
That call to the public came in tandem with the Queen’s partnership with the Woodland Trust, which donated more than three million saplings to groups and schools across the U.K.
Daily life was also built around a number of initiatives. The Queen famously said that small steps, rather than giant leaps, often lead to the most lasting change. She helped to foster awareness over climate change and biodiversity loss by taking small steps where ever possible.
“The Queen has always liked a fairly ‘simple’ way of day to day living. Having lived through the Depression and the Second World War she has been aware of money-saving issues all her life,” Ian Lloyd, a royal photographer and author of The Duke: 100 Chapters in the Life of Prince Philip told The Independent.
That awareness was often personified in the Queen being spotted turning off lights throughout the properties. Lighting in her homes were all also outfitted with energy-efficient LEDs; they can save up to 86 percent on electricity. Windsor Castle generates 40 percent of its electricity from two hydroelectric turbines on the River Thames at Romney Weir.
Gardens at Buckingham Palace were designed to promote wildlife and biodiversity. Groundskeepers intentionally leave dead trees and tree stumps to provide a “perfect environment for insects to lay their eggs and hatch their larvae in,” the palace said. The gardens also keep long grass across ten percent of the property.
“This means that wildflowers are allowed to reproduce and sustain themselves without interference,” the palace said.
The Queen also took steps to promote sustainability in her wardrobe. She gave up fur a few years ago. That was revealed in the 2019 memoir from the Queen’s dresser, The Other Side of the Coin: The Queen, the Dresser and the Wardrobe, by Angela Kelly.
In it, Kelly explained how the Queen had mink trim replaced on her coats and said all future outfits would only include faux fur. “If Her Majesty is due to attend an engagement in particularly cold weather, from 2019 onwards fake fur will be used to make sure she stays warm,” Kelly wrote.
Fur is being ousted from a number of luxury fashion labels over both its link to cruelty to animals and climate change. Captive livestock is a leading producer of greenhouse gas emissions. The sixth installment of the IPCC report urgently called for a 30 percent drop in methane emissions—animal agriculture accounts for more than 15 percent of all global greenhouse gas emissions.
One of her beloved brands, Burberry, is leading a shift in sustainable fashion by using sustainable and recycled materials and reducing its carbon footprint across production. Its presence at the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee included a pollinator-friendly flower-covered barge floating down the Thames.
The Queen also re-wears and reworks designs, including the yellow suit she wore to Prince William and Kate Middleton’s wedding in 2011. It’s a trend her son, the now-King Charles also embraces. He’s been a vocal supporter of clothing repair and has been spotted frequently rewearing items.
Sustaining the legacy
Now, as the Queen’s son Charles takes the throne as King, the sustainability efforts from the Royal Family are only expected to increase. Charles and both of his sons have been vocal proponents for climate action and sustainability.
Last year, Prince Charles launched a new television channel, called RE:TV. That platform supported what the now-King called the “best examples” of businesses taking on the climate crisis with conscious capitalism.
“I’ve spent a lot my lifetime trying to engage people and businesses with the issues and solutions of the climate crisis,” King Charles said in a statement about the channel last year.
“RE:TV was therefore set up with the aim of capturing the will and imagination of humanity and champion the most inspiring solutions for sustainability from around the world,” he said. “I hope that with this partnership with Prime Video we can bring these inspiring innovations and ideas to a wider audience and demonstrate together what is possible in the pursuit of a sustainable future.”
That eco apple doesn’t fall far from the tree with either of his sons, either. Prince William’s Earthshot Prize has recognized a number of forward-thinking companies aiming to tackle the global climate threat.
Prince William starred alongside Attenborough in a television event recognizing the Earthshot Prize winners and nominees, with appearances from environmentalists including actor and climate podcast host Cate Blanchett, Queen Rania of Jordan, and former UN climate chief Christiana Figueres.
The Earthshot Prize awards five winners annually with a £1 million grant.
“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 in a statement.
“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.”
Prince Harry, while no longer taking part in royal family duties, has also lent his voice to the climate fight. In June, addressing the United Nations on Nelson Mandela International Day, Harry said, “We are witnessing a global assault on democracy and freedom—the cause of Mandela’s life.”
“This crisis will only grow worse, unless our leaders lead, unless the countries represented by the seats in this hallowed hall make the decisions—the daring, transformative decisions—our world needs to save humanity,” he said.
Last year at the international climate event COP26, after the hiatus brought by the pandemic, the Queen delivered a recorded speech to attendees gathered in Glasgow.
“None of us underestimates the challenges ahead: but history has shown that when nations come together in common cause, there is always room for hope. Working side by side, we have the ability to solve the most insurmountable problems and to triumph over the greatest of adversities,” the Queen said.
“Of course, the benefits of such actions will not be there to enjoy for all of us here today: we none of us will live forever. But we are doing this not for ourselves but for our children and our children’s children, and those who will follow in their footsteps.”