Ashden Awards ceremony 2019

By Dr Simon Batchelor

The Ashden Awards are a great way of promoting the new approaches that are so vital for the planet’s future.  The approach is great… The award ceremony is characterised by short videos that often have funky music and a clever style.  I strongly recommend looking through them.


This year the focus and the speeches were of course on climate change.  In the midst of the positive news, the speaker for Resham Sutra (Sorry sir, I missed your name) told us that his home in Mumbai had not recorded a drop of rain this year even though they are half way through the monsoon season. And that Bombay had received 34 inches in 24 hours the day before.   There was much talk about extinction of species and how there is a climate emergency.  In the UK, Wales and Scotland have declared a climate emergency, while UK parliament has apparently agreed to make a declaration soon. 


Of course, against this backdrop of a climate emergency the winners of the Ashden awards do at least offer some positive insights.  Their projects are deservedly honoured.   However, I couldn’t help but reflect on how almost all the propositions have been around for thirty years or more.   Sistema.bio offer biogas to farmers.  Their flexible bag has been around for a number of years and when my colleague asked them the day before what was it that makes them stand out, and why do they think their biogas will outlast other biogas failed scale ups, their answer was…. Customer service.  They have a call centre which responds to problems and enable people to keep their systems working.  Good customer service is not a world shattering idea!?  EQuota energy in China offer data management of energy in buildings….they do indeed leverage smart metering technology (which I admit was not around 30 years ago), but what struck me was …..what is the action the data prompts… “to identify individual pieces of machinery switching on and off”.  Resham Sutra designs, manufactures and commercialises machines for silk yarn and fabric production in states across India, most are solar powered.   Is the technology massively innovative?  It is solar generation of electricity, which is becoming a norm?  It is a machine for weaving – not particularly innovative.  And why the project is successful is the matching of loans to productive use.   And finally, a comment on Alcaldía de Medellín.  They have created green corridors which have brought back biodiversity and cooled those areas.  What came to mind was my home town of Reading – where I recently saw photos of the city at the beginning of the 20th Century, and it was fairly treeless.  The Victorians apparently planted lots of trees, and my experience now is of huge large trees on most of the major roads in and out of the town.  So, greening of cities – not a new idea.

Please don’t think I am being critical of the winners – rather, I came away with the reinforced idea that these moves towards saving the planet are not so much dependent on new technology per se (except perhaps for Highview Power) but on taking a true systems approach (although highview is addressing Grid system challenges).  I came away thinking that the winner’s success is based on a system approach, an integration of newish pieces of technology with good old fashioned good business practice – matching of finance loans to income, great customer service, managing energy devices by switching them off when appropriate, integrating with planning processes. 


The evening finished with a speech by Mary Robinson, “first woman President of Ireland and Chair of the Elders, a group of global leaders working for peace, justice and human rights. Man made problem requiring feminist solution”.  She spoke a lot about Climate Justice and told us her memories of trying to persuade people to work towards 1.5 deg change, and she characterised that as small islands target – at that level small islands disappear under water over the next 40 years.  But she noted that now people seem to have forgotten the 1.5 target and discuss 2 deg.  She reminisced on how her work on justice had been siloed away from energy and climate concerns – and that latterly she saw how things had come together and hence her writing her latest book.  She tried to walk the line between being optimistic due to being in the presence of Ashden, and noting that progress is slow and worrisome.  And she also threw in feminism – she has previously said climate change is a man made problem and must have a feminist solution.  She quickly unpacked that saying that ‘man’ encompassed everyone – but it described the approach of money making, of ‘business’, of disagreeableness (my word).  And that it needed addressing by a softer social approach, more agreeableness, inclusive, leaving no one behind.

I should just end by saying that our charming partners CCA hosted a pre-evening reception with a demonstration of ethanol cooking (live making of the canapes), and introducing their own winner of a special cooking award.