By Julia Hawkins, Ashden PR and Digital Media Manager
After months of preparation, furrowed brows, last-minute panics and mounting excitement, the Ashden Awards 2012 are about to start in just under an hour's time. From a solar pioneer that's brightening up lives in Africa to a car-sharing website that makes traveling cheap, friendly and green, this year's finalists are an inspiration to anyone who had given up hope that we can make progress on climate change.
I'll be blogging from now and throughout the ceremony - in the beautiful Royal Geographical Society (RGS) in South Kensington, London - so if you watch this space you'll be one of the first to know who wins our 2012 Awards. Excitingly, this year's awards also includes our inaugural Eurostar Ashden Award For Sustainable Travel.
Judges and VIP guests are turning up. Just seen Futerra's Solitaire Townsend walk through the door wearing a rather lovely dress, may I say, swiftly followed by a cheery-looking Andrew Simms of the New Economics Foundation - he's on our judging panel. The Ashden admin team at the registration desk are looking calmly competent as usual. No sign of any of the finalists - hope they turn up on time!
By the way, don't forget to tune in to green.tv from 7.15 onwards - we'll be webcasting the ceremony for the first time. And if you're a tweeter, you can also follow the #Ashden12 buzz.
Lots more VIP guests turning up now, some of them looking like they've had a shower with their clothes on - it's incredibly muggy both outside and in. Ooh and Jonathan Porritt has just walked through the door! Nice smile from him. Clearly has no idea who I am.
I've also just spotted Ashden's Founder Director Sarah Butler-Sloss talking to Dr Kandeh Yumkella of UN-Energy out in the RGS garden. Dr. Yumkella will be making our keynote speech and presenting international awards. We're honoured to have him at this year's awards in this International Year for Sustainable Energy For All - he's an incredibly passionate international campaigner on this issue and in fact is slated to receive his own Global Leadership Award in October.
Here's another famous face: broadcaster Anna Ford, who we're delighted is hosting the awards for the sixth year running, though this will be her last year. We're very grateful for her generous support and time over the years.
Ok - five minutes to go, better get into the auditorium!
Sarah Butler-Sloss, Ashden's Founder Director, is welcoming our guests and introducing the theme of the night: "Sustainable energy, I'm delighted to hear, is now finally getting the attention it deserves, along with the recognition that energy access is a vital ingredient for improving health, extending education and improving livelihoods. We're very excited that in this year of Sustainable Energy For All, our Gold Award is given in partnership wtih UN-Energy and the UN Foundation."
7.25pm - UK winners announced
Anna Ford is now speaking. She mentions the multiple benefits that our winners are bringing, including: "increasing jobs, cutting energy bills and reducing the UK's vulnerability to rising energy prices while also cutting carbon emissions." And - wait for it - the winners are:
Huge congratulations to them all!
Kevin McCloud is about to present the awards. He says the projects we are celebrating tonight are not glamourous, new and shiny, but serious and rooted in their community. "We can't build our way into a new ecological future", he says: "We have to deal with the existing housing stock that we have". This is exactly what winners UHSM, Parity Projects and the National Trust are doing. "It's not about just putting on a pullover - it's about putting a pullover on our buildings."
The winners are now picking up their awards.
The National Trust is up first with its award for retrofitting heritage properties and its Director of Conservation Peter Nixon is speaking. He says they have achieved a fundamental culture change to make a staggering 41% reduction in energy use over the past two years. Energy advisors Keith Jones and Paul Southall have been two key champions of the initiative. Peter also says it's about working with the grain of old buildings and "understanding them, managing them and using them less".
Energy4All has won the Ashden Award for sustainable energy finance. CEO Andrew King is speaking. "All you need is just £2,000 to put into one of our energy projects. The project will do all the hard work - and in return you get democracy, a decent return, and the satisfaction of knowing you're doing something really worthwhile for the environment!"
Next up: Russell Smith of Parity Projects gets the award for energy efficiency advice. His team gives people straight-talking advice on how to eco-retrofit their homes. Again, Russell highlights the benefits for your health and pocket to making your home more energy efficient. And he's just thanked his dad Barry, who's in the audience. Bless!
Student Switch Off has won the award for behaviour change - this campaign gets students to make simple steps to reduce energy in their halls of residence, motivating them with online compeititons and rewards. Neil Jennings is up on stage to pick up the award. Surely not much older than a student himself?
UHSM has won the award for sustainable energy in public buildings. Communications Director Susan Osborne is collecting the award and now up on stage, looking very excited to be hugging Kevin McCloud! Oh dear - she's forgotten her glasses. Anna Ford has lent her hers. Panic over. "If we can do it, any hospital can", she says.
8pm - Eurostar Ashden Award for Sustainable Travel - winners announced
And the winners are:
Peter Vansevenant from the City of Ghent has received his award from Eurostar CEO Nicolas Petrovic. He has brought his own glasses. He says: "For those who are already cycling, please keep cycling. For those who don't, get on your bikes!"
Ali Clabburn, liftshare CEO is now speaking. They take a staggering 100,000 car trips off the road every day. He starts with a lovely anecdote of a girl who had to give up her licence for health reasons, so signed up to liftshare and found a new friend - she was their 500,000th member. He ends with saying: 'Sharing is really fun and everytime it occurs, it changes peoples' lives. Please give it a try."
8.10pm - International winners announced
And the international winners are:
A massive congratulations to all of these amazing initiatives! Dr. Kandeh Yumkella is now up on stage, ready to present the awards.
Solar company Barefoot Power has won the award for sustainable enterprise. Joyce DeMucci has been presented with the award, along with her colleagues. She says hi to sales manager Anne Kayiwa Kaggwa's children who are watching the webcast in Uganda! Another lovely speech describing the difference solar power makes to remote communities.
GIZ/INTEGRATION won its award for rural electrification. David Hancock of GIZ is speaking. He is hugely proud to be part of team that brings such divided people together with a common purpose: "Our investments have provided hope where before there was despair, and a real chance to escape the crushing poverty that is the reality for so many Afghans."
The diminutive but powerful Tri Mumpuni has now been presented with IBEKA's award for community power. She talks about how she sees people literally scream with happiness when they get light. A wonderful speech from such an inspiring woman, ending with a quote from Ghandi: "Do good things, and good things will follow."
Now on stage is Michael Roberts of iDE/Cambodia, whose award is for avoided deforestation through its affordable ceramic water filters (Great shirt, by the way Mike!). With the Ashden Award, Mike hopes to inspire similar initiatives in other countries across the world.
And last, but not least: South-India based SKDRDP in India, which has won the award for financial innovation. Spiritual Leader Dr. Veerendra Heggede says: "Our vision is from darkness to light and for energy for all - which of course must be sustainable energy - and the poor must be partners in this process."
8.25pm - Gold Award winners announced
In the UK... It's the National Trust!
And internationally... it is SKDRDP - lots of whoops from the audience!
8.30pm Keynote speech from Dr Kandeh Yumkella
Dr. Yumkella thanks Ashden for helping him keep his feet on the ground with all our inspiring winners. Energy issues are very sensitive, he says. 'There's a lot of national interest, a lot of powerful lobbies around. Yet the reality is that 60-70% of GHGs come from energy generation - you cannot solve climate change without an energy revolution. And without access to energy, the MDGs cannot be achieved." Of course he said a lot more than this - we'll publish it very soon.
And with some parting words from Sarah Butler-Sloss, It's all over! What a rollercoaster.
In the next few hours, days and weeks we'll be posting full speeches, slides, films, case studies, blogs and stories about all our winners. We hope you will be as inspired as we are by all their stories, and will help us spread the word about them so we can encourage many more around the world to follow their lead.
Right now, I'm off to get a glass of wine.