You win again. . .

Environmental award schemes have for some time offered a powerful means of stimulating change, and have been very successful in encouraging organisations to behave in a more environmentally responsible way. So successful, in fact, that growth in such schemes has tipped the 'exponential' mark, to the detriment of all. Matt MacAllan reports.

“Awards can embolden enterprise, by rewarding the best.” Gary Archer, senior partner, KPMG. “Increased finance and staffing quickly followed the award.” Brian Johnson, director of research and development, Tidy Britain Group. “Awards that involve competition can energise in a way that accreditations can never do.” Dr Leith Penny, head of environmental policy, Westminster City Council.

Map the territory

A seminar at the RSA (Royal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) at the end of 1998, attended by awards organisers, sponsors, the DETR and other interested parties, concluded that an examination of the situation was required. It was agreed that a possible way forward might be to establish a national forum for environment and sustainable development awards, with the following suggested as aims such a forum might hope to achieve:

  • an inventory of existing award schemes in the UK with aims relating to environmental and sustainable development;
  • an identification of industry sectors and skills for which the existing award schemes do not provide an adequate incentive to improve environmental and sustainable development objectives; and
  • a dialogue between organisations, sponsors, entrants and winners of environmental awards schemes, as well as the government and the media., A Forum for Environmental & Sustainable Development Awards, was launched on May 22. The site is to provide a one-stop-shop for information on entering, organising and sponsoring awards via a regularly updated database.

The original estimate for the Forum had been a list of around 50 awards. The site now details closer to 200, however (notably, the plethora of schemes found in this country is not reflected in other Member States). In fact, somewhere between £150m and £200m per year is committed to such awards. Many, however, take place at local level, with little lasting impact. Simon Fordham is centre director and head of environment for The RSA at Bristol. He testifies: “We didn’t know where the gaps were. Until you map the territory, you can’t navigate through it.” Is the issue then one of profile, of longevity, and ultimately of value for money? “The award-giving ceremony should be the starting point,” he says. “The Forum will provide a means to follow-up awards and winners, and to further promote award winners’ achievements and innovations.”

The Forum aims to encourage “all means of using well designed and effectively managed awards”, to which end A Guide to Good Practice: organising and sponsoring environment and sustainable development awards has already been made available. Forum services to the same ends will follow. The Guide details the objectives of all those taking part in an awards scheme, as well as what steps can be taken to ensure that each set of objectives is met. For example: “The status and effect of a scheme is partly a function of the number and quality of entries from which outstanding winners can be selected. Several schemes have had difficulty attracting sufficient entries of quality, particularly from SMEs, even to the extent that the scheme has not been worth maintaining. A poor entry record is also a severe handicap in attracting sponsors. Possible solutions to this problem include making the entry process simpler; and finding better incentives and recognition for organisations that participate, not just those that win.”

Membership of the Forum is available on a sliding scale, from those wishing to post awards on the website through to full corporate partnership.

The development of the Forum, the Guide, and the standing of RSA as an effective, independent round table,

suggests that RSA awards rating and accreditation shouldn’t be far off.

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