Awards highlight green opportunities for firms

The Green Business Awards 2008, announced in November, have highlighted firms that are seeking to maximise business opportunities and minimise risks by reducing their environmental impacts.

The winners of the annual Green Business Awards were announced in November by ENDS in association with Management Todayand HR magazines.1 With nearly 130 entries, including many small and medium enterprises, the awards show that large numbers of firms see environmental issues as an business opportunity (see table).

The awards were judged by an independent panel of 14, including Alison Austin, Sainsbury’s environment manager, Richard Martin, the Environment Agency’s Netregs manager and Margaret Mogford, British Gas’s head of climate change.

Launching the awards, ENDS editor-in-chief Nick Rowcliffe said: "This is a critical time for business, caught between economic uncertainty on the one hand and the climate crisis on the other. These awards aim to show that the contradictions can be bridged, that there are ways through the maze."

Eurostar won the best large firm award for its green strategy. The judges felt that Eurostar had successfully capitalised on the lower-carbon intensity of rail compared with aviation to help it win business from airlines and cut its passengers’ carbon emissions. Eurostar journeys between London and Paris or Brussels produce only a tenth of the CO2emissions per passenger of air flights.

Eurostar’s strategy appears to be paying off. Its passenger numbers increased by 18% in the first half of 2008 over the previous year. In April last year Eurostar introduced its "Tread Lightly" environmental programme. The main commitment is to become ‘carbon neutral’ by reducing its CO2 emissions per passenger journey by 25% by 2012 and offsetting the rest. Other actions include reducing waste going to landfill.

Last year, ENDS reported that Eurostar was using electricity from nuclear power to meet its carbon reduction targets (ENDS Report 394, pp 6-7 ). Many experts believe that nuclear cannot form part of a sustainable energy mix because of problems such as radioactive waste. Others argue that the threat of climate change is so severe that every low-carbon energy source is needed.

Winner of the best new product award went to Nu-Phalt for its alternative road-repair system. Conventional repair techniques require roads to be excavated and refilled with new aggregate, causing waste, noise and air pollution. In contrast, Nu-Phalt melts the existing road surface with infra-red energy and uses less new material to seamlessly repair the defect. Nu-Phalt says that repairing a pothole with its system produces only 4.3kg of CO2 compared to 51.6kg using the traditional method.

King’s College London won the award for best property business with its carbon-management strategy for its many buildings. In 2003, the college appointed an environmental manager and began gathering data and setting targets. It is committed to achieving the BRE’s BREEAM ‘very good’ rating for all refurbishments and its ‘excellent’ rating for new buildings. Over two years, the college has reduced its energy consumption by 9,000 megawatt hours, and cut its CO2 emissions by 5,000 tonnes.The college is one of the first bodies to be certified to the Carbon Trust’s standard for achieving year-on-year absolute cuts in emissions (ENDS Report 402, p 9 ).

Food manufacturer McCain won an award for two renewable energy projects at its Whittlesey factory near Peterborough. McCain invested £10 million in building three 3MW wind turbines providing 60% of the site’s electricity. The firm also invested £5 million in an anaerobic digester to treat the site’s wastewater which is loaded with potato starch. The process generates biogas that is burned to supply a further 10% of the site’s electricity. It also greatly reduces the pollution potential of the wastewater discharge. As a result, McCain’s saved 7,500 tonnes of CO2 emissions in six months.

One concern the awards raise is the prevalence of carbon offsetting in many firms’ emission reduction strategies. Best practice is for firms to cut emissions by as much as possible before considering offsets. Only buying good quality offsets such as compliance credits generated by the United Nation’s Clean Development Mechanism or voluntary credits certified under the Gold Standard is recommended (ENDS Report 399, p 7 ).

One winner, The Green Insurance Company, offsets its customers’ vehicle CO2 emissions by tree-planting schemes - generally thought to be a questionable method for long-term carbon sequestration. Although the firm offers advice on cutting emissions by driving less or switching to a more efficient car, the concern is that offsetting encourages people to continue unsustainable lifestyles.

Another observation is that many applicants focus on carbon emissions, ignoring other impacts such as water consumption and contribution to biodiversity loss. The better entries took a more holistic approach to environmental management.

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