The Queen's Awards: Hint of the direction for industry to take: The environmental prize is the first important change in the structure since 1975. Now the winners must turn achievement into sales

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The Independent Online
TWELVE companies will be particularly proud of their Queen's Award today. They are the first winners of the new award for environmental achievement.

The introduction of the award is the first important change in the structure since the combined award for technology and export was abolished in 1975. Like the 118 export achievement winners and the 25 technological achievement winners, they will have the right to use the awards' famous emblem and fly its flag above their headquarters for the award's five-year duration.

But the real benefits the winners reap will depend on the skill of their marketing departments in turning achievement into sales - the essential task of the awards from their beginnings in the era of 'I'm backing Britain' campaigns and fears that the country would get left behind in the 'white heat' of technological revolution.

Following the lead of the earlier awards, the criteria for winning in environmental achievement depends on more than just a good idea. An award is granted only for products or technology that have achieved 'commercial success'.

The introduction of this award was designed specifically to make sure that British companies participated in one of the likely growth industries of the 1990s and beyond - that of limiting the environmental damage of existing technology. As such, it is heavily biased toward technical advances rather than environmental management.

Applicants are expected to have shown significant environmental benefits in the development of products, technology and processes. Judging is based on the degree of difficulty of the environmental problem and its potential for wider application or transfer. Eleven industrial sectors were represented by the 12 winners.

The technological bent of the award may be responsible for the drop in the number of technology awards this year (25 compared with 38 in 1992). Judges and administrators concede that most of the environmental winners could easily have cropped up in the technological section and that a degree of substitution seems to have taken place.

Lewis Roberts, Emeritus Professor in the school of environmental sciences at the University of East Anglia, believes the awards are welcome at a time when companies should be looking to their environmental record.

'It is certainly time we took the environmental dimension on board. Companies that do something commercially successful that helps with the overall environmental problems are worthy of reward,' he said.

There were 240 applicants for the environmental achievement award and Sir Frederick Warner, visiting professor at Essex University and chairman of the former environmental awards given by the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce, (RSA), praised them for being able to encourage companies to come forward. 'It seems they have been able to take it to a higher level than we were able to do at the RSA,' he said.

Both men believe that scientists, often rather isolated, normally look to the recognition of their peers through scientific literature and conferences but will see the value of the Queen's Award.

Andrew Lees, director of campaigns at the Friends of the Earth, the environmental pressure group, has yet to pass judgement on whether the awards will be a success. He said the criteria were relatively narrow and did not take in the full environmental record of a company.

'There is an awful lot of uncertainty which can only be resolved by full disclosure of such things as test results. Coming clean is a prerequisite for going green,' he said.

Mr Lees said FoE would be looking at the total environmental performance of companies rather than a single achievement. 'What we want to see are targets, transparency and measurability. It is very important not to see environmental achievements as something separate from business performance,' he added.

The number of applications for the older awards was the highest since 1979 although the total of export awards granted was down from the record of 127 given in 1992. There were 1,230 applications for export awards compared with 384 in 1992, while there were 352 technology applications compared with last year's figure of 384. The highest entry figures were in 1978 when 1,860 companies applied for export and technology awards.

Winners came from all regions of England as well as from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

Three leading motor manufacturers, Ford, Nissan, and Vauxhall, won export awards while a fourth, Land Rover, succeeded in the technology section. Caterham Cars, manufacturers of the Super Seven sports car, which has been in continuous production for 35 years, also won an export award. Manufacturers continue to dominate the awards although invisible exporters represented 17 per cent of the export winners.

ICL, Pilkington, and Johnson Matthey were joint winners. ICL won recognition in the export and technology sectors and Pilkington and Johnson Matthey in exports and environment. A total of 32 companies won a further award in 1993 while still holding current awards granted in the previous five years. The split was 22 previous winners in the export section, six in the technology section and four in environment.

Small companies with fewer than 200 employees made up two-thirds of winners while those with fewer than 50 workers represented 27 per cent. The smallest units to win in 1993 employed five people.

Several firms had been winners before - indeed, some are chalking up their fifth and sixth wins - but 63 per cent had not been successful in previous years and 34 per cent won at their first attempt.

Presentations of the awards will be made on behalf of the Queen by Lord Lieutenants during the next few months. A reception will be held at Buckingham Palace towards the end of the year, to which three representatives from each award-winning company are invited.

The system may appear to be outdated and some critics believe that the awards themselves are in need of modernisation. But Sir John Fairclough, chairman of the Engineering Council and a member of the Awards Committee which makes the award recommendations to the Prime Minister, says they retain their prestige.

He believes that the proof comes in the attitudes of previous winners. Earlier this year Sir John attended the reception for the 1992 list of successful companies. 'It gave me a chance to talk to the winners. The reaction of these people shows quite clearly that they value what the award brings them,' he said.

All the applications represent substantial efforts from more than 1,700 companies. The winners may correctly say that their achievement is the 'best thing since sliced bread'. The first commercially viable sliced loaf was an early winner.