Sustainable City Awards make case for greener business

Reward for firms leading the way in environmentally-friendly operations
Big impact: the Sustainable City Award winners of 2016

“Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Green is right. Greed works,” so said Gordon Gekko of Wall Street in the 1987 film of the same name. This famous quote seemed to capture the spirit of the decade, and the Square Mile operated for many years under the same ethos.

Exactly 30 years and several financial crashes later and one of the biggest shifts has been in the growth of the business case for sustainability, perhaps necessitating a change in the moniker. ‘Green is Good’ is certainly the message from the City of London’s Sustainable City Awards, which opened for entries earlier this month.

The awards, run by the London Sustainability Exchange and funded by the City of London Corporation, is a national ‘green business’ awards scheme that rewards best practice in environmental management and sustainable leadership.

Established in 2001, the awards are open to applications from companies of all shapes and sizes; from SMEs and charities to multi-national banks. A judging panel of livery club members and industry experts determine winners for six categories, including Health and Wellbeing, Innovative Technology, Innovative Spaces, and Sustainable Transport.

The Sir Peter Parker award – named for the former chairman of British Railways – recognises overall leadership in sustainability from the companies shortlisted.

Samantha Heath, chief executive of London Sustainability Exchange, says the awards play a pivotal role in driving innovation within the green business sector: “Previous recipients have said they feel really quite vindicated for their efforts, and the awards are a great tool to promote the work they’re doing.”

Last year’s category winners ranged from multinational financial services group Nomura for its state-of-the-art headquarters on Angel Lane to renewable energy company GENeco for the BioBus, the UK’s first bus powered entirely by human faeces and food waste. Environmental law firm ClientEarth won the overall Sustainable Cities Award for mounting a successful legal challenge against the UK government over its ongoing failure to comply with EU limits for nitrogen dioxide, which they should have met in 2010.

ClientEarth’s chief executive James Thornton described the award as “one of the highlights of our year”. “We and many other organisations work hard all year round to ensure that sustainability wins through in communities around the world,” he says. “Securing the backing of the judges and capturing the overall winners’ award sent a signal to those who still fail to see the need for urgent action.”

Siemens’ The Crystal building at Royal Victoria Docks cleaned up across several categories, including Resource Conservation and Tackling Climate Change – somewhat unsurprising, given its status as one of the world’s most sustainable buildings.

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Siemens’ Crystal Building cleaned up at last year’s Sustainable City Awards.

Designed by Wilkinson Eyre, the all-electric building runs on solar power and a groundsource heat pump to generate its own energy, and uses rainwater harvesting, black water treatment, solar heating and automated building management systems as part of its sustainable design.

It will be the venue for this year’s award ceremony in June. Samantha says projects like The Crystal building demonstrate something of a changing of the guard for the types of firms leading the way in sustainable business.

“Innovation in this sector tends to come with smaller companies and then the larger firms come in and build it into their remit,” she says. “Fifteen years ago, the entries were probably quite quirky projects, now it’s more large corporates getting involved. It’s now so much more than just corporate social responsibility as an add-on – if you want to do business effectively, you have to make it a priority.”

The direction of entries has also changed over the years to reflect the ever-evolving ‘green’ agenda. “Last year we saw a real emphasis on sustainability, particularly at a community level, projects that tackled climate change were very important,” Samantha says.

“I think this year we’ll see some focus on innovative spaces – we’ve had a few developers coming forward – and the Sustainable Transport category will be quite important because of the growing concern around pollution in London.”

The Borough of Waltham Forest won in the Travel and Transport category last year for its £27million ‘Mini-Holland’ project, which redesigned roads and public spaces to improve conditions for cyclists and pedestrians. Traffic levels in 12 key roads in the village area of Walthamstow fell by 56%, according to the council, prompting calls for cities and towns around Britain to follow suit.

Samantha says submissions that can demonstrate a “measurable” impact would always do well: “There are always going to be lot of claims, but the judges are keen to see actual data and tests documenting the positive effects.” But above all, she says, judges reward forward thinking.

“It’s only by dint of the hard work and imagination of our businesses, hospitals, schools and social enterprises that we will have a smarter, more liveable and healthier city,” she says. “We see the awards as an opportunity to help drive that innovation.” To find out how to enter the Sustainable Business Awards visit