Companies and public organisations that contributed to making Hong Kong a greener city were honoured at the inaugural Hong Kong Awards for Environmental Excellence (HKAEE). The 2008 awards were the result of a merger of three schemes initiated by the Hong Kong government - the Hong Kong Eco-Business Awards, the Wastewi$e Scheme and the Hong Kong Energy Efficiency Awards. Twenty-three private business enterprises and public organisations were awarded top prizes in the seven sectoral categories at the Convention and Exhibition Centre on March 27. Another 50 were honoured with certificates of merit. Joseph Lee, chairman of the Environmental Campaign Committee (ECC), said the main objective of the HKAEE was to recognise companies that had achieved outstanding performance in environmental protection. 'The HKAEE represents a platform for the business community to contribute to the general wellbeing of society.' Secretary for the Environment Edward Yau Tang-wah said the HKAEE was the 'green Oscars' of Hong Kong. 'The participating companies contributed to making Hong Kong a greener city,' Mr Yau said at the awards presentation ceremony held last month. 'I offer my gratitude to all the companies that took part in the exercise.' The HKAEE features two categories of recognition. The sectoral awards are an annual competition and the environmental labels category encourages companies to make continuous self-improvement. The seven categories of the sectoral awards were construction, financial institutions, hotels, restaurants and catering companies, property management, retailers, transport and logistics, and public sector and NGOs. There was one gold, one silver and one bronze award, one small and medium-sized enterprise award for each sector and 10 certificates of merit. A total of 366 companies and organisations entered the sectoral awards. Mr Lee said: 'These are the leaders in the local business community. They excelled in several areas of environmental protection, including green leadership, partnership synergy and programmes and performance.' The environmental labels of HKAEE are the wastewi$e label, the energywi$e label, the IAQwi$e (indoor air quality) label and the productwi$e label. There are unlimited awardees for the environmental labels. More than 2,000 companies applied for the labels. By qualifying for the environmental labels, companies were able to sharpen their competitive edge in the global marketplace because of the growing importance consumers worldwide attached to environmental protection, Mr Lee said. Leaders of the business community in Hong Kong urged enterprises to not only integrate environmental protection into their operations but to explore green business opportunities as well. Andrew Brandler, chairman of Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce, said: 'With the increase in public awareness of the pressing need for sustaining the environment in which we live, environmental protection has become an important issue among nations, regions, businesses and individuals.' Local businesses must be able to align with the emerging trends to develop green products and services. 'An integrated approach to environmental protection is an important element of daily business operations,' Mr Brandler said. Not only is environmental protection a long-term and sustainable mission, it also represents numerous new business opportunities for local companies. Jonathan Choi Koon-shum, chairman of the Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, said: 'Given the growing public awareness of environmental protection and healthy lifestyles on the mainland, China is a huge potential market for the green industry.' Paul Yin, president of the Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, echoed the sentiment of Mr Choi. 'Environmental protection is not just a cost centre. Energy savings and the optimisation of energy efficiency help enterprises add value to their resources,' Mr Yin said. 'Green products are set to drive economic growth in the future.' Clement Chen, chairman of the Federation of Hong Kong Industries, said industrialists should unite to pursue sustainable business development. 'Environmental protection, energy conservation and products with higher added value will be the dominant trends of the consumer goods market worldwide in the future.' Following the successful conclusion of the HKAEE 2008, the 2009 edition has officially started. The sectoral awards category has been extended to include schools and manufacturing. Applications for the sectoral awards will be accepted from mid-April to mid-June. Meanwhile a new carbonless certificate scheme will be introduced to encourage and recognise the efforts made by companies and organisations in reducing their carbon footprint. The four environmental labels will remain the same. Applications for the environmental labels and the carbonless certificate are accepted throughout the year. Other organisers of the HKAEE are the Environmental Protection Department, Advisory Council on the Environment, Business Environment Council, Chinese General Chamber of Commerce, Chinese Manufacturers' Association of Hong Kong, Federation of Hong Kong Industries, Hong Kong Chinese Importers' and Exporters' Association, Hong Kong Council of Social Service, Hong Kong General Chamber of Commerce and Hong Kong Productivity Council.