Comms Controlling

The Poodle’s Core [the crux of the matter]: How to choose the right sustainability award for your company

September 25, 23
Every year, hundreds of awards are presented to companies in Germany to honour different aspects of economic life. Due to the explosive nature of the topic, numerous new awards have emerged, especially in the area of sustainable business. They address the need of companies to present their projects and initiatives and to position themselves as sustainable companies in the competition for clients, (new) employees and investors. At the same time, they claim to define what may be considered best practice. Although there are many renowned awards with transparent criteria, there is also an increasing number of methodologically questionable awards or awards created purely for economic purposes. Companies should, therefore, be careful and check the credibility of an award before deciding to participate

A successful application for an award is similar to the planning of a good project in many aspects: It starts with a clear definition of the goals. What topic should it address? Should the company as a whole be in the spotlight, or is it about specific products, projects or initiatives? Who is the target audience - the company's own employees, to recognise their hard work, or the general external public? And if it concerns an external target group: How and with which topic can they be reached - is an industry award enough, or must one think bigger? Must the award have its own high communicative reach, or can the desired target group also be reached through one's own channels?

The more clearly the goals are defined, the easier it is to find the right award. Once you have identified the right award after thorough research, it is essential to check its credibility in more detail.

An award that disregards basic quality criteria can bring serious disadvantages for companies. In addition to financial risks, for example, due to hidden costs or licence fees for the use of the award logo, above all, it is the company's reputation that is at stake. If a company's name is associated with a dubious award or with other award winners whose actual performance is publicly doubted, the positive visibility sought can quickly turn into the opposite. In addition, a "fake" award win can reduce credibility when applying for serious awards.

Applying for an award requires significant resources in terms of time and money. Therefore, it should be ensured that these investments pay off - even if one does not win in the end. In the case of a serious award, participation alone can be motivating for employees. After all, when preparing application documents, one's own performance must be reflected, presented in a comprehensible way and backed up with data. This alone often leads to positive "aha" moments.

But how can you recognise a serious award? We have compiled nine areas that can help you choose the right award. 

1. Clear goals: purpose and vision of the award

Does the award have a clearly defined purpose or vision of the practices and standards to aim for? Does it highlight how it intends to bring about change in business and society by setting examples of best practice? Does the award organiser even emphasise when a point will be reached at which the award will become obsolete because the aspired best practice has become the norm?


2. Behind the scenes: organisational transparency

Basically, the first visit to an award's website gives a first impression of how much information can be found about the award and how well it is presented. However, the question of transparency around the organisation of an award is particularly important in order to be sure that the award is given in a fair and objective way.

  1. How long have the awards been presented?
  2. How is the award funded?
  3. Who is the organiser?
  4. Are there any business connections or vested interests of the organisers related to the award?
  5. How does the organiser deal with possible conflicts of interest, e.g. if a business partner applies for an award?
  6. Are there guidelines and restrictions defined for participants who have relationships with organisers, jury members and/or sponsors?


3. Costs at a glance: fees and their structure

The financial component of an award can reveal a lot about how serious and trustworthy the organisation behind it is. Unreasonably high fees or a non-transparent fee structure should set alarm bells ringing.

  1. Are there submission fees, and are they reasonable in terms of cost/benefit?
  2. Are there additional costs, e.g. for participation in an award ceremony or for marketing materials?
  3. How transparent is the fee structure? Are all possible costs clearly communicated in advance?
  4. Are there discounts or exemptions for non-profit organisations, start-ups or smaller companies?


4. Step by step: the submission process

A structured and transparent submission process is crucial for the credibility of an award. This should not only be well documented but also easy to understand and accessible for all applicants. It is important that all applicants start under the same conditions and know exactly what is expected of them.

  1. Are the steps of the application process clearly defined, and is the necessary information for submission easy to find?
  2. Are both submission deadlines and decision announcement dates clearly communicated?
  3. Does the award provide specific forms or templates for applicants to use in their submissions?


5. The foundation: the submission documents

Clear and well-structured submission documents are the foundation of any awards process. They ensure that all necessary information is available for evaluation, that all applicants are compared on the same basis and that the information submitted is credible and comprehensible.

  1. Do the submission forms ask clear questions and use indicators to provide a comparable benchmark for different applicants?
  2. Are supporting documents or other credible sources referenced to substantiate the information?
  3. Do sample submissions exist to guide applicants in their own submissions?
  4. Are specific formatting guidelines provided, such as word limits or preferred document formats?
  5. Is there transparent communication on how the submitted data and information will be handled, especially with regard to data protection and confidentiality? Are there clear statements about the retention or destruction of submissions after the evaluation process has been completed?


6. The backbone: the jury in focus

The jury of an award plays a crucial role in ensuring integrity, fairness and expertise in the judging process. A competent and independent jury ensures that all relevant aspects are included and considered in the judging process and that a thorough and unbiased assessment is made. At the same time, juries provide a sounding board for organisers regarding further developments of the criteria:

  1. Does a jury exist, and if so, what is its size?
  2. Is the composition of the jury presented transparently?
  3. Is it clear how many and which jury members are responsible for which category?
  4. Are any connections between organisers and jury members disclosed?
  5. What is the qualification background of the jury members?
  6. Does the composition of the jury remain constant over the years, or are there changes?
  7. Is there an emphasis on diversity in the jury?


7. Clear standards: objectivity in the evaluation process

A clear and transparent evaluation process is at the heart of any serious award. It ensures that the jury's judgements are understandable and credible to both applicants and the public.

  1. Are there clear and meaningful evaluation criteria against which the jury reviews and compares entries?
  2. Are the evaluation criteria publicly available?
  3. Do several jury members review the submissions to ensure the dual control principle?


8. Objectivity after the decision: life after the award

The work on an award does not end with the announcement of the winners. To increase the impact, serious awards set standards in aftercare, both for the winners and for the other participants. Of course, support in the media exploitation of a win is important, but other aspects, such as networking, also play an important role and help to maximise the value of the award for all involved.

  1. Is a platform provided for winners to share their experiences and network?
  2. Are there opportunities for winners to showcase their awards to the public and further disseminate their best practices?
  3. Are participants encouraged to try again and given constructive feedback to be more successful in the future?
  4. Is there a feedback process in place where all participants are encouraged to share their experiences of the award process to improve future iterations?
  5. Are the results and success stories of the award tracked and reported over time to demonstrate the long-term impact of the award on the industry or society?


Additional general criteria for evaluating a sustainability award

Sustainability awards should also be analysed on the basis of the credibility criteria described. In addition, the following aspects should be considered:

  1. Previous award winners: A look at the history can tell a lot about the quality of an award. Was it mainly renowned companies or projects that received awards in the past?
  2. Diversity and quantity of award categories: The number and diversity of categories can give an indication of the depth and breadth of the evaluation criteria. In addition, the number of winners per category can indicate the selectivity of the award.
  3. Independent sustainability principles of the award: An award that focuses on sustainability should also set and exemplify its own standards. How sustainable is the organisation and implementation of the award?
  4. Positive impact on winners: Look at the stories of previous winners. Has the award really contributed to an increased reputation, new business opportunities or other positive developments?


Given the growing number of awards, it is crucial for companies to carefully select the right sustainability award. Critically evaluating the credibility and integrity of awards is essential. For only through careful selection and participation in reputable awards can a company ensure that its pursuit of sustainability is presented on a trustworthy and effective platform - for a sustainable future that embodies the true essence of responsibility: The Poodle's core.


Read the german version:  2023-09-25_Kommunikationsmanager_Nachhaltigkeitspreise_Des_Pudels_Kern.pdf


Steffen Rufenach
social_circle_linked_in social_circle_xing

Hari Ramachandran
social_circle_linked_in social_circle_xing

Shabnam Shabany
social_circle_linked_in social_circle_xing