Tips for writing a bloody brilliant award entry

Entering awards can be a great way to get recognition for your achievements. Done something radical or innovative to cut your environmental impact? Hit a significant milestone on your sustainability journey? Punching above your weight on climate action? There’s an award for that.

I’ve helped to write a stack of award entries over the last few years, several of which, I’m glad to say, have been successful. My good friends at Crystal Doors won the Queen’s Award for Enterprise for Sustainable Development this year; they now get to use the official Queen’s Award emblem on their products for the next five years and the kudos they’ve received has already paid back on the time we put into their application a thousand-fold.

Here are some award-writing tips I’ve picked up over the years.

1. First things first, pick the right award

There are loads of awards schemes out there, so do a bit of digging to find the right one for you. Some of the most respected in the environmental space include the BusinessGreen Leaders Awards, edie Sustainability Leadership Awards, Ashden Awards and the Queen’s Awards for Enterprise for Sustainable Development. There are plenty of regional schemes to choose from as well, and look out for awards in your industry – there’s often a category for sustainability or environmental impact.

Never feel like you’re too small for recognition. Awards schemes often have a category specifically for smaller organisations, but even if not, everyone loves an underdog. In my experience, judges like to see smaller organisations that punch above their weight and go toe-to-toe with the big boys.

2. For goodness sake, read the questions

There’s nothing worse than a cut-and-paste job that doesn’t answer the specific question asked of you. Usually, each question will come with a list of things the judges want you to cover in your response. I recommend highlighting the key words, referencing each one in your answer and crossing them off as you go. Make it easy for the person marking you.

It goes without saying that you should make sure you can answer all the questions before you begin. If there are questions that require information you’re not able to provide, you’re probably wasting your time.

3. Tell a great story

Facts and figures are great, they really are, but judges are human – what will really resonate with them is a human story. There’s nothing like a good narrative to suck the reader in and root for you from the beginning. Are you a Frodo Baggins, having carried a great burden that you eventually deposited into the right recycling bin? Are you a Harry Potter, haunted by a menacing environmental spectre until you defeated it with the help of your colleagues? Perhaps you’re a Luke Skywalker who learnt the ways of sustainability from a wise, green master. Maybe you’re a Katniss Everdeen, rising up to fight for an alternative to our unjust economic system. Or maybe you’re a Paddington Bear, with a future-proof home and your own off-grid marmalade supply.

Great stories generally follow a three-part structure: set up, conflict, resolution. Set up – Paint the backdrop. What was the problem you were trying to solve? Why did you need to do the things you did? Did you learn something that inspired you to act? What was it? Conflict – What barriers were in your way? What unforeseen difficulties did you come across? Were there times you came close to failure? What happened? Resolution – How did you find the solution and become the hero? What lessons did you learn? How will you apply them going forwards?

4. Get others to sing your praises for you

Your words are important, but the words of others involved in your story can be even stronger. Is there an opportunity to include a quote or testimonial from a happy customer, a supplier, an employee or independent expert? This sort of qualitative evidence is really valuable and something I’ve noticed is being asked for more and more. I recommend building up a bank of good testimonials you can call upon when required.

5. Use attachments wisely

Most awards schemes give you an opportunity to provide further information via attachments or links. Generally, judges will only look at these if you make their shortlist, so don’t leave any golden nuggets in there – put all the good stuff in the main entry.

Where attachments can be powerful is to provide something visually interesting. Judges have just spent a long time scrolling through hundreds of words, so if you can hit them with a video, image or diagram, great. If linking to your website, make sure it reflects the image you’ve painted of yourself in your entry and provides plenty of further information about your achievements and plans.

6. Most importantly…

If you’re struggling to keep within the word count – abbreviate, abbreviate, abbreviate! Judges will not won’t mind a bit of informal language. Sometimes a bit of colloquialism can even be beneficial. And if you’re not confident with writing, get someone else to do the job for you. *cough*

Good luck!