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Recognizing Quiet Achievers
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"Public participation is expected to be lifted to new heights during the nation's search for the winners of its largest environmental protection award the 'Green East' China Environment Award this year," said Wang Yuqing, vice-minister of the State Environmental Protection Administration (SEPA), during a grand ceremony to launch the initiative recently in the township of Zhouzhuang in Kunshan, east China's Jiangsu Province.


He said the award is the largest for environmental protection in the nation in terms of total money granted to the winners. It is backed by 20 government departments and the selection is organized by the SEPA and the China Environment Protection Foundation (CEPF).


"Aiming to honor the sound efforts and enthusiastic spirits of the people, enterprises and local governments, the highest prize hits 500,000 yuan (US$62,500) for each of the five winners," Wang said. As well as first prize, the SEPA and the CEPF also give four awards to nearly 20 winners, each winning 50,000 yuan (US$6,250).


"The categories cover the widest scope compared with existing environmental awards in China," Wang said.


Also an organizer of the award, the CEPF is the nation's only certified environment-related institution engaged in public investment and fund operation.


The award has been established for three years, said Wang. "But I am still not too satisfied with its present influence and reputation."


Qu Geping, president of the CEPF, agreed with him, saying they are pinning high hopes on this year's selection.


"So we will strive to enhance public participation in the awards this year, because apart from the government's devotion, the public's commitment is vital to address the nation's environmental abuses," he said.


The SEPA and the CEPF are taking measures to attract more attention from grass-roots businesspeople.


They worked with Shanghai Oriental TV on the promotion of the event and the CEPF is also striving to attract more enterprises to donate money for the winners. This year, a number of the nation's media outlets have vowed to jointly support the prize.


Wang said that in previous decades many of the nation's top environmentalists have almost been nominated or granted national titles such as the Earth Award, the Dupont Environment Award and the Ford Environment Award. But at the moment the winners are mostly drawn from a limited field.


"We should break the limits and find people who were unknown before and are silently working at the grass-roots level," Wang said. "We are trying to blaze a new trail for the present selection procedure."


"He may be a very common engineer, or a head for the supervision team at the local level, rather than a director of an environment protection bureau. Anyone who makes a contribution to the nation's environmental protection should be applauded," he said.


Some of the CEPF staff members said they were delighted to discover many such figures during the ongoing selection process. For example, an elderly woman in the Inner Mongolia Autonomous Region has collected thousands of wasted batteries under her own steam without ever reporting her work to a government department.


Qu said Ford is the only foreign enterprise to have been granted the award over the past three years, on the strength of its Ford Auto Environment Awards that have been running for six years.


He called for more foreign businesses to apply for the award this year.


"Honestly speaking, some of the foreign enterprises that set up their projects in China do better than some of their domestic counterparts."


Qu said that many of the multinationals had not lowered their thresholds in environmental protection standards, although some of the standards in China are lower than in their own countries.


"The 'New East' award may go to some of the best enterprises that retain their original environmentally-friendly standards and make further commitments to environmental conservation," he said.


The award is expected to be announced at the beginning of next year.


(China Daily October 23, 2006)

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