This year's nominees are a sign that innovation knows no downturn, and the winner shows that a recession doesn't mean that you have to stop investing
- Kingspan Insulated Panels
The design of insulated panels is a tricky balance between form and function: on the one hand, they can be the most striking element of a building's design; on the other, thermal performance is everything. Kingspan trod this tightrope effortlessly in 2008 by launching a stream of products to tempt the discerning (and eco-conscious) architect, from wall systems in sustainable wood veneer to facades that improve natural daylighting. Despite the economic gloom, Kingspan backed up its extensive product range by opening a production line at its Holywell site in north Wales. And its home improvements didn't stop there: it also built a state-of-the-art recycling unit, which demonstrates the kind of commitment to the environmental agenda that made it number one in Wales in The Sunday Times' list of best green companies of 2008.
- Alumet Systems
The benefits of prefabricated walling systems have been well documented, but you would never usually expect one to be able to withstand a bomb blast. Yet Alumet has developed just such a product. Complete with blast-resistant windows, the company's enhanced ABLE facade system is put together in a factory, but is suitable for a range of sensitive building types, such as law courts, banks and chemical plants. A recent £6m contract from the Ministry of Defence is the ultimate seal of approval, and suggests that designing high-security buildings to resemble fortified concrete bunkers may be a thing of the past.
- British Gypsum
Internal wall and ceiling supplier British Gypsum has had an industrious year, making sure not only that its own business is in good order but that the industry as a whole can look forward to a safer, more sustainable future. Following a rigorous auditing process last year, British Gypsum was recognised as a best practice manufacturer by the World Class Manufacturing Association and achieved ISO 140001 certification across all its manufacturing and mining sites in the UK. Meanwhile, it has made a notable contribution to health and safety by developing a high-performance lining board that's safe for a single person to lift. It has also positioned itself as a key player in the crucial education market with the publication of its White Book guide for specifiers.
Corus' annual revenue in 2007/08 was £12bn, and its initiatives were on a similarly grand scale. In terms of training, it recruited 250 graduates and 100 apprentices. In terms of health and safety, it developed a safety barrier system with an 85% success rate in crash tests, compared with an industry norm of about 50%. And in terms of sustainability, it invested £60m in an energy recovery facility at its Port Talbot plant. This collects the gas generated by steelmaking for reuse, thereby cutting carbon emissions by up to 240,000 tonnes a year - not bad for such an energy-intensive process.
Up until 2008, fire doors had to be 44mm thick. This meant that if you wanted to upgrade from a non-fire-rated door, you would not only have to upgrade to a thicker door, but also change the frame. JELD-WEN resolved this problem with a neat innovation: it developed a slimmer 6mm door core with the same 30-minute protection as a traditional fire version, thereby creating the first 35mm fire door. Aimed at the residential market, this makes getting a fire door less hassle and means housebuilders need only source one standard frame for any project. Oh, and it may save thousands of lives as well.
- Kingspan Insulation
Developing more effective insulation is at the forefront of the battle to build energy-efficient homes - and few firms are doing more in this regard than Kingspan Insulation. The high performance of its products has led it to play a central role in groundbreaking schemes like the Barratt Green House, the first home by a volume housebuilder to reach level six of the Code for Sustainable Homes. Its approach to sustainability is rounded: it has reduced the amount of waste sent to landfill by 62% in the past two years, it has invested in a combined heat and power plant at its Pembridge site in Herefordshire and its community trust in the area has funded a safe path for schoolchildren.