Environmental responsibility has now become policy with the vast majority of businesses.

But back in 1997, at the time of the groundbreaking Kyoto agreement, it was hardly a consideration. Kyoto tried to commit industrialised nations to cut carbon pollution by 5.2 per cent below 1990 levels.

Some have been more successful than others but one way of achieving it was to develop a system of carbon credits which larger businesses paid for. The cash was then used for environmental projects which would hopefully more than offset the resulting emissions of those businesses.

Such schemes have been popular but attracted criticism that they allowed polluters to keep on polluting, although paying for the privilege.

Significantly, 1997 also saw the establishment of Oxford-based ClimateCare, one of the organisations set up to use the money raised from carbon offsetting which last week was announced as a recipient of Queen’s Award for Enterprise in the sustainable development category.

Today, it continues to work with large corporations such as Jaguar Land Rover, Aviva and even government departments such as the Swedish Energy Agency.

Its award citation highlights its “outstanding contributions to poverty alleviation and tackling climate change”.

To date, ClimateCare has helped reduce more than 16.5m tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions and improve the lives of more than six million people.

Chief executive Edward Hanrahan said the concept of carbon offsetting had moved on in recent years from major corporations simply using it as a necessary expense to continue working as they always have done to the last option after making the organisation as environmentally friendly as possible.

He added: “It is part of carbon management overall with emissions rising year after year. Increasingly, it is very important for organisations to have responsibility for their overall environmental impact.

“They are going to spend money to ensure they take responsibility for that impact and also have a positive effect in areas such as water or health.”

Projects include the provision of more efficient stoves to communities in West Africa. The locally manufactured Gyapa stove cooks food more quickly, uses up to 50 per cent less fuel and reduces exposure to toxic smoke. It has also created more than 800 jobs.

Then there is the LifeStraw Carbon for Water project in Kenya. A partnership between ClimateCare and global health company Vestergaard, it cuts carbon emissions and provides safe water to more than 4.5m people.

Speaking of the award, Mr Hanrahan added: “The recognition is fantastic. We have won lots of industry awards and they are great but to be singled out for aQueen’s Award is the ultimate accolade.

“It encourages new partners, helps us tackle climate change and support sustainable development by getting more projects rolling.”

ClimateCare was taken over by financial institution JP Morgan in 2008 but three years later was bought back by the management, bringing about a change of focus.

“Up until 2008 much of the time was spent making people aware of the impact they were having on the environment. Now the corporates are aware of the impact they are having and it is about channelling the funding to the projects — we don’t have to do as much education or measurement.”

Mr Hanrahan said ClimateCare remained “resolutely a business” with an annual turnover of £7.5m.

“I seriously believe that cleaning up and taking responsibility for the impact of emissions is not just the job of a charity. It is not philanthropy. In order for these projects to be sustainable it must come from a position of profitability. We must attract mainstream finance.”

The two other recipients of Queen’s Awards this year are Abingdon-based Oxford Technologies, which specialises in remote handling devices used in the nuclear industry. It was recognised in the international trade category after experiencing major growth across Europe.

Dr Alan Rolfe, managing director of the business which employs 37 people, said: “I am delighted to win and to have our export growth recognised.”

And Oxford Immunotec also wins an international trade award for its rapid growth over six years.

The company, which employs 200 staff in Abingdon, the United States and Japan, develops technology to measure how the body's immune cells, known as T-cells, respond to diseases such as TB and exports to more than 40 countries.

Founder and chief executive Dr Peter Wrighton-Smith, a former pupil of St Edward’s and Magdalen, said: “It’s intensely satisfying to look back and see what the company has achieved.”