How your place brand can contribute to net-zero emissions targets

It’s 2023, and those net-zero targets are starting to look quite near-term. The UK has committed to cutting emissions by 68% by 2030; with just seven years to go, we need every city and region to be playing their part. So, what role do place brand and marketing organisations play in driving positive climate action?

“This is a really tricky one, because DMOs are all funded, structured, and operated in totally different ways,” commented Mark Mobbs, Marketing Manager for Marketing Sheffield.  “I think the only general things that can be said across the board for DMOs, is that you have to work towards the things you can meaningfully contribute to, that your audience can see that you have a role in supporting. Otherwise, I fear it comes off as some kind of ‘greenwashing’ which is, by its very essence, not authentic – and can have the opposite of the desired effect on reputation and perception.”

The key word there is ‘meaningful’. What can you do that genuinely, truly, makes a difference?

We reached out to our City Nation Place UK speakers ahead of the conference on September 19th to discover the practical steps that city brand and regional marketing organisations can take to contribute to national net-zero targets.

Place brand organisations are the great connectors.

One of the biggest advantages that destination marketing and economic development teams have is that they are often one of the biggest voices for their community, and often deeply connected with the other key players in the area.

“Every part of our economy and society needs to do their bit,” remarked Cristian Marcucci, Assistant Director at We Are Staffordshire. “As convenors and connectors of leaders and influencers across our places, branding and marketing organisations have a big role to play.”

Place brand and marketing organisations are well-placed to lead education initiatives that encourage others in your place to adopt greener, more sustainable practices. Sarah Green, CEO of NewcastleGateshead Initiative, told us that “to deliver the sustainability agenda, we need to ensure our people have the right skills and are trained or re-trained.” Sarah then went on to explain the work they’re doing with local colleges to raise awareness around sustainability as well as the training, podcasts, and business support workshops that they are delivering.

Beyond the borders of your destination, there are also several initiatives designed to facilitate knowledge sharing and best practice between cities, regions, and countries. The Glasgow Declaration is one such example for places looking to improve the carbon footprint of their tourism, whilst Newcastle Gateshead Initiative have signed up to the Global Destination Sustainability (GDS) Movement.

Measuring and monitoring your impact

If you want to prove that you’re not ‘greenwashing,’ data is essential. It’s also invaluable in your advocacy toolkit to demonstrate how you’re moving the needle against core targets. “[We] are in the process of benchmarking our destination against the GDS Index alongside 100 destinations around the world, so we can systematically improve our offer, recognising that we need our industry partners to also make changes,” explained NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s Sarah Green.

Understanding your carbon emissions allows you to understand where your biggest problem points are and provides the insights you need to begin addressing those challenges. Richard Veal, Managing Director - Europe at Simpleview, gave us one such example: “Costa del Sol have a carbon calculator on their website which calculates how many Kg of CO2 you generated during your trip and requests that you make a payment with which the DMO will plant x number of trees in the destination to offset this.”

Promoting greener, more environmental choices

Tourism will inevitably involve carbon emissions. So will business. However, as with the example of Costa del Sol, there are a number of ways that place brand and marketing organisations can encourage greater adoption of more sustainable behaviours.

“In some instances, it will be about construction, in others more about on the ground destination management operating policies focussed on transport, and others still may have an onus on green space management from tourism activities,” suggested Marketing Sheffield’s Mark Mobbs. “Marketing Sheffield is part of the City Council, so lots of Net Zero policies are baked into public legislation and policy.”

Sheona Southern, Managing Director of Marketing Manchester, agreed that place brand and marketing organisations have an important part to play in encouraging sustainable practices. “We work closely with businesses across the region to ensure they have the support they need to reduce their carbon emissions,” Sheona explained. “We are also actively encouraging visitors to choose more sustainable options during their stay, highlighting public transport initiatives, carbon-friendly accommodation, and attractions that are working to reduce their carbon footprint.” NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s Sarah Green also referenced the importance of promoting sustainable accommodation and travel options and highlighted that they are also working to support venues with new low-carbon energy solutions such as mine water energy.

“Personalised targeting and efficient engagement play a crucial role in encouraging environmentally friendly actions,” explained Daniel Nikolopulos, Sales Manager at Sojern. “With 87% of travellers expressing a desire to travel sustainably, tailoring marketing efforts to their individual needs and interests allows places to promote green practices and products, ultimately reducing emissions and encouraging a greener lifestyle.”

The green storytellers

Destination marketing and economic development organisations are the storytellers of a place. And a big part of promoting a green transition is to put a spotlight on the great work already happening to inspire others to take the first step. Marketing Manchester, for example, have showcased a range of stories that demonstrate how the region is moving towards Net Zero by 2038 in their green film, ‘Future Relics.’

We Are Staffordshire’s Cristian Marcucci also talked about the importance of being a source of sustainable inspiration: “Through our ambassador programme and events, we give a platform to inspiration leaders and organisations. By sharing their stories, they can inspire our growing network of place leaders to accelerate their journey to net-zero and spark conversations with the potential for future collaboration between organisations across the county.”

It has to be more than just growth for growth’s sake

For place branding to be successful, your strategy has to look beyond short-term wins. Even environmental sustainability is only one piece of the puzzle – albeit an important one. You need to be working towards the economic and social sustainability of your place as well.

“Our strategy is to ensure that we deliver sustainable growth in the visitor economy which is not about volume at any cost but creating value for the visitor and the city through meaningful curated and tailored experiences,” NewcastleGateshead Initiative’s Sarah Green concluded. “We need to use our industry expertise to futureproof our destination, creating competitive advantage for businesses operating here, and ensuring our residents benefit and continue to support investment in the visitor economy.”

You can hear more from Sarah Green, Cristian Marcucci, Mark Mobbs, Dan Nikolopulos, Sheona Southern, and Richard Veal at the City Nation Place UK conference which will be held in Sheffield on September 19-20th this year. Find out more here.

The Place Brand Portfolio is City Nation Place's searchable portfolio of Awards case studies from the past five years.