What do we mean by ‘sustainability’ in place branding?

As our understanding of the complexities of what we mean by “place branding” [vs “place marketing”] grows, so does our awareness of the challenges that place branding and place marketing must face. And as we head towards our fifth annual City Nation Place Awards, we hope to see an increase in strategies which can demonstrate a ‘sustainable approach’.

But what do we mean by that?

As founder of the Good Country Index, Simon Anholt1 is the leading voice on how countries’ reputations should be founded on the good that they do for the world – something that could be applied just as effectively to cities and regions, or at micro level, how places contribute to the surrounding community. Place Brands are about values and actions. And for our judges, it’s a given that a winning entry for the Place Brand Strategy of the Year category would recognise the need to focus on both the broader, longer-term impact of policies and strategies on the community or citizenry, as well as the global environmental impact of economic and tourism development strategies

Inga Hlín Pálsdóttir¸ Director at Visit Iceland, stated “there is a great opportunity in integrating relevant UN Sustainable Development Goals into the strategies for places […] and responsible travel behaviour,” whilst for Adam Joyce, VP of Acceleration at Calgary TELUS Convention Centre, it’s a given that a great place brand should be doing “everything from environmental stewardship, types of materials involved, and employing an anthropological consideration[…] It’s intrinsic.” In this special context of place branding, it’s all about taking both the longer and broader view of sustainable development; as Leigh Dawber, Chief Marketing Officer, Cape Town Tourism says, “organisations should be considering both the issues of a global nature – things like climate change, plastic pollution, etc. – and those that are specific to their particular region or nation, e.g. skills development in a country whose education system is not adequate to meet the demands of the 21st century economy.”

The ecological impact of over-tourism is gaining traction in the world media. From photos of the debris left by tourists on a once pristine beach, to the imminent destruction of coral reefs, to soil erosion on high-traffic nature paths, the responsible travel movement has rallied around these poignant images of the impact unsustainable tourism has on areas of natural beauty. Symbolic actions such as closing a beach to allow the natural habitat to restore itself clearly have great resonance in the press but the real opportunity for place brand strategies is to provide longer-term, sustainable, solutions that aim to balance the needs of citizens, visitors and businesses – and we’d add the environment to that list.

When asked what she was looking for in a winning entry, Consol Vancells Casanovas, City Branding Project Coordinator for Barcelona’s City Promotion Department, said that “it would be interesting to know which [places] are doing the best work and can put in valuable sustainable development models to attract talent and investment which are also aligned with sustainability.” Wherever you are on your journey, you will need to be able to demonstrate this long-term view and show why this past year has been a particularly important one for your place.

We look forward to seeing how you have incorporated a sustainable approach in your own place brand strategy.

The City Nation Place Awards close for entry on the 6th September. Click HERE To see how to enter.

Simon Anholt will be joining us to explore the importance of symbolic actions at the City Nation Place Global conference in London this November.

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