How Sustainability Impacts Place Branding – And Vice Versa

Sustainability and Place branding – where are the links?

No doubt, we are at the beginning of an era in which we will see massive environmental changes – in climate patterns, (less) biodiversity, and resulting political and social instability. Most governments and corporations have now grasped the extent – and potential danger – of this wave that is forming, and are trying to do something about it.

And we can only learn to surf this wave if we stick together. Not an easy task in a competitive world, especially challenging for those primarily involved with securing the prosperity and attractiveness of their own location – as large or small it may be.

So, how does sustainability fit in place branding? Sebastian Zenker of Copenhagen Business School posed this very pertinent question to our panel of place brand makers and shapers, and here is what they answered.

Our key takeaways:

  • Strategic place branding (brand-led place development and management) and sustainable development are two sides of the same coin. Place branding helps local communities to strive through a strong identity and bringing them together. It supports businesses through talent and investment attraction initiatives and ensures financial robustness. And it encourages environment-friendly, innovative and future-oriented investment in infrastructure.
  • Sustainability will be a prerequisite for strong place brands. And strong place branding is needed to support the sustainable development of cities, regions and countries.

Efe Sevin

Researcher profile

USA | I’d say, in addition to overall environmental sustainability issues, we need to start thinking in terms of financial stability. In the long run, what will happen to the places? Will they be able to have the same level of visitors, residents, businesses in the long run if we continue these place branding practices?

Place branding is not a get-rich-quickly scheme. We should not aim for increasing tourism revenues one summer only. We need to look at how we can develop the capabilities for long-term success.

Tom Buncle

Tom Buncle

Speaker profile

UK | Sustainability, like any quality, isn’t an option or an add-on. It’s a must. Unless places can clearly demonstrate that they are pursuing a responsible and sustainable strategy for their communities, they will lose credibility amongst a growing number of travellers, which will make them less competitive. And we all know what becoming less competitive means: losing business.

Cecilia Cassinger

Sweden | Place branding nowadays works in tandem with, for instance, urban planners, designers, and policymakers to support the urban sustainable development goal (SDG 11) in the United Nations Sustainable Development Agenda.

In my research, I focus on place branding as one of the underlying narratives of urban governance. In this way, place branding is related to other narratives, such as sustainability. It is important to underscore that my understanding of narrative builds on a view of language as constitutive of social reality. It means that sustainable places are materially and symbolically enacted as sustainable in and through narrative. It also means that place narratives can be formulated in an aspirational future-oriented way to instigate change.

Aspirational communication may activate residents to start conversations that shape narratives of urban sustainable development, which could result in new, bolder ways of organizing cities. In my view, our present moment in time urgently needs stories that demonstrate the meanings of ecological, economically, socially, and culturally sustainable cities, regions, and nations.

What does sustainability mean in places, and how can different groups of people live together there? Place brand narratives may offer us some provisionary answers to these questions.

Ed Burghard

USA | For creating and maintaining a positive place image, sustainability is key. Your place image is impacted by how well your place promise is realized by residents, visitors and potential capital investors. Unfortunately, a negative place image can be created almost instantaneously.

Maintaining a positive place image needs to be a daily priority. Strengthening place identity also typically requires a multiyear effort to execute because it involves strategies like infrastructure investment, legislation, and asset creation. Commitment to and investment in these strategies need to be sustained until strategy completion. Then a communication plan needs to be implemented to ensure people are aware of the place improvement and how it strengthens your place promise.

Hila Oren

Israel | Place branding begins and ends in sustainability – branding must be a long-term process that stands steady across the years. Every city has an origin story that defines it – be it the Statue of Liberty in NYC, the founders of Tel Aviv standing surrounded by sand, the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, or the breathtaking Chinese Wall. Place branding must stem from the city’s original story – the one that will last and will be the thread connecting future transformations in the Ergonomic city, consistently delivering on the same values, principles, and sense of place.

Previous questions answered by the panel here.

You’d like to ask the panel a question? Get in touch!

Enjoyed this snapshot of expert views on how sustainability is defining place branding? Anything you’d like to add or comment on?

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