Aligning Place Branding with Sustainable Development Goals

In a world facing serious global challenges, including climate change and geopolitical conflicts, the role of place branding is becoming more significant. Now, it’s about more than just shaping how people see a place; it’s about connecting the unique identity and reputation of cities, regions, and countries with the broader goals of global sustainability and ethical values. This article explores how place branding can effectively combine local identity with the global aspirations of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (UNSDGs).

Building on our previous work in “How to Navigate Ethical Pitfalls in Place Branding,” we now focus on how global initiatives and local branding strategies can work together. Our panel of experts offers a range of views on this important topic, providing insights into how different places can use their unique strengths to support global goals.

Below you find the full, unedited opinions of our experts, so you can benefit from the nuances in responses, across cultures and regions (in alphabetical order, highlighting TPBO partners).

Key Takeaways:

  • The important link between a place’s responsibility to global challenges and its own history and current situation.
  • The need for place branding to align with global values, especially those outlined in the UN Sustainable Development Goals.
  • The importance for places to define their purpose and role in contributing to global well-being.
  • The role of destination management organizations, governments, and tourism agencies in creating ethically responsible place branding programs.

David Haigh

Brand Finance

United Kingdom | After scanning global initiatives and values that may apply to the place brand, communicating and contributing to them are where place brands can differentiate themselves. Stakeholders should be made aware of how the place is responding to directives and policy initiatives at the city, national, and international levels. 

Indicating alignment between the place brand’s activities and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals is a good starting point. The goals are universally recognized and accessible to entities of all sizes looking to demonstrate alignment between their activities and socio-economic and environmental causes.

As sustainability actors, cities have a unique value proposition where they are not under any regulatory pressure on climate change but stepping up to form coalitions, share knowledge, and advance sustainability (e.g., the C40 Cities initiative). Associations like this both incorporate and contribute to global goals on sustainability.


Robert GoversRobert Govers

Anholt & Co

Belgium | Perceptions and civic pride matter. Locals deserve opportunity, dignity and the ability to engage internationally with their heads held high because they come from a respected city, region or country. Hence, the reputation of a place is a public good and needs to be managed as such.

Place brands serve that purpose. Building a positive reputation is a long-term objective and hence it can only succeed by doing “the right thing”, and by contributing to local quality of life and wellbeing as well as to humanity and the planet. In the long run, one cannot expect to obtain a positive reputation when damaging others. Therefore, place branding is not synonymous or even an extension of pure marketing or promotion. It is not simply about attracting more tourists, more business, more migrants, and more investment.

It is about creating the framework that informs decisions about what kind of places we want for our citizens in the future, based on identity and purpose; how we want to position these places internationally and hence, what kind of tourism, investment, talent, trade we expect to attract or not; and within which boundaries. More importantly, the domain of place branding reaches far beyond economics; it also deals with culture, ecology, politics, and technology.

Principles 

  • Based on identity and purpose
  • Through collaboration between all public, private and civil society stakeholders
  • Create a long-term positioning strategy (beyond the logo)
  • That is robust and capable of absorbing change and responding to crises
  • That is implemented through meaningful action (policy-, project-, investment-, infrastructure-, campaign initiatives) contributing to society, humanity and a sustainable planet
  • Using the power of imagination to create original, creative, innovative, captivating and inspiring initiatives that catch the imagination of internal and external audiences
  • Thereby building a distinctive, relevant, authentic, consistent, and meaningful image
  • Seeing reputation monitoring and management as an integral part of governance
  • Committing adequate resources and processes to it

Therefore, requiring constructive collaborative leadership to co-create the future.


Ryan ShortRyan Short

CivicBrand

USA | Our planet is a community, therefore there are shared values and those are our global ethics. Just like how a city has residents that have polar opposite opinions and shared values, so does our planet. The mistake is confusing one group’s morals or beliefs for ethics.


Stuart Speirs

Silver Lining Strategy

Australia | These frameworks ultimately pose great questions for individuals, communities and nations. By delving deep into the answers to those questions posed by these initiatives, a place will be more likely to succeed in developing and implementing its own ethically aware place branding program.


Todd Babiak, place branding panel

Todd Babiak

Brand Tasmania

Australia | If the people who live in a place feel strongly about initiatives like the Green New Deal, they will support them democratically. They will vote, donate, and volunteer. They will launch initiatives to convince their neighbours. It will show up in the place of brand research and will find its way into strategy.

Some places will do this instinctively, especially if it is in their economic interest. For example, it is easy for a place that runs on renewable electricity to support phasing out fossil fuel electricity generation. Education might be the best way to approach this, to have genuine science and data-based conversations with the next generation of leaders, and to align that to the place brand or at least the evolution of the place brand.


Aparna Sharma

India | At a time when the world is grappling with issues such as climate change and carbon mitigation, it is worth making a big deal of initiatives like a Green New Deal, particularly when the futures of nations are increasingly becoming connected. Part of ethics and standards is a moral responsibility for people and places. Promotion and emphasis on such initiatives would help amplify the impending concerns and jettison places into faster action.

Place branding can help create a better awareness of issues cutting across continents in various ways. These could be achieved through activities and initiatives involving people and governments. Educational institutions can emerge as vanguards of the new values by extensively encouraging conversations amongst students and children around a host of themes of international relevance. These can nurture young minds and create better social acceptance at a later stage of similar initiatives. Encouragement of community activities by the government and public-private partnerships around new themes also work well.

Place branding is well placed to introduce such ideas and themes as part of the place culture to highlight that it cares for world issues.


Cecilia Cassinger

Sweden | The implications of the care ethics mentioned above are that place branding is understood as relational. Places have responsibilities towards other places. These responsibilities are not defined in moral or legal terms, but by the relationships on which they depend and which precede them. Historical and contemporary events in one place have an impact on relations in other places. Like climate change which is more of a global issue than a national one.


Ed Burghard

USA | Why should they? Economic development is local. Politics can take care of figuring out the role global initiatives and values should play in local decisions.

Assuming it is desirable to do so by understanding how other locations are leveraging these initiatives to improve the lives of residents.


Günter Soydanbay

Canada | The key here is finding the intersection between global goals and the unique qualities or strengths of the place in question. If a city is known for its innovation in renewable energy, aligning with the environmental aspects of the Green New Deal would be a natural fit. That’s the easy part.

The difficult part is addressing situations where there is no natural alignment. Let’s say a place is primarily known for its heavy industry, like the Ruhr region in Germany or Kocaeli in Turkey. In such cases, embracing the Green New Deal could risk alienating a major part of its identity or economic base. However, there is an opportunity for nuance. 

The place could focus on transforming its industrial sector to become more sustainable. Provided that there are policies in place, branding efforts could start initially focusing on the city’s industrial heritage. Then, the messaging could evolve to emphasize its commitment to modernization and sustainability

In doing so, the place could contribute to global objectives by setting an example for sustainable transition in traditionally ‘brown’ industries. So, whether it is a natural fit or not, the key lies in being honest about what to communicate and realistic about what to expect.


Gustavo Koniszczer

Argentina | Within the 17 Sustainable Development Goals outlined in the UN 2030 Agenda, it becomes evident that each place holds the potential to make a significant contribution to a brighter future for the planet and the global community. The commitment to environmental sustainability and the effort to build a better world for future generations is no longer mere idealistic aspirations but practical necessities.

As place branders, our primary focus should be on developing projects that enhance locations in ways reflected in their brand and that positively influence the perceptions of target audiences, including tourists and investors, among others. In this context, we hold a distinct responsibility to incorporate global values, including respect for human rights and environmental preservation. 

It’s important to emphasize that these values are not just altruistic ideals but have been extensively shown to align with people’s preferences to visit, invest in, or engage in business with countries that uphold such principles. 

FutureBrand’s Country Brand Index underscores values like ecofriendliness and movements advocating human rights, such as gender equality, as influential factors in shaping a country’s image. Therefore, it is of utmost importance to integrate these global values into place branding strategies, recognizing the significant impact they have on the brand, both in terms of the added value they bring to local and international communities.


Hjörtur Smárason

Denmark | Finding your purpose as a place and what you have to contribute to the common good of the world is an important part of place branding. As a place, you can claim your spot on the world stage and take on a role as an advocate for certain values or a forerunner and role model within your niche.


Magdalena Florek

Poland | Today, places have to do it. The challenges of today’s world make it imperative that the role of place branding should change so that it has an impact on building a better world which, after all, is a collection of places. On the branding level, one can blend the values of a place’s brand with the values of these initiatives; one can support these initiatives through actions (e.g. organize events) and communicate this accordingly.

A place can cooperate with organizations that are involved in these initiatives. Also, it could target and engage groups for whom the initiatives matter, to name a few. Certainly, these initiatives help guide the place and the place brand in respective areas and as such, create the synergies we should all care about.


Marta Hereźniak

Poland | By infusing the values and objectives of global initiatives directly into place branding policies and narratives and emphasising this alignment domestically and internationally.

It is also by cooperating directly with regional representatives of international organisations to facilitate the implementation of values and attainment of objectives.


Martin Boisen

Netherlands | It depends on the place in question. Over the last ten years, we’ve been working with The City of The Hague. A city that punches way above its weight (500,000 inhabitants) internationally, playing a key role in implementing and upholding international law. In this case, the city itself incorporates and reflects global initiatives and values – and connects these abstract and global issues with the quality of life and the appreciation of the daily lives of the locals.

It becomes more muddy with emission reduction or other environmental issues, wherein “telling the story” often precedes the implementation of policies. Here, greenwashing is the common pitfall, promoting a desired reality or an ambition more than an established reality or an achieved goal.


Sonya Hanna

United Kingdom | A pertinent question in management practices that support the development of the place brand, is practices that inherently favour an interdisciplinary approach. For example, transformational leadership and shared governance, and their effect on the incorporation of measures that drive sustainability, socio-economic or gender equality. A further example would be the study of sociolinguistics and its effects on the place of brands’ communicative actions as relating to global values and goals.


Tom Buncle

Scotland | It has to be driven by destination management organisations, national tourism organisations, and city, regional, and national governments. They have both an awareness of such global initiatives and the capacity, as well as the governance structures to drive this forward.


With thanks

To our panel of place thinkers and changemakers for sharing valuable insights on ethical place branding: Emphasizing cultural understanding, genuine community impact, transparency, and stakeholder involvement.

TPBO
TPBOhttps://placebrandobserver.com

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