Interview with Jeremy Tamanini on the Green Economy, Sustainability and Country Reputation

Jeremy Tamanini, founder and consultant at Dual Citizen, in this interview discusses the connections between sustainability performance and the reputation and competitiveness of places: countries, cities and destinations. Discover the links between climate change and place branding, and how to measure the return on investment of sustainability initiatives of places. Jeremy also shares useful advice on the Global Green Economy Index™ (GGEI) and outlines the three most important factors for places to maintain a strong, positive reputation over time.

Learn about:

  • Place branding and economic development in Dubai;
  • The link between place branding and sustainability;
  • What the Global Green Economy Index™ (GGEI) is all about;
  • The key insights after publishing five editions of the GGEI;
  • How sustainability performance impacts country (or city) reputation and competitiveness;
  • How to measure the return on investment (ROI) of sustainability initiatives of places;
  • How climate change impacts the reputation/perception and competitiveness of places;
  • The 3 most important factors for places to maintain a strong, positive reputation over time.

Jeremy, much of your work so far has been linked to place branding and/or sustainability. What stirred your interest in those two topics, and how do they interact in your research and consulting practice?

My career started in the private sector, focused on brand marketing in the retail industry. Retail is fast-paced and driven by the bottom line. Marketing and brand positioning support concrete business goals. Finding the right alignment of the “four Ps” of marketing (i.e. price, product, promotion, and place) is challenging and success or failure is quickly known.

I quite enjoyed the brand marketing function of this work, but did not have a passion for the products it was focused on selling. Place branding opened up a whole new frontier for me in revealing how some of this strategic thinking could be applied to places, cities and empowering the people living and working in them.

While the bottom line still matters for place branding, it is defined in a more multi-dimensional manner and encompasses new investment, entrepreneurship, sustainability and shared values. This approach brought purpose to my career in ways that have been very rewarding.

As a Fulbright fellow you investigated the interaction of place branding and economic development in Dubai. To your mind, how are those two areas linked?

Place branding and economic development are linked in different ways depending on the context. Dubai provides a very specific context for this linkage. From the beginning of its hyper-development post-2000, Dubai leadership understood how the “aura” of place could be a tool for attracting tourism and investment.

Keep in mind the timing: the early 2000s was a period during the U.S. invasion of Iraq when the Middle East was considered to be broadly unstable and unsafe. Dubai countered this image aggressively, promoting itself as both an oasis in a turbulent region and a place for economic opportunity, particularly for workers from the region who may face more challenging work prospects in their home countries. It also emerged as a safe place to “park” capital. Driving down Sheikh Zayed Road on a Friday evening, I was always amazed by how few apartments had lights on. Many of these new developments were mostly unoccupied, investment properties.

How did Dubai leadership promote this “aura” of the place so effectively? First, they embedded imagery of Dubai’s landscape, architecture and economy through global media targeted to more affluent segments of the population. Second, they developed and promoted real estate projects that captured the global imagination (e.g. the Palm, the World, Burj al Khalifa tower), even if some of these were never actually completed. And third, more recently, they attracted conferences and events to Dubai, as well as clusters defined by education, medical services, advertising and finance.

This place branding served a specific function: to attract tourism, investment and human capital to Dubai, often at the expense of other countries in the region facing domestic brain drains as a result. It worked to advance economic development because of Dubai’s relative stability in a turbulent region, the emirate’s unique geography, and the vast wealth of neighboring Abu Dhabi emirate that could subsidize Dubai during times of crisis (as it did during the global financial crisis). This approach, like all smart place branding strategies, is unique to Dubai and tailored to its particular strengths and realistic aspirations.

The flagship publication of your company Dual Citizen LLC is the Global Green Economy Index. What this is about?

The Global Green Economy Index™ (GGEI) is about measuring national performance in the green economy.

A “green economy” approach takes an integrated viewpoint of national economics and growth within them. Instead of relying solely on traditional metrics like GDP to track growth, a green economy approach considers the economic, environmental, and social dimensions of this growth.

To what extent are sectors like energy, transportation and buildings becoming more carbon efficient and powered by renewable energy? To what extent are national leaders preserving key environmental sectors like fisheries, forests and water resources? And how much effort are political leaders and companies focusing on establishing the right conditions for green markets and associated investment to prosper?

The GGEI answers these questions through 24 underlying indicators, and the results from the most recent 2016 GGEI can be accessed here.

Unlike most other indices, the GGEI also collects perception values from global experts familiar with the issues it covers. For example, how do global investors assess the vitality of different green markets or the strength of their policy frameworks in supporting green economic growth?

As sustainability becomes an increasingly central component of place brands, this perception survey helps to evaluate the success (or lack thereof) that these countries have realized.

Your key findings since you published the first GGEI in 2010?

Over the course of publishing 5 editions of the GGEI, there have been some key findings:

1) The Nordic countries and their principal cities have the strongest green brands globally;

2) Changes in political leadership and their rhetoric have significant impacts on the GGEI perception survey results, even if actual policies have not changed as dramatically;

3) Perceptions often diverge from actual performance, particularly around markets and investment where there is often a misunderstanding of where the most vital green markets are;

4) Richer more developed countries tend to dominate the GGEI, but there are some notable exceptions in Costa Rica, Zambia, and Cambodia, showing that developing nations too can successfully pursue greener economic growth;

5) Global trade flows are a challenging, but vital, area of the global green economy to account for in the future. For instance, Norway performs very well on the GGEI, despite its significant fossil fuel exports to other parts of the world.

Judging by your research findings, how important is sustainability performance with regard to country (or city) reputation and competitiveness?

National green reputations tend to mirror top ranking country reputations and competitiveness, as measured by indices comparable to the GGEI. Much like the perception survey of the GGEI, the Anholt-GfK Nation Brands Index 2016 and the Global Competitiveness Index 2016 also found northern Europe, the United States, Canada and Japan to rank in the top 10.

Our research suggests that global perceptions of sustainability performance could be important components of overall country brands, and driven in part by nations with superior competitiveness in the global economy.

That said, the performance component of the GGEI tells a somewhat different story. While the Nordic countries, Switzerland and Germany still perform in the GGEI top 10, the United Kingdom, United States, and Japan do not, ranking 25th/80, 30th/80 and 34th/80 respectively. These three countries suffer on the GGEI performance measure mostly because their economies are more carbon intensive, less integrated with renewable energy, and less successful at preserving the environment.

As sustainability and climate change become more central to the global agenda, it will be interesting to observe how these relationships evolve. Will countries with poor green performance begin to suffer in terms of the strength of their overall country brand? Or, will national competitiveness suffer in countries that do not have a coherent green growth plan, especially given the emergence of new regulations and global agreements designed to reduce carbon emissions? Monitoring these three indices over the next decade could begin to reveal some answers.

How to measure the return on investment (ROI) of sustainability initiatives of places? How to make the business case for sustainable development?

Investors will continue to measure the ROI on sustainability initiatives like they measure most investments. When considering investing in renewable energy or building efficiency, they will calculate the financial return on their capital over time relative to their financial commitment, plus any associated subsides or incentives tied to the investment.

Fortunately, the rapidly falling prices of products like solar panels or wind turbines are making investments in sustainability more attractive, and less dependent on public support. Increasingly, the business case for these investments is quite easy: investing in sustainability makes business sense today and in the longer term.

In terms of place branding and sustainability, this ROI could be understood in a more nuanced manner.

Places today are increasingly focused on talent attraction and retention, and generally speaking, young, educated workers in the “knowledge economy” value sustainability in places they consider settling.

This is often for quite practical reasons: because they want clean air or green spaces for their children; because they value fitness and require biking systems and other forms of efficient, urban mobility; and/or they require a green infrastructure (such as electric vehicle charging stations) to support their lifestyle.

Companies, too, increasingly look to build offices in places with green infrastructure, for instance renewable energy available for purchase to power company operations.

As places seek to attract talent and companies to build their revenue base and overall prosperity, a clear political and practical commitment to sustainability will become a necessary condition for success.

Climate change is another key focus area of yours. How is the topic going to impact the reputation/perception and competitiveness of places, such as countries or cities?

Climate change is already impacting places, their reputations and competitiveness. Beijing in China may aspire to be a global capital, but businesses and tourists will be deterred from visiting if air pollution continues to worsen. The glorious ski resorts of Switzerland and the wildlife splendor of Kenya in Africa will lose their appeal if a changing climate limits snowfall and harms biodiversity. Many of our most spectacular cities – including New York, Rio de Janeiro, Sydney, and Singapore – are coastal cities vulnerable to rising sea levels.

As these places suffer more from natural disasters and the rising costs of climate mitigation and adaptation, the opportunities for conflict and unrest will also increase. This is why climate change is becoming such a priority on the sub-national level, among regions, cities, businesses and civil society, often with more focus and dedication that is found on the national one.

The video recording of my presentation on this issue at the Stati Generali della Green Economy conference last November in Italy is available here.

In your view, which are the most important factors for countries – or cities – to maintain a strong, positive reputation over time?

Green growth: unsurprisingly, I see green growth as the most significant long-term component driving the reputation of places. As our world population grows and resources become scarcer, there will simply be no other model for development and growth. Cities and countries that prioritize and implement green growth will realize corresponding improvements in their reputations.

Entrepreneurship: secondly, I see entrepreneurship as becoming an even greater driver of place reputation in the future. Travelers are seeking experiences when they visit places globally, and local citizen entrepreneurs create these unique experiences. AirBnB is moving aggressively into this space, building a platform for people to sell experiences – as well as rent their apartments or houses – to tourists.

Political leadership: lastly, I continue to believe in the power of political leadership – both as symbols of certain values and agents for policy – to impact the reputation of places. These leaders with vision have an unparalleled ability to accrue positive media attention to places, even as confidence in these traditional institutions of power seem to be waning.

Thank you, Jeremy.

Connect with Jeremy Tamanini on LinkedIn, or follow the work of Dual Citizens LLC on Twitter and YouTube.


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