Sustainability, Place branding

The Nordics are green economy leaders – but there is more room for joint branding efforts

In a hurry? Scroll to the bottom for practical info

By Jeremy Tamanini, Dual Citizen, Global Green Economy Index (GGEI)

Pärtel-Peeter Pere, Future Place Leadership
Marcus Andersson, Future Place Leadership & Advisory board member, Dual Citizen 

Learn about

  • How sustainability connects with companies, investment promotion and talent attraction
  • Nordic sustainability performance according to the recent GGEI
  • Implications for branding the Nordic companies and cities in North America, India and China
  • How to learn and network for more practical knowledge in this field

The Nordics enjoy a good reputation, no matter what index you look at. However, awareness of these countries in their own desired target markets such as China, India and North America is relatively low compared to its potential. There is potential to attract more talents and investments to the Nordic countries, by better leveraging the already existing positive reputation.

The recent 6th edition of the biennial Global Green Economy Index (GGEI) reveals a now-familiar storyline: the Nordic countries are global green leaders. When considering their green performance across the twenty topics defining the GGEI, Sweden, Norway, Denmark, Finland and Iceland all land in the top 10, a notable achievement given the 130 countries tracked by the GGEI in this latest 2018 edition.

Of equal importance, these same countries lead the GGEI perception survey results, which polls thousands of global practitioners on their view of country performance on these same twenty topics. Nordic green brands are clearly thriving.

Effective branding is about contributing and mattering to others

These findings are not new and the GGEI suggests that themes of sustainability and green growth are almost inextricably connected with the Nordic countries. In some cases, GGEI survey respondents would respond to a given question by simply listing the Nordic countries, conveying the clear linkage this block of countries had with a particular environmental topic. The Nordic countries have a global authority around building and sustaining green brands.

But what kind of new opportunities emerge from this for Nordic places and the people and companies within them? And how can these advance growth, talent attraction and efforts in other places seeking to emulate some of the Nordic success in this realm?

Here are a few considerations:

  • The connection between country-level green branding efforts and those of Nordic companies is well established. In fact, the region has been a leader in establishing public-private partnerships and cluster development, with an emphasis on green products and services (for example, State of Green from Denmark comes to mind). Company-level green initiatives are clearly recognized on the GGEI: the survey respondents indicated that enterprises based in the Nordic countries demonstrated strong progress at promoting corporate sustainability through adopting emission reduction pledges and greening supply chains. But are Nordic companies leveraging these strong results enough? Not necessarily, we would argue. Multinationals with Nordic roots, such as ABB and Vestas, typically brand themselves as international corporations, but could probably benefit from leveraging their ‘Nordicness’ in a more explicit way. State of Green is an example from Denmark, that works with promoting the country’s green and cleantech companies. On its most simplest level, it is a website and promotion team that enables companies to make use of a national export platform that is available even in Chinese. This initiative was called to life early this decade, in order to position Denmark globally as a green and sustainable country. It was high-time, as Denmark has decoupled economic growth from the use of fossil fuels since the 1980s. The former has increased while the latter has decreased. This is a central message in promoting the country’s green credentials.
  • Talent attraction. As Nordic places large and small focus on the critical task of talent attraction, the theme of green branding is also relevant. Educated talent increasingly value sustainability in the places they choose to live and work. What’s more, the green credentials of the Nordics have helped to attract students to universities offering master or PhD studies in sustainability. There is, however, room for stressing these credentials even more when promoting higher education to a global audience of students.
  • Values are becoming increasingly important across the globe and even more so in the Nordics.There are inspiring initiatives that they deploy and equally interestingly, the private sector joins in on public initiatives or start their own actions. For example, sustainability and gender equality are some of the qualities that Stockholm values highly in their investment promotion. #AWomansPlace is an initiative that aims to market the city as a place of equal career opportunities, regardless of gender. This is an excellent example of contemporary place branding, as it speaks about and strives for something larger than itself. “A Woman’s Place” positions Stockholm to a wider audience but with a very concrete message. It has relevance to a global cause.
  • Sustainable solutions to city planning and housing are high on the Nordic agenda, giving an opportunity to tap into the global mega-trend of unprecedented, rapid urbanisation. Nordic Innovation, a supra-national Nordic foundation that funds innovation and research efforts, has been working on a flagship project Nordic Sustainable Cities that aims to export #NordicSolutions in all things city planning, urban development and housing. The focus of the project is export to Chinese, Indian and North-American markets, strengthen the Nordic brand, add value to existing trade promotion efforts through Nordic co-operation and to expand the market potential for Nordic businesses. It builds on an existing well developed value offer that region has for the wider world.

Conclusion and takeaway

Nordic governments are successful at embedding sustainability in how they communicate officially, but there is room for improvement. For example, the tourism and investment promotion efforts of most Nordic countries give heavy weight to sustainability, actions that can translate into increased visits and inbound investment. Sweden is for example focusing on sustainable measures on the treatment of heavy metals and has adopted measures for fighting climate change and working with green energy. At the same time, Sweden is one of the world’s largest exporters of pulp, paper and timber. In sustainable tourism the Nordic countries are doing well, but could perform better. Norway is 3rd, Finland 5th Sweden 6th, Denmark 8th and Iceland 15th according to the WEF’s 2017 Travel and Tourism Competitiveness Index.

There is great potential in increased Nordic co-operation in cleantech, sustainability, mobility, housing and others solutions, that would allow to package and market these solutions to the desired overseas markets. There is considerable room for the Nordic countries to join forces in bundling solutions that build on the complementary strengths of each country. Building new Nordic value chains and packaging different competencies would make it possible for especially smaller firms to service larger, more complex clients, such as emerging Chinese megacities, to take one topical example, as well as synergising the Nordic brand in joint global marketing efforts.    

For more information

Read the Global Green Economy Index 2018

Read the interview with Jeremy Tamanini about the index on The Place Brand Observer.

Read the interview with Marcus Andersson on place branding, The Place Brand Observer.

Read the interview with Pärtel-Peeter Pere on place branding, The Place Brand Observer.


Contact Pärtel-Peeter Pere for a free consultation on sustainability and place branding.

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