How Cities Can Crack the Code to Successful Green Branding

Just before the Olympics kicked off in Vancouver, our mayor unveiled a new logo and tagline for the city.

"Vancouver: Green Capital" was intended to focus the world on Vancouver's credentials as a green innovation hub. Instead of oohing and aahing at our scenery, Olympic visitors (and thousands of news cameras) would discover our prowess in greentech, urban planning and social justice.

Unfortunately, this new initiative is simply the latest in a long line of disconnected green branding efforts from a long line of well-meaning Vancouver mayors. And its effectiveness will no doubt be hampered by our inability to stick with one horse.

This scenario belies an innovation challenge for cities looking to establish themselves as green leaders.

So what is the key to building a strong green brand for a city? And is it worth the trouble?

Learning from Curitiba

Some cities seem to have cracked the code on successful green branding. Curitiba, for example, has achieved icon status as a center for green innovation. Speaking with Guilherme Fragomeni of Curitiba at this year's Sustainable Cities conference, I discovered the secret was bold marketing as much as visionary infrastructure.

During the 1970s, while Brazil was welcoming industry with open arms, Curitiba accepted only non-polluters and constructed an industrial district with expanses of green space. This earned it the derisive moniker of "golf course." The snickers stopped, however, when Curitiba's growth outstripped that of its more polluted neighbors.

The city also understood the importance of creating green initiatives that inspired with their looks as well as their eco-efficiency. Its transport corridors and bus metro systems provided both a smart solution to gridlock and a symbol of thinking outside the box.

As more green programs were developed, branding was always a top consideration. A recycling program from the '70s, for example, came with initiatives to turn trash into flowers at recycling centers.

Today, as Fragomeni says, Curitiba may be actually have to tone down its green branding, or risk being criticized as a city that publicizes green initiatives more than it implements them. He points to the city's Sustainable Cities 2010 award -- won despite Curtitiba's rivers being technically dead.

Modeling Success In Costa Rica

The eco-resorts of Costa Rica are internationally renowned. Their successful brand now seems to be driving the aggressive pursuit of green in the country's capital San Jose.

Next Page: Green branding takeaways for cities.