In a novel turn of events last week I found myself reading about myself in Russian. A few weeks ago I gave an interview to the Telegraf newspaper who for some reason wanted to hear my take on life in Latvia.
I made a point of saying that there really was very little significance to anything I had to say and even less likelihood that their readers would find my ill-thought theories of interest but they said they didn’t mind. And as someone who makes a living from asking people their opinions I could hardly refuse a similar request from a fellow journalist.
So I passed a very pleasant hour or so over tea with the very professional Telegraf reporter and the results appeared on Thursday 14 October. Thankfully they had chosen to make me seem only a bit eccentric rather than barking mad (which they could easily have maanged with the stuff I was spouting) but much to my amazement they dedicated a full page and a half (of the business section for some reason) to my ramblings.
Sadly what I failed to communicate properly was my belief that Latvia should make an effort to brand itself as the EU’s “eco-nation” in the way Estonia has quite succesfully marketed itself as an “e-nation.”
I feel that such a course would tap into the considerable expertise that exists in areas such as animal husbandry and environmentally-friendly agriculture – skills which have never been lost in Latvia and which other nations are urrently trying to “re-learn”.
Ecoproducts also represent the added value that Latvia needs in its exports – though a major challenge exists in getting products to market quickly thanks to the country’s poor road and rail infrastructure.
And in some eco-areas Latvia has a headstart. The proportion of energy generated from renewables is the highest in the EU thanks mainly to the legacy of Soviet hydro plants. The potential for biomass is huge and these are just the sort of projects that can attract generous co-financing from the EU, Nordic Investment Bank and other organizations.
For a perfect example of a Latvian eco success just look at Madara cosmetics. Basically, the Latvian government should ask Madara how they do it and then just apply those lessons – including branding – to the whole country.
Such a move would put some peoples’ noses out of joint – on several occasions I have asked government ministers which area of the economy is the priority. The answer is usually something along the lines of: “timber, transit, chemicals, manufacturing, food production…” which basically means “everything” and therefore nothing.
Sure those areas of the economy should not be abandoned – but they should be included within the eco-drive. For Latvia’s eco-credentials to stand scrutiny we need to be talking about eco-transit, eco-timber, eco-tourism and eco-manufacturing industries. Eco-friendly companies are the ones that will get the subsidies and support. Heavily polluting industries will diminish the credibility of the eco claim.
When people in export markets pick up a product saing “Made in Latvia” they need to know this comes from the eco-country where they take such things seriously, have high standards of certification and have preserved the beautiful nature which is the envy of Europe. It will probably take at least a decade to develop such a reputation and likely much longer. But if Latvia doesn’t do it, someone else will and will reap the benefits.