New Zealand likes to punch above its weight – to have the top rugby team in the world, to excel in sailing, to have world-renowned opera singers and athletes, authors who are household names and actors succeeding in Hollywood who were born here.

Of course there are arguments with Australia about the origin of Pavlova, Phar Lap and Russell Crowe … but few people argue with the concept of the All Blacks (at least at the moment) and there are many other examples where the gene pool of less than 5 million people has resulted in outstanding success.

New Zealand as a country also ranks highly in many areas. Norway topped the Legatum Prosperity Index in 2018; New Zealand was second out of 149 countries. Best scorings for New Zealand in 2018 were in Social Capital (1st) and Personal Freedom (2nd).


New Zealand has moved down the rankings table by one place since 2016. But one place means 'no longer first'. Contributing to the fall since 2016, are 13 places in Economic Quality (from 1st to 14th), five places in Safety and Security (from 19th to 24th), three places in education (from 15th to 18th), and five places in health (from 12th to 17th).

In some contrast, ranking in Natural Environment increased from 13th in 2016 (the year the measure was introduced) to 4th in 2018. Natural Environment assesses a country's performance in the three areas of the quality of the natural environment, environmental pressures, and preservation efforts.

This improvement in ranking appears to have missed media coverage. So did the fact that the Legatum authors describe New Zealand as having 'free markets, free people and the world's strongest society'.

Yet knowing the external view is extremely important for branding and improving the brand. This is because people's perceptions of their country have a bearing on how it is perceived externally.

In the US News and World Report 2019 Nation Branding Rankings, New Zealand is 12th. In the report, Wharton's David Reibstein suggests that any country that wants to improve its brand must direct its efforts internally, ensuring that citizens are telling a positive story about their country.

For New Zealand, improving brand is important for the products we export. Again and again, marketing experts assure companies that the story is the key to success, and that authenticity is vital.

Back in 2009, the success of the '100% Pure New Zealand' campaign was being lauded. In the review of 100% Pure New Zealand 1999-2009, Chief Executive of Tourism New Zealand George Hickson wrote 'Ours is an authentic country, its landscape – its culture and its people live the 100% Pure New Zealand values every day, in their everyday lives'.

The tourism boom that has occurred over the last decade would seem to support the notion of success, and the satisfaction that tourists expressed about the environment in the Ministry for Business, Innovation and Employment 2017 survey concurs.


Despite this, over the last few years there have been increasing numbers of environmentalists decrying the state of the environment, telling tourists and media that New Zealand "isn't all its cracked up to be". (See this recent Guardian story, for example)

Its an odd logic.

National's recently launched 'Our Environment Discussion Document' points out that 'our economy depends on our environment and our ability to care for our environment depends upon the success of the economy'.

The document also states that people respond better to change when engaged and given incentives.

The incentive in this case is an even better environment because the economy is doing well.

Other surveys comparing New Zealand with other countries include "Best Countries Overall" (we're 12th of the 25 countries assessed) which describes New Zealand as "picturesque", with pastoral industries dominating.

The "picturesque" environment depends upon the economy, and our economy increasingly depends upon reputation – including the reputation of the skilled farmers and growers managing the environment.

New Zealand's reputation can grow in the positive direction with the support of the domestic population, resulting in more funding to protect the environment – new technologies on the land, and new infrastructure to underpin the tourism industry.

Punching above weight is a New Zealand attribute; the environment is already known. To do it with the economy as well is a goal worth the effort, but we have to put in the work, just like the All Blacks.

Dr Jacqueline Rowarth has a PhD in Soil Science and has been analysing the interaction between agriculture, the environment and society for several decades.