One with the Earth: a grassroots environmental symbol

January 21, 2008

symbol - One with the Earth

One with the Earth is a symbol intended for anyone to show any kind of environmentally-friendly activity or support, a “universal symbol for environmental awareness”.

It’s quite the opposite of the last symbol I wrote about: Recycle, a graphic design for a commercial advertising campaign for a second-hand bookshop, a particular form of recycling.

Will it work?

The symbol was designed by Dan Poresky, founder of Agshen, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania (also via Quoted information about the symbol is taken from the website; commentary is mine.

His design concept is simple, “everything is connected”:

Symbol design represents Earth, sun (the source of all life’s energy), water (covers 70% of the Earth’s surface), land (30% of the Earth’s surface) and life.

The symbol itself is – I think reasonably obviously – easy to recognise and reproduce, even with little drawing skill. See the images on Agshen, for example, children’s drawings, adults’ paintings, a tattoo and jewelry. It has bold colours and no finicky detail. The text, if needed, could be in any language, without affecting the design.

Who can use it and what for? When Dan said “universal”, he meant it!

The Symbol is free for all to use – Organizations, Individuals, ‘Green’ Products and Services

Eventually, the symbol will be on websites, newsletters, environmental journals, green products and businesses everywhere. It will become associated with Earth Day, be given to Scouts as a merit badge, colored by children, worn on baseball caps, T-shirts and on politician’s lapels. It will be seen on product packaging and advertisements for Earth-friendly products. It will be fashioned into jewelry, be a design option for personal checks and affixed to car windows.

Will it work?

There’s a marvellous simplicity to the aim.

The website shows there’s been some uptake, though it’s hard to judge what the impact of the symbol has been, in those communities where it’s used so far.

I think the hard part to answering that simple question is answering a range of other questions. How will organisations and individuals know when to they can use the symbol fairly? What should (or will) count as ‘green’ (with or without quote marks)? How will people react when they believe the symbol has been misappropriated or directly or indirectly misused? Will the symbol survive attacks on its current or intended future reputation?

The other symbols I’ve discussed so far are protected, as are the schemes they stand for, by some form of governmental or commercial control, usually specific legislative standards, company activity or trademarks. If they are misused, there are penalties. The One with the Earth symbol isn’t protected.

It’s possible it’ll go well; it’s possible that’s naïve.

But Dan Poresky says himself that this particular symbol is a candidate symbol, not a finished thing, and calls others to create and implement a universal symbol for environmental awareness.

He’s also aware of the sort of serious support such a symbol requires.

To achieve its purpose and gain widespread acceptance, a new universal environmental symbol will require the backing of prominent people, the media and related organizations.

I don’t think any symbol like this can replace the symbols for individual environmentally-friendly schemes. Unless and until those schemes are harmonised, associating a universal symbol with products or services will cause confusion concerning the standards claimed. But, this it could be used alongside them.

The usefulness of such a symbol to an organised movement may be reduced if it doesn’t have any protection. It might only take a couple of serious cases of passing off actions, events, products or services as “environmentally aware” by others to undermine confidence in the symbol. Indifferent or cynical re-use could undermine it: there are examples of images which have moved from activism (in some form) into use as cultural gimmicks: t-shirts with Che Guevara, for example. On the other hand, the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament (CND)/ peace symbol has retained its meaning, although you may find it on funky designer or high-street clothing.

Perhaps, to a grassroots, “unofficial” movement such a symbol may be more useful. The lack of protection could enable people to use it knowing that they are not going to infringe any rules. If it’s associated with a non-membership, broad appeal movement, it might gain some form of credibility and protection through winning “hearts and minds”, although the problems of misuse or re-use remain.

Perhaps it needs some kind of manifesto, standard or statement of conscience, so that anyone using it says why they believe they can use it.

The simple answer is: will enough of you use it?

Update: Dan’s reply and my comments – One with the Earth: An idea on time.

This entry is part of the Infomancy Eco-Symbols Series.


3 Responses to “One with the Earth: a grassroots environmental symbol”

  1. Dan Poresky Says:

    Hello Peter,

    I received your email and just now sent you a response.

    You did a great job with this. Thank you.

    I hope my comments addressed your reservations adequately and you consider doing a follow-up.

    Send me your mailing address and I’ll mail you some eco-stickers.

    I very much appreciate the exposure you are giving the symbol.


  2. infomancie Says:

    Having raised concerns, and in public, I thought it would be at least polite, and probably interesting, to ask Dan for comments.

    He’s taken the time to reply in detail, and interestingly, and left the choice of what to publish to me.

    Thanks, Dan! I intend to publish it all, somehow.

    However, I have some pressing things to do elsewhere, so I hope to publish this later next week. This will also give me the chance to format it all decently and respond properly.


  3. Au Pair Says:

    very nice web site. My English is not so good, so I do not understandt it well, but it seems very good. Thanks

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