One with the Earth: An idea on time
January 28, 2008
Last week I wrote about Dan Poresky’s One with the Earth symbol, which he created for use as a universal environmental symbol.
I wrote to Dan asking for his comments, particularly as I’d raised issues in a public forum. He replied in detail. So I’m pleased to publish his response and comment on how far it met my concerns.
So you can read his letter without my interruptions, I’ve placed it after my comments on his answers. There’s a link to it, so you can read it in full first if you wish.Answers (down to Dan’s letter in full)
I’ve picked out what I believe to be the key points from Dan’s letter, with my take on each. Breaking the detail up into an imagined conversation with Dan has made me reflect some more. The headline points are these.
- Make the symbol’s purpose and use instructions really clear. Separate and word them clearly. This is website design and content issue.
- At some stage, you may need to use the protection you’ve got for the symbol. How will you do it? This is rhetorical at the moment.
- Consider people’s symbol literacy skills. I was perhaps somewhat pessimistic, although I think the pessimism must be voiced and addressed.
- Launch the symbol!
The idea is ultimately to answer Dan’s final questions to me.
Dan: So, how well did I satisfy your concerns?
Me: Well enough indeed! Some of my original statements required more clarity, which I hope I’ve provided. I’ve suggested some further parts to some answers. Some of the “problems” I saw I now think aren’t actually issues!
Dan: To what extent do you agree with my case for the symbol?
Me: Convinced! (Wasn’t I convinced already?!)
I will take you up on the offer in your email of some stickers. Not just because they’re FREE. 😉 (I had also already seen on your website that you provide these for everyone.) I don’t consider myself an environmental activist, so I don’t know what I’ll do with them… yet! I’m sure I’ll work that out though.
˜ ˜ ˜
Me: The usefulness of such a symbol to an organized movement may be reduced if it doesn’t have any protection.
Dan: I, too, was initially unsure. Now I’m confident there is no need to regulate its usage. Nonetheless, I did copyright the design. My only concern was that someone might pick up the design and use it for something else entirely.
Me: So… Point answered! Would it be useful to mention the copyright and open right to use for proper use on your site? Perhaps this could take the form of a version of copyleft or open source wording? (My apologies if I didn’t spot this there already.)
Me: …associating a universal symbol with products or services will cause confusion concerning the standards claimed…
Dan: Unlike a Kosher, recycled, or certified organic symbol, the ‘One with the Earth’ symbol doesn’t make any claims for a product. Wherever and however the ‘One with the Earth’ symbol is used, its message remains the same. “I care about protecting the environment.” […]
Me: So… Point answered, and not! I now think my original statement is ambiguous.
A. Dan’s answer does make it very clear what the symbol is for, regarding the symbol in itself. This works to the extent that people learn and transmit the meaning of the symbol. As this is a (long-term and cultural) issue, there isn’t (I think) an answer beyond what the future brings. However, experience of other symbols indicates it’s certainly possible. This applies wherever the symbol is used, including, for example, company stationery, livery or property.
B. There is a distinction I didn’t spot about what the symbol is associated with. If the symbol is associated with the product or service (delivery mode or documentation) it appears on, it may appear to imply that the product it appears on meets some standard or other, even in the absence of other (official) symbols, and even though it really means that the producer is expressing a value statement. This may be unavoidable, just as matches are useful, so they can burn! Also, this may not even matter. Dan (and I previously) has identified other symbols the misuse of which doesn’t (normally) harm their generally understood meaning. Simply, people are symbol literate, and they do recognise symbol misuse. Still there’s that proviso of wait and see, but that’s not Dan’s problem!
C. The other part of the distinction is that a universal symbol may cause confusion betweendifferent (official) symbols or types of symbol, for example those that mean made of recycled material against those that mean made of recyclable materials against those that mean the product has passed a lifecycle test. (There are yet other types.) After all, this symbol is a value statement not a standards statement. Again, I think people’s symbol literacy will stand up to this!
Me: I took off the second part of the previous paragraph because I think it relates to a different point.
Dan: […] Those who think Earth’s resources are unlimited or that environmentalists are a socialist nature cult that wants to eradicate capitalism are not going to want to be seen wearing the symbol.
Me: So… I think this needs a stronger answer: which I will attempt! Cynically or realistically, that’s true but only to the point where they believe they can undermine its value by dilution, or where they wish to gain status by association. But, hey, it’s hard to avoid people doing bad stuff with any idea. Although now you’ve said you’ve copyrighted the symbol, you can mitigate it! (If you’ve got the resources to fight: public goodwill campaign, funds for court, key (media, political, …) backers, etc.
I think there are capitalists with a rather more nuanced view of the world. Besides a good (long-term) capitalist is one who survives, or does better than just survive!
However, the characterisation of environmentalists, socialists, capitalists and any others takes us way out of this topic, and too far from this discussion to be useful. (Although it’s a really interesting and valuable discussion.) And this wasn’t your point anyway.
Me:… But, this it could be used alongside them. [Ed. oops, I missed that mistake! Take the “it” out.]
Dan: When used by organizations, businesses and on products, the symbol should be much smaller and away from the owner’s logo. It expresses the values of the users who want to help raise environmental awareness. Green products and services may want to display it more prominently but still subordinate to their own logos.
Me: So… Point answered! I may have missed this on your site, but if these instructions aren’t there, put them on! It’s a feature repeated across the other (official, copyrighted) symbols I’ve covered so far that the symbols don’t provide endorsement and shouldn’t be used in such a way as to imply endorsement. Some people will take liberties, but you’re covered for that.
Dan: With a proper launch [the benefits given in your response will come.]
Me: So… that must be the hardest part!
I’m not really intending a discussion here of this point! … Jay Leno? Earth Summit?
And/Or speed up the grassroots approach.
Dan: I have no doubt that there will eventually be a universal environmental symbol.
Me: I have no doubt that there is a need for one, and that there is a universal environmental symbol. And yours will do it.
Dan’s letter (back to Answers)Thank you so very much for presenting and discussing the ‘One with the Earth’ symbol on your blog. It’s an excellent piece and the questions you raise are thoughtful and pertinent. And thank you for letting me know about it and inviting a response.
About your primary concern: “The usefulness of such a symbol to an organized movement may be reduced if it doesn’t have any protection.” I, too, was initially unsure. Now I’m confident there is no need to regulate its usage. Nonetheless, I did copyright the design. My only concern was that someone might pick up the design and use it for something else entirely.
Consider these well established symbols: Confederate flag; various colored ribbons; Smokey Bear (“You, too, can prevent forest fires”); crucifix; Jewish star; the peace (N[uclear] D[isarmament]) symbol; and Rx symbol. They are, for all practical purposes, self-regulating. Their meanings are not diminished by improper use. If I wear a crucifix, it says something about me, not the crucifix. Likewise, I’m not going to display a Confederate flag on my car or home because I don’t want to be associated with its racist connotations.
“…associating a universal symbol with products or services will cause confusion concerning the standards claimed…”
Unlike a Kosher, recycled, or certified organic symbol, the ‘One with the Earth’ symbol doesn’t make any claims for a product. Wherever and however the ‘One with the Earth’ symbol is used, its message remains the same. “I care about protecting the environment.” Those who think Earth’s resources are unlimited or that environmentalists are a socialist nature cult that wants to eradicate capitalism are not going to want to be seen wearing the symbol.
“… But, this it could be used alongside them.”
When used by organizations, businesses and on products, the symbol should be much smaller and away from the owner’s logo. It expresses the values of the users who want to help raise environmental awareness. Green products and services may want to display it more prominently but still subordinate to their own logos.
With a proper launch, the ‘One with the Earth’ will be a ubiquitous reminder that civilization has entered a new era where personal, public and corporate responsibility for protecting the environment is no longer a value for some, but a necessity for all.
I have no doubt that there will eventually be a universal environmental symbol. The need for one grows every day. Currently, the public and many in the environmental community see a multitude of environmental concerns all competing for support. This perception misrepresents the challenge, weakens claims of urgency, confuses the public and funders, and fosters indifference.
In reality there is one problem with many components. (climate change, overfishing, fresh water supplies, exponential population growth, deforestation, habitat and species loss, soil depletion, etc.). Each environmental proponent should let it be known that their ultimate purpose is to ensure a livable world for our children and future generations. This reasoning applies equally to all, it is positive, it sets a goal, and it reinforces the sense of both individual and societal responsibility. The phrasing also works well for posing questions to parents, politicians, corporations, etc. “What are you doing to ensure a livable world for my/our/your…?” In addition, the wording is compatible with the most common definition of sustainability: A sustainable society is one that satisfies its needs without diminishing the prospects for future generations.
The symbol will make it easier to communicate and understand the true nature of the challenge and enhance support for all, like you, who are working on solutions. I describe the problem this way: Recently, for the first time in history, the impact of human activity on the environment has gone beyond the tipping point to where we are now degrading and depleting Earth’s resources faster than nature can renew them. Every day there are more people scrambling for diminishing reserves. We are literally rendering the planet uninhabitable. We are at a pivotal time in the history of humanity. We either adapt to a planet with limits or we perish. And unlike other challenges past and present, this one is a timed test.
As for the suitability of the ‘One with the Earth’ symbol to serve this need, I grow increasingly confident that it is a winner.
So, how well did I satisfy your concerns? To what extent do you agree with my case for the symbol?
This entry is part of the Infomancy Eco-Symbols Series.
Filed in eco symbols, eco-symbols-series, One with the Earth
Tags: Dan Poresky, eco symbols, environmental awareness, environmental message, environmental symbols, environmentally friendly, everything is connected, grassroots campaigns, One with the Earth, recycling, recycling message, recycling symbols, symbol literacy, symbol literate, universal environmental symbol, universal symbol