When It Comes to the Environment, Two Icons May Be Better Than One

Happy Earth Day! Yep, it’s that day again; the one that was born in 1969, first celebrated in 1970 and virtually ignored, at least by pop culture standards, by most between 1971 and 2006 with the release of The Inconvenient Truth. The environment is back in vogue for many reasons, both economic and health. If we can just keep it higher on the list for the next 35 years. Hey, if the last two years is any indication, we’re getting there.


We’ve all taken to calling it “Going Green”, “The Greening of America”, etc. Hell, Matt and Meredith are even getting “green”. No matter what we call it, there is real, honest to God, development of wind power, alternative bio-fuels, a better CFL light bulb (complete with rebates from our power cooperative, thank you very much), geo-thermal energy and even the odd solar panel here and there. In my house we sort recyclables like we’re possessed, use recycled products, and take our own bags to the grocery store. Though not completely to do with the environment (perhaps the only positive thing about high gas prices), we’re planning our driving better to cut down on their frequency. Not easy when you have two kids who want to be part of everything. But can we really make this all part of our lives forever? Yes, but not because it’s popular but because it’s right. Plus, we have two icons that will remind us.

You’ll note the two symbols I have included with this post. I think they reflect two sides of the “save the planet” campaign. First, there’s the trusty recycle logo that we’ve all seen everywhere from the bottom of our pop (or for my friends out east, “soda”) bottle to trash cans to reams of paper at the office supply store. This symbol really represents the “business” of the environment. And I mean that in a positive way.

The result of a contest to design a symbol for recycling sponsored by
the Container Corporation of America, it’s the symbol that reminds us
that we can, if we choose, save a bit more space in the city landfill
for another disposable diaper or single shoe. (Note: Landfills never
contain pairs of shoes.) The design, for which its 1970 creator Gary
Dean Anderson
, for which he received a $2500 scholarship, also has come
to remind us we might be able to make a few cents if we keep that item
out of the ditch.

The other symbol, the one I think represents the ideal or soul of protecting our environment, is the one born in 1969, not long before Earth Day itself. It was designed by political cartoonist and artist, Ron Cobb, as the symbol for Ecology. Cobb combined the “e” for earth and environment, with the letter “o” representing wholeness and unity. Take a closer look here at the notations about the origin of this symbol to see that this was driven by a far more idealistic and spiritual force.

Of course, I grew up in a house of Democrats and these sorts of icons, along with Peace symbols, the odd McGovern pin and Pete Seeger album was not uncommon. But this symbol also graced trash cans, posters, flyers and TV ads well outside my home. It was more of a mission…a goal for all of us. Now, that kind of thinking is perceived as being alive and well at “jam band” festivals and comes with plenty of twirling to the music and a great deal of hemp. In fact, this symbol seems to have all but disappeared. (It took some crafty Googling to find the image and its history.) I would love for it to come back into style.

For us to really make the leap from “latest thing” to “way of life,” we need to embrace both the business and the ideal. The strength of both of these symbols, born at the same time, serve to remind us of the importance of paying attention to our planet. The economic and physical health, now and in the future depend, on it.

Happy Earth Day!

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