It’s cheerful, easily identifiable, and it’s the brainchild of the first Dutch astronaut – it’s the Happy Energy logo.
Here’s the idea: There’s currently a global movement towards positive cultural change, towards a fairer, cleaner, more sustainable world. It’s happening slowly, across thousands of organisations and community groups, and it has no central identifying force. As the Happy Energy folks point out, “there is no global sustainability logo in the world to identify this culture change”.
The logo isn’t a badge or a certification, like the Fairtrade marque. It’s more of a banner to rally around, a meme, a visual statement of alliance. If I get the gist of it, it’s a kind of symbol of shared hope. Which means that if you like it, you can use it. “Our Happy Energy symbol is like the sun” says aforementioned astronaut Wubbo Ockels. “It’s free and available for everyone.”
If that sounds a little vague, consider the power of some other iconic symbols. The Ichthus, or ‘Jesus fish’ may now be the province of bumperstickers and bookmarks, but it was once a secret symbol worthy of a Dan Brown mystery. It was graffitied on walls as an identifier, a statement of belief, and a symbol of defiance.
That kind of symbol evolves and catches on. Creating an iconic symbol from scratch is a different matter, but it can be done. The symbol for peace on the left here is now almost universally recognised, but it was created in 1958 for the Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament. It combines the semaphore signals for N and D for ‘nuclear disarmament’, but also represents an olive branch or two outstretched hands. It works, it’s simple, and it has taken on a life of its own well beyond it’s nuclear origins.
So can you create something similar for sustainability? It’s a nice idea, not least because ‘sustainability’ is a somewhat clunky and misused word – but it’s also quite a rich one. It is derived from the old French word ‘sustenir’, meaning to hold up or endure, and I like the connotations of patience and endurance. It’s the same root as the word ‘sustenance’ – the means of sustaining life.
I agree with Happy Energy that there is a new culture emerging, one that they sum up as “the necessary follow-up to the industrial revolution. A culture that stands for social justice and respect for nature.” I think it’s feasible to sum up those hopes in a single image, although whether or not this is the one that will catch on is anybody’s guess. It’s certainly colourful and simple, but it is rather reminiscent of the shallow hippy notion of ‘flower power’. It also reminds me of Ikea. But then I’m pretty certain that I couldn’t come up with anything better.
What do you think? Can there be one symbol for sustainability? And is this it?