I visited the web site of The Nature Conservancy recently and found a surprise. The corporate logo of this giant among conservation organizations has received a new makeover. You can see the evolution from the previous logo to the new one side by side at this link on TNC's website. Since the 1980s TNC's logo has changed several times, with each incarnation the result of deliberate efforts to grow the brand and reflecting changes in the scale and scope of TNC's conservation activity and its increasingly global aspirations.
In the interests of full disclosure and lest anyone get the wrong idea, I was an employee of TNC for 7 years and wish the organization well. My depiction of TNC's corporate logos in this blog post are intended as fair use illustrations of the changes in their design only and not to represent the organization in any particular light.
The mission of The Nature Conservancy is "to preserve the plants, animals and natural communities that represent the diversity of life on earth by protecting the lands and waters they need to survive." Keep that in mind as you watch the evolution of TNC's logo over the past 25 years.
TNC's corporate logo has long featured an oak leaf motif. It was originally the leaf of a white oak. Here is an image taken from the sticker on the rear window of my 13-year-old pick up truck. There is nothing flashy about this design. It is understated and somewhat utilitarian. When this logo was in use TNC had fewer than 100 employees and did not yet have offices in each of the 50 United States.
In the 1990s, TNC went through a dramatic transformation, scaling up from a company of several hundred people to one with 3,000 employees and an international program that focused heavily on Latin America and the Caribbean, and to a lesser degree in parts of Asia and the Pacific Rim. TNC launched an organization-wide capital campaign marketed around "Saving the Last Great Places" during this period, and it is still a phrase that resonates.
This logo is a professional looking product, with the oak leaf shifting from a backdrop for the company name to more of an accent. The script has an italic font, and the successful tag line "Saving the Last Great Places is now incorporated into the logo. This is the logo that was in use when I joined TNC, but it was soon to be replaced as the organization once again transformed, shifting its emphasis to truly conserving "the diversity of life on Earth" as called for in its mission statement.
The next version of the logo was adopted in 2000. It kept the unique italic font, making it slightly bolder, but moved the oak leaf to the back as a negative image against a nearly complete circle that is a slightly brighter green than the old leaf had been. The white oak leaf is now indeed "white". To reflect the global nature of TNC's conservation vision, the words "on Earth" were added to the tag line "Saving the Last Great Places." TNC's corporate headquarters in Arlington, VA became its "worldwide office", and it stepped up its efforts at marketing its brand. The capital campaign which the organization undertook during this period netted $1 billion dollars. I left TNC when this logo was still in use.
Today's new logo is a further refinement of the elements present in earlier iterations. The font is no longer italicized and "Nature" is larger than "Conservancy", which in turn is larger than "The". The circle is now a sphere, with three stylized oak leaves wrapped around it. To me they resemble continents on a globe - two are actually connected where the Isthmus of Panama would join the land masses South and North America. But my kids think it looks like a soccer ball, which after all is the global sport. The other significant change - besides yet a third shade of green - is the tag line "Protecting nature. Preserving life." There are echos here from TNC's mission language: "protecting...preserve...life." Those of us who work in conservation know that "biodiversity conservation" does not poll as well as preserving air and water quality or natural places for people to enjoy.
Whether a new brand identity that appears to position the organization as "the Earth's life preserver" will serve The Nature Conservancy as well as its previous corporate logos is a matter for them and their constituents to determine, but it is interesting to watch this evolution and try to read the signs in the oak leaves.