Peace Plus One

Ashley Thorne

I recently searched “Triple Bottom Line” on Flickr, looking for an illustration for my Encyclopedia of Sustainability. I was expecting the typical Venn diagram – three overlapping circles labeled society, economy, and environment – but instead found picture after picture of people holding up three fingers, like the peace sign, except with one extra finger. It’s “Peace Plus One.” Following the trail from Flickr, I found that the three fingers, instead of symbolizing “W for war” as they used to, represent the three pillars of sustainability. 

According to the notes on one Flickr picture, we should “understand that the Sustainability Symbol represents a personal interest in living a good and prosperous life - a life of balance in 3 dimensions - Society, the Environment and the Economy - or if you like ‘People, Planet and Profit.’” Also, going with the W theme: Wealth, Wisdom, and Wellness.

The Flickr notes included a list of websites to find the history of the sustainability symbol. It seems the visual movement was set in motion by a group called the McMaster Institute for Sustainable Commerce, not affiliated with McMaster University in Ontario, Canada. The Institute’s namesake Philip McMaster (“Professor P!”), however, is Canadian. He came up with the “Sustain-o-Meter” and the “Secret Sustainability Symbol.”

McMaster seems to have effectively proselytized in China, for the t-shirts, teddy bears, mousepads, throw pillows, BBQ aprons, wall clocks, journals, button, and stickers in the Balance and Harmony Shop all bear the Peace Plus One logo in both Chinese and English. According to his LinkedIn page, McMaster was educated at the Chinese University of Hong Kong and Chongqing University, and he believes “China is one of the most important players in the serious game to save the world.”

The McMaster Institute’s website is stagnant (the last update was 2½ years ago), but PeacePlusOne.com, SustainabilitySymbol.com, (“Learning to Save the World...3 Fingers at a Time”) and Dragonpreneur.com (“Are you part of the PROBLEM or the SOLUTION?”) have more to explore. Peace Plus One informs visitors how they can become a “Climate Change Agent”: “Just send us the link address to your online 3 finger photo, and we will add you to the growing number of world citizens who say: ‘I AM the SOLUTION’ and use the 3 finger Sustainability Symbol to show their meaningful contribution to saving the world.” And Sustainability Symbol gives the history of the three-finger salute:

The history of the Sustainability Symbol started with teaching Social Enterprise ant Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) to MBA students in Hong Kong.  Philip McMaster, known to his students as Professor P, (some suggest it’s [sic] “Professor Planet”) was constantly illustrating successful, long-lived business models based on attention to the “Triple Bottom Line” - not just Economic responsibilities, but also responsibility for Society and the Environment.

The use of the 3 finger symbol was so successful, that Professor P and his students decided to bring it out of the academic halls of the Chinese University of Hong Kong and introduce it to the general population.

The first “Public” speech and introduction was at the Envrionmental [sic] Awards Celebration of Environmental Protection Association of Hong Kong - February 1st, 2007.

Dragonpreneur is a charming term coined by Professor P to combine “dragon spirit” with entrepreneurship skills. According to Sustainable Symbol, Dragonpreneurs are people who “change the world through learning and practicing ethical, sustainable and highly innovative lessons, rising above the competition and capturing the imagination of the 21st century.”

McMaster and the many iterations of his theme seem to have captured the imagination of a good many people. The evidence is all over Flickr: just search “sustainability” and you find his fingerprints. The trend he initiated is striking in its visibility—an international symbol that could become as universal and recognizable as the peace sign signals a movement of fire-breathing potential.

This was all brought home when I read the ruminations of Inside Higher Ed blogger “G. Rendell,” (a pseudonym of “a sustainability administrator at a large private research university”) on the awarding of the Nobel Peace Prize to President Obama. A comment on his post lectured, “Yes, we ALL would like to be at peace with the world and talk things over like civilsed [sic] beings. Peace is a positive attitude, not just the absence of war, but thinking of ways to avoid wasteful future disaster and to live harmoniously as world citizens.”

One way to show that positive attitude is to display the peace plus one sign. We at NAS have coined the terms sustainatopians (Sustainability advocates who want to create utopia on earth, no matter the cost to mankind) and justainability (justice + sustainability) as a result of our research on the campus sustainability movement. McMaster seems to have claimed his territory and terms, so we’ll let him speak for himself. But keep an eye out; while the popularity of the “secret sustainability symbol” is now largely limited to China, I predict we’ll be seeing much more of it soon.

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