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The Fraught History Of The EPA Logo

EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt reportedly thinks the seal looks like “a marijuana leaf.” This isn’t the first time the EPA’s iconography has irked politicians.

The Fraught History Of The EPA Logo
[Image: United States Environmental Protection Agency]

The 1970s were an exciting time for design in the federal government. With a mandate from Richard Nixon, government agencies from NASA to the USPS and the National Park Service created strong, iconic identities with help from some of the era’s most famous designers. That included the EPA, which Chermayeff & Geismar christened with a graphic identity that’s recently been reprinted for fans of the era’s work. However, it seems that the current administrator of the EPA is not a fan of this heady era of design.

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The Chermayeff & Geismar EPA logo. [Image: United States Environmental Protection Agency]
According to The New York Times, EPA administrator Scott Pruitt wanted to redesign the agency’s seal and logo for use on a souvenir coin and other items. Rather than the four-leafed daisy of the EPA seal or the two-leafed logo, Lisa Friedman and Kenneth Vogel report that:

Mr. Pruitt instead wanted the coin to feature some combination of symbols more reflective of himself and the Trump administration. Among the possibilities: a buffalo, to evoke Mr. Pruitt’s native Oklahoma, and a Bible verse to reflect his faith.

According to the Times, Pruitt “felt it looked like a marijuana leaf.”

The seal Pruitt took issue with doesn’t seem to be quite the design that Chermayeff & Geismar created in 1977. That’s because he isn’t the first administrator to take issue with or changed the agency’s logo–in fact, the EPA seal has been the source of political controversy before.

The seal of the EPA with the four-leafed logo. [Image: United States Environmental Protection Agency]
When Ronald Reagan appointed Anne Gorsuch–the late mother of Supreme Court Justice Neil Gorsuch–to lead the EPA in 1981, Gorsuch preferred the agency’s old, four-leafed daisy design. “She took one look at it and said, ‘I want my daisy back.’ I think after that her staff started to diminish the system, and it slowly started to disappear,” the lead designer Steff Geissbuhler told Co.Design in 2017. Today, the EPA officially lists the daisy design as its seal, but the Chermayeff & Geismar design as its logo and past seals have oscillated between the pre-1977 logo and the modern design.

If nothing else, the report is a fascinating glimpse into the politicization of design in the federal government–where a logo comes loaded with visual and political baggage. We’ve reached out to the EPA for comment and will update this post if we hear back.

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About the author

Kelsey Campbell-Dollaghan is Co.Design's deputy editor.

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