It's amazing to see how the seeds we helped plant can take root in
new places, each blossoming in their own way and growing strong. I seeded a
movement by revisiting the ancient power of mapmaking and refueling it with
local leadership, globally designed symbols and adaptable tools. This has
yielded a new medium for engagement, Green Maps, which now offers a fresh
perspective to 775 diverse communities. With hundreds of unique outcomes — printed
and interactive maps, websites, books, classes, exhibitions and events — that
promote and link thousands of green living, natural and cultural assets and
challenges around the world, I'm happy to share a bit of the story behind the
movement. I hope you will be inspired to visit GreenMap.org and use Green
Mapmaking to connect your own interests, skills and networks and support your
community's trajectory toward sustainability at the same time. (Wendy E. Brawer, eco designer and social innovator responded to
journalist David Kupfer's questions in September 2011.)
David Kupfer: What was your personal entre into the environmental
Wendy E. Brawer: I was given the initials WEB at birth, and always resonated with concept of
the web of life. I loved being outdoors as a child, but surging with creative
energy, I became an artist. I bicycled, heated with wood and ate vegetarian
food from the co-op – this was all rather normal back then in Seattle, where my
honey and I lived as young artists. So I was living green even before I started
working in the field and identifying as a movement member.
My moment of crystallization came in 1989 — I encountered an entrapped
orangutan. I wanted to help her, and she tossed me a stone that smacked sense
into my palm. This made me realize I had the freedom to do something that would
wake people up and help them view the world from a new perspective. This took
place in Yogyakarta Indonesia, where today, this orangutan is credited with
catalyzing the Green Map movement. She shifted my focus in a fundamental way. I came
home and starting learning more…
What is and what was your path to becoming an
We left Seattle and headed west in the mid-80's, on the adventure course. We
had a little apartment in Tokyo — just 150 sq feet — in an old-style neighborhood
where many temples and cemeteries were clustered after the big fire of 1923. So
even though it was intensively urban, there were beautiful green spaces that
were part of our everyday, and the streets were lined with beloved flowering
plants tumbling from containers of all types in front of every house. I
experienced mass transit with millions of people and learned how to live well
with less energy and less stuff. I deepened my appreciation for durable design
qualities. Tokyo's intensity made me want to learn more about applying design thinking
— I wanted to use it to address issues more directly than I had as an artist.
It was a natural shift — even back in Seattle, some of my work had blurred
the boundaries between art and design. I reused mixed materials and made works
that could be rearranged, abstractly mixing in the human element. I made my
first 'social sculptures' to encourage the free exchange of stuff in my 'Put N Takes'
in the Pike Place Market and other spots. I took my artistic license seriously.
I always enjoyed collaborating and this was important to my attitude towards
So when I returned to NYC after meeting the orangutan, it was at a transformation
time for me. I had already gained some design skills and studied environmental
issues. I went to classes, conferences and lectures, and joined groups involved
in waste reduction, cycling and population stabilization. My industrial design
teacher, Mark Seltman and I began co-teaching Design for the Environment in 1990 in the adult ed program at The
Cooper Union. This was a great vehicle for sharing ideas and resources at a
time when few existed. The class became a 'think and do' tank, and a great convergence
space. I become more solution oriented and purposeful as I infused eco-design
into my identity.
At the same time, I was thinking about green products — what could I
produce that was sustainable in both its message and its materials? I saw the world
as a delicate web — how could I help reveal and protect its complexity?
I had one foot on a tiny island that had an enormous influence and the
other foot leading me out into the world — what could I do to support others
getting who were getting involved in eco design? I co-started the first US
chapter of the O2 ecological designers network (o2.org)
and the other end of the spectrum, I was taking part in the Industrial
Designers Society of America to gain a soapbox with what I saw was at the crux
of the issue — designed obsolescence and a persistent 'designosaur' attitude
that was driving us toward extinction. As chair of IDSA's Eco committee, I
helped change the code of ethics and the annual design competition's criteria,
raising the bar on design education and practice. I was appointed Designer in
Residence at the Smithsonian Cooper-Hewitt, National Design Museum in 1997 and
in many ways was propelled there by my open attitude toward culture change that
was fueled by the inherent creative freedom I had gained as an artist as well
as the orangutan's gift. That's why I named my website
How, when and why did you create the first Green Map?
In December 1991, I was in a room full of sustainability folks up at the
United Nations. The Earth Summit 'prep com' was scheduled for March in NYC,
leading up to the main event in Rio in June 1992. With so many eco-leaders
coming to town, a wide range of group events, lectures and tours were being
proposed. I thought about the individual's experience. Would they see all the
signs of progress toward sustainability being made in NYC? I decided to make a
map — universally understandable, resource-efficient, and conceivably
publishable in a few weeks. I came up with the name — Green Apple Map — on the
spot and before the day was done, 10,000 copies were donated. The next day a
dozen cohorts got together and got organized. We celebrated with a mix of 250
New Yorkers and UN folks on the first day of spring offering talks and tours at
17 of the 143 sites on the freshly printed Green Apple Map.
What was the initial reaction?
The response was pretty positive — the Green Apple Map drew lots of nice local
and international press. There were many requests for copies and plenty of
suggestions for the next edition (which we published just a few months later). I
was thrilled when it was included in the awesome Power of Maps exhibit at the National
Design Museum in 1992.
The map started opening doors for me, too. I became the first greening
consultant for Times Square, designing 'self-emptying' recycling bins for 42nd
Street, researched materials for an architect, collaborated on a conceptual
plan to make Manhattan a zero emission vehicle island by 2010, contributed to
design classes and magazines and generally thrilled to be 'part of the
solution' in this ever-changing city, especially as it was changing for the
In seemingly no time, I was responding to people who wanted to make a Green
Map like ours for their community. I considered writing a book, but spent a lot
of time thinking about movement building. I observed people using maps and
noticed how important the symbols were. So I thought — a universal iconography
could connect locally-made Green Maps all over the world. But we needed a
system, a way to communicate and pioneers to test out ideas and create waves.
I brought these concepts — a visual language of sustainable initiatives
such as farmers markets, community gardens, solar sites etc., and a system for
helping people make and share maps — to the O2 event that took place in
Copenhagen in 1995 in parallel with the UN Social Summit (where I was invited
to speak about the greening of New York). Everyone put something on the O2 table
— and suddenly, there was a modem, a new medium for collaboration, a global
network of informed designers ready to co-create icons and make different kinds
of Green Maps for their communities and boom, we were on our way. I got http://GreenMap.org going and shepherded the icon development project
through its release as a font the following spring, and co-created the first of
the adaptable mapmaking guides.
ECOoperation published Copenhagen's first Green Map in 1996 — it was the
first to use the new icons and framework, and attracted more communities'
involvement. By the turn of the century, 36 unique locally-made editions were
changing perspectives and we had projects underway on every inhabited
continent. As seen on our Timeline*, our network has grown
steadily, with our movement surging as we launched the interactive Open Green
Map platform over the last couple of years. We're now in 775 cities, towns and
campuses in 59 countries.
me, it's been wonderful to work with great thinkers behind the maps — some of
whom have been there for Green Map for eons, like Misako Yomosa in Japan, Beth
Ferguson in Austin, Ciprian Samolia in Romania, Marco Kusumawijaya in Jakarta,
Maeve Lydon and Ken Josephson in Victoria and many more. David, as the third
San Francisco Green Mapmaker, you have opened many doors for the global program
and at the same time, created a compelling view of both Northern California and
the city — you are a good example of how mapmakers benefit their home and
planet at the same time. We also have longtime advisors like Bob Zuber and Nina
Reznick and our board, which includes people like Sara Tucker, Dia Center's IT
Director who has pitched in since Day Two and Thomas Turnbull who built the
Open Green Map and continually helps us move forward. Without them, and the
involvement of fresh interns, mapmakers and supporters everyday, it's doubtful
we could have made such great inroads in both the global north and south,
bridging the worlds of activists, students, designers and policymakers, and
created such a wealth of Green Maps and related murals, tours and events that
resonant with broad audiences. (See timeline here.)
Are Green Maps political tools or just educational?
Take a look at the stories in the book you can download free at
GreenMap.org/impacts. You'll see how they have contributed to policy change, helped
decision-makers and activists see eye to eye, reverse over-development plans,
make environmental and climate justice issues evident and create new
opportunities for green infrastructure. As education tools, civics classes have
used Green Mapmaking as participation in government tools. Amplifying local
voices for change, many of our 500 locally printed editions and over 200 Open
Green Maps have generated media attention that helped form pressure points on
local political issues too.
Critical assessment is part of every Green Map's research phase, ideal for
life-long learning. Educators find the resources in our Participate section
(shortcut GreenMap.org/youth) of value as they
seek to connect community and classroom, take part in planning and visioning
the future of their home place. There you can find resources that help youth get
involved with school energy conservation and develop expressive communications
skills. There's multimedia in that section as well as interesting papers are
online in the Universities section.
Can you explain the process of developing the iconography
for Green Maps?
Green Map Icons fill many roles — connector, promoter, identifier,
inventory tool — essentially we have given a globally recognized brand to the
signifiers of sustainability and consider these (currently copyrighted) icons
one of our most important assets. Printed, interactive, postcard, mural or
video, these icons are used on every Green Map.
Designing this living lexicon began with a list, and even now, when we
update and expand the Green Map Icons, the list is the starting point for a discussion
about the elements of sustainability at the community level. We talk about each
suggested theme as a network. We have aimed for broad meaning so we consider if
a new concept is already adequately covered by an existing icon, or does it
need its own — for example do we need permaculture, community kitchen, cancer
cluster or are we covered by the
icons for eco-agriculture, community center and unhealthy spot?
If you publish a Green Map locally, you can tweak an icon's title to
clarify it in the local context, and add icons your map team has developed (or
familiar symbols — such as transit station — that everyone in the community
knows) to your map. Currently, on the Open Green Map platform, we cannot make
changes, but there are 8 languages to choose from so we can include the
majority of the world's people. We created this tool (and the mobile and iPhone
tools that go with it) to reduce technological and financial barriers to online
mapmaking and sharing. Open to public viewpoint, images and ratings, the data
can be shared, compared and embedded in other websites, all highlighted by
Green Map Icons.
Before we started building the Open Green Map, we released Version 3 of the
award-winning Green Map Icons in May 2008. As is our practice, we created a new
font so the iconography is easy to use the icons with any application. We made
sticker sheets, flashcards, translation tools, and posters. The poster can be
downloaded here, along with related
resources, a bit of history and credits, even the means to search 'by the icon'
through the 18,000 sites on the Open Green Map platform. The poster includes a 'pattern code' to help locally designed icons and Version 4 harmonize with the
current set. Already, we have begun a list, and expect to use http://lab.greenmap.org to convene the discussion about updating this fall.
We'd love to have some help with this process. It's really important yet quite time
intensive — defining, designing, reaching a consensus, adding them to Open
Green Map in multiple languages, redeveloping posters, fonts, etc. If readers
of Reality Sandwich want to contribute, visit the icons' web page — or click here to pitch in.
Will these Icons become open source eventually? We hope so. In the
meantime, we invite sustainability-minded folks to register to use them on
Green Maps and related education and outreach resources at http://GreenMap.org/join, or to contact us at info
at greenmap.org if you want to discuss licensing them for another
How have/can young people become involved in Green Map
Youth Green Maps have been made since 1998, and young people took part in community
projects even before that time. 12 year olds even designed our youth friendly
Green Map Icon as they mapped out their vision of how to convert an army base
to public space in Calgary! Their expressive outcomes can be quite powerful,
especially when they choose to tackle tough issues. It's quite moving to see
how they frame what they have discovered and how it's given them the means to
communicate with peers, elders and decision-makers. We made some free downloads
— Energy and Environment Exploration modules for use in and out of the
classroom. Find these 'get your feet wet' tools and short overviews of youth
Green Maps at http://GreenMap.org/youth.
You have become an organic farmer, can you speak to
your motivation for that, and what are you growing where?
I think all of us who are involved in the movement need a place(s) where
you can put your hands on the earth and experience its richness in all seasons.
Even though I belong to a community garden in the city and have little plants gracing
my home and workspace, being part of an organic berry farm in a verdant valley
is a wonderful and eye-opening thing. Especially now that we are on the climate
roller-coaster, it's important to become more resilient and understand how
basic needs get met. I don't really think I have become an organic farmer or
even half farmer, half X' which is a Japanese transitional concept, but I sure
do enjoy the work and being there often. I keep Green Map bubbling on the front
burner from my little desk on the porch when I am there, keeping the flow in
balance as I draw closer to the planet and people I love.
The world is a beautiful place. Come and join me from the place where you
stand, and help everyone see it that way.
David Kupfer is a native of San Francisco, a city for which he recently
designed and produced a Green Map (www.sfgreenmap.org). He has worked as
an environmental consultant, greening Hollywood studios and
productions, Bill Graham Presents and String Cheese Incident Festivals,
Zen Centers and Taquerias, as an organic farmer and advocate,
environmental educator and activist, for the University of California's
Appropriate Technology Program as an editor and teacher, and has written
for a variety of national publications such as The Sun Magazine,
Progressive, Whole Earth, Hope, New Farm, Earth Island Journal, High
Times, Backpacker, Adbusters, Alternet, Sing Out!, Diva, Permaculture
Magazine and for the Directors Guild of America and California
Certified Organic Farmers.