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Embracing DNA, Expanding Horizons: The Panda Turns Fifty
Sherine Jayawickrama
December 2011

Produced for discussion at the Role of Brand in the Nonprofit Sector conference on December 8, 2011, with support from the Rockefeller Foundation.

Embracing DNA, Expanding Horizons: The Panda Turns Fifty
The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) was established fifty years ago to save endangered species from extinction. The first WWF office was established in Switzerland in April 1961 and the second was established in the United States in December of that year. Fifty years later, WWF is one of the largest conservation organizations in the world, operating in more than 100 countries and employing more than 5,000 staff. WWF is a global network of 30 self-governed national offices, five WWF associates operating under different names, and dozens of program offices each working under the direction of a national office. Over the years, WWF’s work has expanded beyond species conservation to include habitat preservation and pollution reduction. Acknowledging this expanded scope, the global organization changed its name in 1986 to the World Wide Fund for Nature. However, WWF offices in the United States and Canada retained the original name and, in 2001, the WWF network decided to use the original acronym “WWF” as its one global name. Notwithstanding the different names, WWF’s logo—the iconic panda—is cherished by the entire WWF network. Inspired by a popular panda named Chi Chi at the London zoo, the image was chosen as a symbol of species that would become extinct if no action was taken. The panda remains a trusted standardbearer for WWF’s increasingly ambitious goals. In some ways, the panda image has come to symbolize conservation efforts more broadly. Leaders of WWF are confronted with an intriguing challenge: how to leverage the panda brand to tell a sophisticated story and inspire action to help change the course of the planet’s environmental future? Carter Roberts, President & CEO of WWF US, accepts that challenge. “Pay close attention to the moment an organization is born. Your core DNA is established in that moment,” he says. “We were born fifty years ago to mount global coordinated campaigns to engage the world’s attention to save species and places far, far away.” Roberts points out that global coordination and species conservation are still central to WWF’s mission. He says charismatic species (like tigers, polar bears or pandas) provide a compelling point of entry into more complex matters like degradation of habitats and unsustainable corporate environmental practices. WWF US’ Chief Operating Officer Marcia Marsh agrees. “At fifty years, [the panda] is a summation of our values, what we stand for and what we’ve done during that period of time,” she says. “Our brand is the single greatest asset that our network has and it’s what keeps everyone together.” WWF’s work has grown to encompass protecting species and habitat, conducting scientific research, working with communities on conservation, helping tip markets toward sustainability, promoting responsible laws and policies, and engaging individuals to change their consumption behaviors. If WWF’s work is complex, the problems it is trying to solve are daunting. To make a difference, WWF’s efforts must be more strategic, more impactful and at larger scale. Roberts, Marsh and their colleagues believe that the WWF brand can be leveraged more extensively to deliver on the organization’s ambitions.

Clarifying Vision and Mission, Recalibrating Strategy
WWF International, based in Gland, Switzerland, serves as the international secretariat of the WWF network. In this role, it coordinates international campaigns, fosters global partnerships and licenses the WWF logo and brand to offices in the network. The WWF network is guided by a Global Program Framework and twin goals—focused on conserving biodiversity and reducing humanity’s ecological footprint—to be achieved by 2020 and 2050. To advance the biodiversity goal, WWF focuses on preserving priority species and priority places that are particularly important for biodiversity conservation. The footprint goal seeks to reduce the negative impacts of human activity by managing natural resources sustainably and equitably. Within this framework, WWF US focuses on conserving fifteen of the world’s most ecologically important regions through a combination of field programs, corporate partnerships, scientific research and policy advocacy. This strategy, developed seven years ago, was recently revisited by a three-person staff team. This process concluded that WWF US’ original strategy was largely on track. However, the recalibrated strategy recognized several trends—such as the decline of political support for environmental issues in the United States, and the increasing importance of Brazil, Russia, India, Indonesia, China, South Africa and Mexico geopolitically and in terms of rising consumption—that shape the challenges WWF must confront in


the future. The recalibrated strategy focused on doing more in three areas: (1) amplifying market transformation efforts tenfold; (2) building a powerful movement for conservation and sustainability; and (3) inculcating an ethic of valuing nature in public and private decisions. This strategy review process resulted in restating WWF US’ vision and mission in simpler language. The restated vision is of a future in which people live in harmony with nature. The restated mission is to conserve nature and reduce the most pressing threats to the diversity of life on earth. While neither statement is a dramatic departure in substance from previous versions, they both seek to convey with sharper clarity a sense of urgency and a solutions-oriented approach. Alongside the strategy review process, WWF US’ brand tracking and market research underscored an uncomfortable reality the organization’s leaders were already acutely aware of: while awareness of WWF was high (the brand was well recognized), understanding of what the organization did was low. Marcia Marsh, WWF US’ COO, speaks of how WWF is often thought of as “the species people” given the panda’s strong association with endangered species. “Having a really powerful and iconic brand, and one that evolved out of species, is helpful in some ways and can be limiting in others,” Marsh says. Steve Ertel, Director of Media & External Affairs, a member of the three-person strategy review team, notes: “We need to do a better job connecting the dots for people…we do a good job talking about what we do and how we do it, but we sometimes forget to talk about why we do it…the reason we care about climate change is because it’s the greatest threat to biodiversity and the species and places we care about…the reason we’ve identified fifteen commodities where we need to tip the market is because how those commodities are bought, produced and sold has a dramatic effect on ecosystems and the people and wildlife that depend on them for survival.” What are the implications of high awareness of the panda brand and low understanding of the complexity of WWF’s work? This top-line disconnect revealed in years of brand tracking belies some positive news. When information is provided on the breadth of WWF’s work, people feel even more positively about WWF. Marcia Marsh reflects on the evolution of the GE brand and compares it to the challenge ahead for WWF: how to convey a broad range of work but not lose your identity. “The challenge we’re faced with…is conveying how broad our work is…but still keeping a fairly simple message and brand identification,” explains Marsh.

Putting the Panda to Work: The WWF Brand in Action
WWF’s brand helps advance many aspects of the organization’s work—from field projects to fundraising and from corporate partnerships to policy advocacy. Market Transformation The premise of WWF’s work with corporations emerges from research indicating that the production of fifteen commodities (together with greenhouse gas emissions and water pollution) presents the greatest threat to WWF’s priority places. 100 corporations “touch” 25 percent of those fifteen commodities, which include palm oil, soy, cotton, sugarcane, timber and seafood. Given this concentration, WWF’s theory of change argues that, if it can positively influence the way these commodities are produced, traded and financed, then global markets for these commodities can be tipped toward sustainability. The viability of WWF’s theory of change hinges on the organization’s ability to attract the targeted corporations into partnerships that allow WWF to influence business practices from the inside. WWF’s brand is critical to establishing these relationships. Emily Kelton, Director of Corporate Relations at WWF US, explains that there is a sense of “you’re big, we’re big, so we understand each other” and a “kinship” in being multinationals with global brands. Suzanne Apple, Vice President of Business & Industry at WWF US, underscores that WWF’s reputation as independent, solutions-oriented, collaborative and reasonable is essential, not only to opening doors, but also to establishing a position of expertise from which to influence corporations’ practices. Apple muses, “it provides a…balance of power… a symmetry…because we understand the value of our brand just as [the corporation] understands the value of its brand… we aren’t so quick to give it away…because it has value.” Given the goodwill the WWF brand enjoys, corporations leverage the WWF brand internally to cultivate deeper employee engagement in sustainability work. For example, co-branded information on water conservation was received more positively at Coca-Cola bottling plants because employees saw WWF as bringing expert value and its information was not “yet another communication from headquarters”. Working with corporations whose environmental practices need improvement comes with risk, but WWF’s theory of change demands the engagement of these corporations rather than the ones that are already green. To safeguard against the risk that corporations may want to use the panda brand for a


“green wash” rather than genuinely change their practices, WWF conducts risk assessments before entering into partnerships and reserves the right to criticize corporate partners. WWF leaders see their brand as an asset that both allows them to take risk in the market transformation space (and withstand accompanying criticism) and provides them leverage to negotiate seriously with corporations. Field Programs Where WWF’s conservation programs take place, the WWF brand conveys a strong reputation built on years of field work. In national parks and conservation areas around the world, the panda is a highly recognizable symbol. “In many of the parks we have worked on around the world, in the heart of the Congo or the Terai in Nepal, you will see signs that have the logo of the national park service next to the panda,” says President & CEO Carter Roberts. While the danger that an iconic brand like WWF can crowd out smaller partners is very real, COO Marcia Marsh points to the upside. “Our brand can also lend a great deal of credence to a smaller group that’s in a partnership with us,” says Marsh. On banners in rural villages where WWF works with many small organizations “you see multiple brands up there…the one that’s the most famous is WWF but it’s right alongside tiny community forest organizations and others…and by virtue of being part of that one family…it gives them a lot of credibility with local governments, their communities and others,” argues Marsh. She adds “there’s probably greater value of [our] brand to some of those smaller organizations than there is for the bigger corporations.” Policy Advocacy WWF understands that laws and policies can help or hurt conservation efforts, and that citizens’ activism can influence legislators’ decisions. WWF’s brand as a pragmatic, collaborative, science-based organization, that is well-liked by the general public, helps open doors on Capitol Hill. That WWF is a membership-based organization with 1.2 million U.S. members does not go unnoticed. When it comes to pressing for climate legislation or similarly challenging advocacy efforts, one organization alone cannot make a difference, so WWF works in coalitions and campaigns with peer organizations. In collaborative efforts, brand cuts both ways. Will Gartshore, Senior Program Officer in U.S. Government Relations, recognizes the constant tension between “the strength in numbers approach to get everyone

pushing in the same direction” and “the desire to carve out your own space or be seen as your own voice.” In some instances, it is helpful to have a suite of distinctive voices and styles under one umbrella. In other instances, it is more powerful to see two brands side-by-side sending a powerful message, rather than what Gartshore terms “the pile-on approach of how many logos can you get on a poster.” On climate change, for example, bringing WWF’s brand together with the brand of CARE, a major humanitarian and development organization, sends a poignant message about the urgency and impact of the issue globally. Raising Awareness and Mobilizing Public Action The environmental challenges confronting the planet call for private and public action at large scale. Large-scale change in consumption behaviors are required to stem greenhouse gas emissions, conserve water, and reward sustainable corporate practices. The WWF brand offers an accessible entry point for individuals to learn how to help by changing their own behaviors and by wielding their power as consumers, voters or employees to press for sustainability. WWF’s website and its social media presence are avenues for awareness-raising and mobilization. Two-thirds of visitors to WWF US’ website are between 18 and 34 years old, and WWF US has a following of some 480,000 on Facebook. The 18-34 year old segment has higher awareness of WWF than any other conservation brand. Terry Macko, Senior Vice President for Marketing & Communications at WWF US, explains: “we’re cultivating individuals for long periods of time before they may ever donate money to us…because they care about our issues and can be activists…and can be learning.” The WWF network has catalyzed what has become the largest annual coordinated action for the environment: Earth Hour (see Exhibit A). Originating in Sydney, Australia in 2006 as a WWF Australia-inspired event to support climate action, Earth Hour has spread worldwide. In March 2011, Earth Hour saw hundreds of millions of people across 135 countries switch off their lights for an hour in a rolling blackout that swept across the world. From a branding perspective, Earth Hour is distinct for its own brand that stands apart from the WWF brand. The Earth Hour brand is open source: anyone can download tools, logos, and materials from the Earth Hour website and organize their own event. Terry Macko explains: “Earth Hour is completely accessible…anyone can participate…money is never asked for…open source was the best way to go because if it was owned too much [by WWF] it might feel exclusionary to some people.” Spurred by the appetite for public action, Earth


Hour is encouraging people to “go beyond the hour” to do more to secure a sustainable future. Leaders throughout the WWF network are taking note of this open source brand experience. Fundraising and Cause Marketing WWF US’ annual revenue is drawn from a diversity of sources including individual contributions (partly from its 1.2 million members), government grants and contracts, foundation contributions, corporate contributions and in-kind contributions. The WWF brand draws some $50 million annually in free advertising on radio, television, billboards and bus shelters around the country. Fundraising with corporations—distinct from WWF’s market transformation work—is also facilitated by the strength of the brand, allowing WWF to seek out corporations that it wants to engage in philanthropic partnerships. “ [The brand] is absolutely critical in getting your phone call returned…WWF is a well-known entity,’” says Emily Kelton, Director of Corporate Relations at WWF US. The slight downside, Kelton says, is that people sometimes have the perception that WWF “only cares about animals and could try to end the conversation there” but more often than not, there is time to explain and clarify. WWF’s strongest corporate partnerships have three dimensions: market transformation, philanthropy and cause marketing. An example is The Coca-Cola Company’s partnership with WWF, launched in 2007. This partnership aims to conserve seven major river basins in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Americas, improve water efficiency and reduce carbon emissions in CocaCola’s global manufacturing operations, and promote sustainable agriculture practices in the company’s supply chain. The two organizations are now teaming up on a major cause marketing campaign called Arctic Home (see Exhibit B). Starting in November 2011, Coca-Cola is introducing limited-edition white cans to call attention to the need to protect polar bears’ Arctic habitat. Coca-Cola has committed $2 million to WWF’s polar bear conservation efforts and consumers can join the effort by using their package code to text a donation to WWF. Coca-Cola will match all donations made with a package code by March 15, 2012, up to a total of $1 million. Multi-Stakeholder Convening Multi-stakeholder collaboration is essential to advancing WWF’s goals. The organization has, over the years, honed its capacity to convene multiple stakeholders in global problem solving efforts. The Forest Stewardship Council and Marine Stewardship Council are two examples of free-standing certification programs

that have emerged from WWF-convened deliberations. WWF’s Save Tigers Now campaign focuses on raising awareness about the threat of extinction facing wild tigers due to poaching and deforestation. The Tiger Summit, hosted by Vladimir Putin in November 2010, saw all thirteen countries that still have wild tigers commit to doubling the global population of wild tigers by 2020, adopting the goal of WWF’s Year of the Tiger campaign.

Managing an Iconic Brand: It Takes a (Networked) Village
Given the WWF network’s reliance on the brand’s good standing for every aspect of its work, stewarding the brand is a critical responsibility. When Danielle Chidlow, Director of Brand Strategy arrived at the international secretariat three years ago, she took on the process of clarifying “what it means to be WWF.” The first step was articulating the Brand DNA and the next step was developing brand guidelines. Clarifying the Brand DNA The process of articulating the Brand DNA took six months and involved every national office and program office in the WWF network. The “straw man” developed in Gland, Switzerland was discussed by phone, using a Webex presentation, with staff in every office. The Brand DNA is captured in what is called WWF’s “KODE”: • Knowledgeable (conveying scientific expertise) • Optimistic (conveying a solutions-orientation) • Determined (conveying passion, urgency and commitment) • Engaging (conveying openness and accessibility) After six months, Chidlow had spoken with some 350 people and received extensive feedback. “As we went to the Assembly1 [meeting], there wasn’t a single office…able to say we haven’t had a chance to input into this,” says Chidlow. Indeed, the Brand DNA proposal received a standing ovation. Establishing Brand Guidelines The next step, focused on developing brand guidelines, sought to translate the Brand DNA through a set of “recipes”. “We were trying to make it easy, because…if it’s not easy, people are just not going to do it,” says Chidlow. She adds “I didn’t want us to have a discussion across the network about color palettes and

The WWF Assembly, consisting of chief executives of WWF national offices and representatives of WWF program offices, meets annually to consider and vote on issues of policy and strategy.


typefaces for the sake of it because I think no one had time for that, and it was just too dull…but we needed to understand how the guidelines were actually going to contribute to the strategic goals of WWF.” The guidelines focused on key principles such as inspiring positive change and helping WWF be known for the sum of its work. A design solution to accomplish the latter is a stencil of the panda that allows for other images (e.g. forest, sea, boardroom) to be placed behind it to help the panda stand for more than just species (see Exhibit C). Templates were created for reports, brochures and publications so that offices can use them rather than hiring their own design expertise. This is valuable for smaller WWF offices. Products that national offices had in the pipeline were used to illustrate the new guidelines and these flagship products helped to build support for the brand guidelines by demonstrating tangible value. Building Internal Capacity to Tell WWF’s Story Shared understanding of vision and mission | WWF US, like other offices in the WWF network, fed into the Brand DNA and applies the brand guidelines to its own context. With the recent restatement of its vision and mission, WWF US is working to build shared understanding of these statements among staff with mandatory training sessions. Terry Macko, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, notes that it is easy to think that “everybody gets it and understands it because you print it and it’s on your website, but those push communications are so different [compared to] people being able to speak to it in a meaningful way.” Staff were engaged through an elevator speech contest that asked people how they would describe WWF in 30 seconds. Initially, the plan was to select a winning elevator speech, but as the entries were judged, the importance of personal stories became evident. “One single ‘company line’ doesn’t work…it just doesn’t ring true,” noted Kerry Zobor, Vice President of Institutional Communications at WWF US. As a result, three entries were chosen as examples of how personal stories can bring WWF to life. Developing master communicators | WWF US has developed a Master Communicators Program for key staff who are important brand ambassadors. WWF seeks to empower these individuals to communicate WWF’s vision and goals, inspire others, infuse strategic communications into their work, and mentor others to be effective communicators. Core communications skills training is paired with private coaching, and followed by half-day workshops on topics like media interviews, social and digital media, public hearings, and donor and partner

interactions. This program has generated interest among WWF’s Global Initiative leaders for whom the program will be expanded beyond its U.S. pilot. The discipline of story themes | Given the complexity of WWF’s work, managing the brand involves telling WWF’s stories in a way that conveys both breadth and clarity. “A big challenge with our brand is that we’re trying to do too much…we have many, many approaches…we work in many, many areas…the problem we get into, from a brand standpoint, is that we start telling very specific stories without thinking about what the big picture is,” says Jill Schwartz, Director of Program Communications at WWF US. Schwartz described the process of articulating a few overarching story themes that roll up into the new mission statement, and then aligning each story with one of those themes. Two of those themes are innovation and nature’s value. Imposing the discipline of story themes is not easy in an organization which has a culture of independence, especially among its scientists. The Marketing and Communications division used to be like “a drive-up window at a fast food restaurant,” jokes Schwartz, referring to the frequent requests for factsheets, brochures and other materials on a variety of projects and initiatives, without regard for what the combination of those materials conveyed about WWF. An umbrella message | At a broader level, WWF US has been considering how a simple, umbrella message could offer a way to talk about the breadth of WWF’s work while still retaining a simple, emotional call. This umbrella message “Be the Voice for Those Who Have No Voice” is in the process of being rolled out. It is a call to action for ordinary people to be a voice for species, places or people who are affected by threats to nature. Back to basics: the importance of walking the talk | Even as leaders in WWF steward their iconic brand with care, they realize that the brand cannot just be projected and controlled from the center. “The traditional model of being able to handle and police things top-down is pretty much gone and, if anybody believes that it’s still there, then they haven’t logged on,” argues Sudhanshu Sarronwala, Executive Director of Marketing and Communications at WWF International. Sarronwala muses “the old world of ‘this is my message and this is what it’s going to be’ is clearly over…in a funny way, that actually brings you back to basics because that means you need to walk the talk… if you want to be seen as a brand that has a high degree of integrity and credibility.” In an era shaped by social and digital media, “back to basics” means that transparency, proactive communications and listening will become vital skills for WWF.


Holding the WWF Experience up to the Nonprofit Brand IDEA Mirror
The Hauser Center for Nonprofit Organization’s research on the role of brand in the nonprofit sector has elicited a conceptual framework—the Nonprofit Brand IDEA—to help nonprofit organizations keep their brands in service to their mission and true to their values and culture. The text box at right explores how WWF’s experience connects with the central aspects of IDEA (brand Integrity, brand Democracy, brand Ethics and brand Affinity).

From Membership to Movement
Looking back at fifty, the panda can be proud. Looking forward, the challenges confronting the planet are enormous. WWF’s current efforts, even with myriad partnerships, will be inadequate in the face of these challenges, unless action at significant scale can be mobilized. WWF US’ recent strategic review recognized this and prioritized the need to catalyze a broader, stronger movement to champion the issues at the heart of WWF’s mission. This is currently receiving close attention at WWF US: an internal staff team and a board committee are considering this challenge. Discussions on movement-building will be the centerpiece of upcoming WWF US Board meetings. The WWF brand is seen as a key strategic asset to help catalyze such a movement. “How do we use our brand to mobilize hundreds of millions of people?” asks President & CEO Carter Roberts. He argues that WWF’s brand gives the organization “an enormous leg up” in building a movement, and acknowledges that WWF’s membership is an asset. The limits of a fundraising-centric approach to membership have been underscored by the sobering experience of failing to secure climate legislation in the United States, despite the efforts of WWF and its peer organizations. In the future, when such opportunities arise, WWF wants to be positioned with broad enough public support to secure responsible action. Sprinkled around the WWF network are seeds of what could evolve into a movement. Earth Hour demonstrates how an open source brand and self-organizing platform that stands apart from WWF can catalyze large-scale coordinated public action. Arctic Home offers a glimpse of how the massive reach of a distribution system and global brand like Coca-Cola’s can be leveraged to shine a light on environmental issues. WWF International’s large social media following—some 750,000 on Facebook and 490,000 on Twitter—and its ability to mobilize online activism is another valuable seed. The most important

• rand Integrity B Brand tracking reveals a disconnect between how the WWF brand is perceived (species) and what the organization does (species + market transformation + community-based conservation + climate change + more). Recent work to clarify mission and vision statements, and recalibrate strategy at WWF US has been accompanied by internal efforts (e.g. brand guidelines, story themes, Be the Voice messaging platform) to help the panda convey the breadth of the organization’s work without compromising its clarity and emotional pull. • rand Democracy B Staff are seen as key brand ambassadors. WWF is emphasizing shared understanding of the mission, vision and strategy, and providing the communications (especially storytelling) skills to express the brand. A Master Communicators Program is being piloted to help key outward-facing staff build the skills required to be successful communicators. • rand Ethics B WWF seeks to convey its core values of results, integrity and respect through the brand and in how the brand is deployed. The traits associated with the brand (e.g. science-based, a force for good, solutions-oriented, rational, independent) speak well to these values. In corporate partnerships, where the risk of “green wash” is ever present, WWF is vigilant about protecting its brand reputation, reserving the right to criticize corporations that do not live up to their promises. • rand Affinity B An iconic brand like the panda runs the risk of crowding out others or taking center stage. WWF is deliberate about deploying its brand with sensitivity. Earth Hour was catalyzed by WWF and is still supported by WWF, but is an independent, open source brand. In the advocacy space, there is a constant and healthy tension between carving out WWF’s own space/voice and building strength in numbers. In the field, WWF’s brand alongside small local groups can lend collective efforts credence with local authorities and communities.


seeds spring from WWF’s programmatic efforts—in its priority places and in corporate boardrooms—where practices are being changed and where the ethic of valuing nature is being inculcated. These seeds are sprinkled far afield but they need to be cultivated for what they can yield in movement-building potential. WWF’s challenge is how to inspire, equip and guide people throughout the extended WWF family (the WWF network, its supporters, its partners and those who come into contact with the brand) to contribute to building a movement that can be larger than WWF and, to some extent, beyond WWF’s control. Terry Macko, Senior Vice President of Marketing and Communications, who is leading the organization’s thinking on movement-building, is asking good questions. “Are nonprofits coopting movement language to describe things that go viral?” he wonders. Macko wonders: “can organizations start movements or do organizations form around movements?” He recognizes the danger that strong brands can crowd out others and that organizations may feel tempted to advance marketing interests under a movement banner. How can broad ownership of movement-building be inculcated throughout WWF, even though it is being anchored in one part of the organization (Marketing and Communications)? What is the urgent rallying cry that would mobilize the kind of movement WWF seeks? Is the panda brand perceived as too reasonable, too above-the-fray and too play-it-safe to generate the kind of outrage that is essential fuel for movements? Is the organization too risk-averse to step back from a role of catalyst to provide space for self-organization, while standing in solidarity with the movement even if it strays from the panda’s comfort zone? It is important that the organization ask such questions as it charts a course forward.

Exhibit A
Earth Hour tools and downloads

Sample “How To” Guides (available for download on Earth Hour website): • ow Your Business Can Support Earth Hour H • ow Your School Can Support Earth Hour H • ow Your Hotel Can Support Earth Hour H • ow Landlords Can Support Earth Hour H • ow Your Religious Organization Can Support Earth Hour H Template Communications (available for download on Earth Hour website): • usiness letter to local government B • mployee to employee email E • usiness letter to suppliers B


Exhibit B
Products and communications related to the Arctic Home campaign


Exhibit C
Outcomes related to WWF International brand guidelines development

The panda stencil revealing an image of the sky (to convey clean air)

A distinct graphic style for a science-led organization with a broad audience


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