In the early 90s, Yoon Ho-seob was at the peak of his career as an advertisement designer. At the very front of the money-spinning marketing world, he designed logos for global companies like Pepsi Co. and international events such as 1988 Summer Olympics.
Then one day, a thought struck him that he may be on a train running at full speed toward the edge of the cliff. Civilization, consuming resources at an ever-accelerating pace, had reached a point of no turning back, he thought.
“I couldn’t live the way I did in the past, splurging Earth’s resources,” Yoon, now professor emeritus of design at Kookmin University, told The Korea Herald.
He decided to live a life of an artist and environmental activist.
Yoon Ho-seob, professor emeritus of Kookmin University, talks during an interview with The Korea Herald. (Ahn Hoon/The Korea Herald)
In 2002, Yoon started a street campaign -- drawing the same message “Every Day is Earth Day” on T-shirts. Ever since, every Sunday between April and September, he was on the street of Insa-dong, a popular tourist district in Seoul, spreading the “green virus” among ordinary people.
In the beginning, people called him an eccentric and said they couldn’t understand why he abandoned such a high-flying career all of a sudden.
“I consider myself normal,” Yoon said, saying it was a natural transition for him once he started thinking about the continuing destruction of the planet being done by mankind.
“In fact, I think we all should think about how we should live as a human being,” he said.
When you first start acting like an environmentalist, some people may raise their eyebrows. But think of it as a green virus, he says.
“You know that viruses are contagious? This green virus, too, can spread quicker, if we can plant a green factor in the mind of at least one person,” he said.
His efforts to spread the green virus are far-ranging, although the weekly T-shirt drawing event is what he is most known for.
At his university, he has pioneered eco-friendly design education to help incorporate environmental consideration in creative thinking of future artist and designers.
In 2004, his “Green Design” course first opened at Kookmin University which through he fostered talented artists with an eye for environmental problems.
He emphasized that artists and designers should put effort into balancing people’s minds through green designs, in a materialistic society where competition is fierce and artworks are mass produced.
“Finding balance for coexistence while living in an ever-so capitalistic society is really important,” Yoon said.
At his own atelier, Yoon holds a workshop every week, with the main theme of “Think about Trees.”
The weekly workshop is intended to help teens to think about trees and eventually reconnect with nature.
“I ask them to close their eyes and listen to the sounds I make. I rub two steel dishes and interestingly it sounds like as if I’m cutting a tree. Sometimes it sounds like trees swaying in the wind.”
Yoon also reads to the teens a book called “The Man Who Planted Trees” by French author Jean Giono.
Through his workshop, this book has been transcribed by hand for more than 10,000 times, he said.
The 400-word-long tale has been transcribed not only by those who visited workshops. Many who never visited it sent transcription copies to his atelier. He gathered the transcription copies and exhibited them as part of his artpiece at a show.
“This one class at an elementary school in Siheung have been sending me transcription copies for four years. That is, it is really important to spread the green virus among students from a young age,” said Yoon.
He said that many Koreans are still “environmentally blind,” which according to him means feeling at a loss over what to do to protect the environment and how to find a balance in their lives for coexistence with nature.
But a small change in thinking can help. Going green can start with trivial things like not littering on the street, he stressed.
“We all know we should not litter on the street, avoid making food waste, unplug televisions and refrigerators to save electricity, we all are very well aware of how to go green,” said Yoon.
By Kim Da-sol (firstname.lastname@example.org