First the governor lost its manhood and now only days later Store Norske’s ice-hard embodiment has gone soft.
A new logo for the century-old company whose coal mining was essentially the sole reason for Longyearbyen’s existence until recent years was unveiled this week, reflecting what its leader calls the vastly more diverse and flexible mission being pursued as mining has largely ceased.
“Our new logo still shows the recognizable polar bear with its young,” Jan Morten Ertsaas, the company’s administrative director, said in a prepared statement. “But in our new logo, the polar bear family has broken out of their ice floe and is on the move, as is Store Norske.”
The announcement came days after a decree by the Norwegian government that all job titles be gender-neutral, meaning the Sysselmannen (The Governor of Svalbard) will need a new name by Jan. 1. It also happens to coincide with a mass “renaming” movement of everything from monuments to pancake syrup in the U.S. and elsewhere due to politically correct concerns about racism and related issues, although in Svalbard the public debate is far more focused on the significance to its community identity, history and future.
Longyearbyen is in the midst of a drastic and long-term transition due to the loss of mining, a massive demolition and rebuilding of homes and businesses due to avalanche and landslide threats caused by climate change, and a rapidly shifting global focus to the Arctic for tourism, research and economic purposes. The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly shaken up economic activity and the planning process, which was already tumultuous as what was once a workforce dominated by stable high-paying jobs is largely being replaced with less secure jobs occupied by a high percentage of foreigners.
“One of our most important tasks is to secure good safe jobs in Svalbard,” Ertsaas said. “We are working hard to achieve this in the future and we will continue to be a good partner for business in Svalbard. For over a hundred years, Store Norske has been a cornerstone company in Longyearbyen. We will continue to do so.”
The company has long been involved in other industries, mostly notably property management as Longyearbyen’s dominant landlord. As the city has has evolved from a company town into a more typical family community during the past couple of decades it has also become involved in logistics, tourism, mining of other minerals and renewable energy.
“We are an energy producer, and have experience ranging from supplying coal to the energy plant to operating diesel power plants in Svea and at Isfjord Radio,” Ertsaas said. “In recent years, in addition to normal operations, we have focused on new, sustainable energy solutions for Svalbard. At Isfjord Radio we are in the process of conducting an energy conversion where the goal is to phase out diesel in favor of renewable energy. We have also initiated other projects where we are looking at opportunities to develop new activities related to the development, testing and operation of various energy solutions at Svalbard in collaboration with both local and central players.”
The company reached its modern-day coal mining peak during the late 1990s and early 2000s, and was still anticipating at least a couple decades more of profitable operations in 2012 when it employed 400 people. But a price collapse triggered record losses that by the end of 2015 put the company near bankruptcy, and all major mining operations were halted and more than 300 employees laid off during the next few years despite a series of attempts by the Norwegian government to provide bailouts and other financial assistance.
Reaction to the company’s new logo on its social media sites reflected less on the aesthetics of its design than the perceived and actual circumstances making officials believe it was necessary.
“It shows that the impossible: the illusion of a happy polar bear family and a happy mining future was just that – an illusion,” wrote Anne Lise Klungseth Sandvik, a Longyearbyen resident for more than 40 years who was an employee at the company from her arrival until retirement.
Janne H. Åfløy stated it reflects “A lot of history. Which is now being razed to the tundra,” referring to the fact Store Norske’s two major mines are now being completely disassembled and the areas restored to their natural state.
As for the design itself?
“The old one was finest,” wrote Ole Sollid. “But when you absolutely have to change, this is not bad.”