Pantone Color Of The Year 2019: Of ‘Living Coral’ Fantasies vs. ‘Dying Coral Reef’ Reality

With global carbon emissions climbing and coral reefs dying, Pantone chose “Living Coral” its colour of the year for 2019. Guest author Lara Keuthen argues that it’s a massive opportunity missed.

Pantone ‘Living Coral’ Dreams
In A World Of Dying Coral Reefs

Guest post by Lara Keuthen, Peppermynta Eco Magazine
Translation and adaptation: Nath Fedorova

Once in a year, the colour of the year is declared by the Pantone Color Institute. For 2019, Pantone Living Coral is here to paint our grey, digital daily grind a warm and beautiful shade — a „life-affirming coral hue with a golden undertone“. If only the coral could hear that. By 2030, 60% of the world’s coral reefs are expected to be highly or critically damaged*.

It takes only a couple of hours for the entire world of design, fashion and advertising to know. Drum roll please. The Pantone Color of the Year is: Living Coral.

We start poetizing immediately — the colour warmth, the emotions of the beholder. Tonal moodboards everywhere you look; hi there, you pretty, brand new, colourful year, there at last!

PANTONE 16-1546 Living Coral emits the desired, familiar, and energizing aspects of color found in nature. In its glorious, yet unfortunately more elusive, display beneath the sea, this vivifying and effervescent color mesmerizes the eye and mind“, touts the official announcement.

Dear reader, you might be wondering by now what’s the problem.

The problem is: one of the largest colour psychology curators of the world draws inspiration from nature — but fails to mention the threat imposed on this very phenomenon, fails to raise awareness for the critically damaged coral reef ecosystem.

Overall, 12% of the earth surface is protected. The oceans get a paltry 1%. In my opinion, Pantone Living Coral should have been a tribute to this glorious and vital ecological system. When I shared the colour news with my Peppermynta colleague Fenja, she got excited: “A charity action? Raising awareness for the coral reefs? Oh how wonderful!” What a delightful moment of wishful thinking. Dear Pantone Institute, why don’t you donate a fraction of the profits from each Pantone Living Coral cup, key ring or notebook you sell to global coral reef protection? Those tiny cnidarians don’t only make more than 20% of the world’s fish stocks. No, they are an essential part of the global climate. They protect the coastlines, they guide the ocean currents**. It makes me so sad to realise that our glitzy world of consumption can help itself to all the colours and wonders of Mother Nature it likes — without giving anything back. Although there are the funds, as there is the reach.

Coral Fantasies… Of A Different Kind

And suddenly, the scales fell from my eyes. This coral fish. In front of the very coral coral. Against the perfect, complementary, bubbly blue. Made me wonder how long the Pantone photographer had to snorkel looking for this perfect motive. *irony*

What’s worse, the involuntary fish model seems to be a blood parrot cichlid, an anatomically deformed, artificially bred and highly controversial aquarium hybrid sometimes used for advertisement — which can include injecting the fish with the desired colours or even laser-cutting logos into their scales.

After this research all I ask myself is: was this coral even painted by the set designer or during post-production? Was this fish enhanced in colour? Are both carving out a miserable existence in an aquarium somewhere? Who knows.

Pantone themselves up the ante: “Pantone is aware of the dire state of coral reefs globally and while this is a bleak reality facing our oceans, through this colour we want to celebrate and showcase the beauty of coral in its natural, vivid state – and its other natural manifestations found in sunsets, flora and fauna” — Leatrice Eiseman, Pantone Color Institute Executive Director, said in an interview with dpa. ***

Pantone Living Coral vs. The Dying Reefs

No question marks, friends. Coral is a wonderful colour worth showcasing and celebrating.
Although let me tell you, the name is misleading — corals come in a vast multitude of colours. Their vibrant presence creates a wondrous explosion of buoyant colour underneath the water surface. But there’s a “but” to this. Our team went to the Maldives in 2018 and witnessed the coral reef dying first-hand: the sight of the dead, moon-like underwater landscape was one of the most depressing moments of the last year.

So let’s start a mission. Let’s choose fair fashion and green make-up in gorgeous shades of coral and each time this earns us a compliment, let’s tell the people that it’s going to be “dying coral” pretty darn soon. This colour should be a reminder that this planet is our beautiful home. We’re not visiting.

And we want to remain a “living human” species.

A slightly longer version of this article first appeared in German in the Peppermynta Eco Magazine in December 2018. Sources (links section below), translation and adaptation by Nath Fedorova.
Cover image: © pola und helena (used with permission).


Lara Keuthen studied cultural anthropology, works as a freelance writer and prefers to ask questions twice rather than never. After a bold agency career, she decided to escape the global player system. Her heart beats for spirituality, yoga and a holistic approach to sustainable living.
Since April 2018 she has been the managing editor of PEPPERMYNTA, a blogazine invented and created for people who like to be themselves and to be surrounded by beautiful things — but not on the expense of others. PEPPERMYNTA uncovers the richness of fair fashion, natural beauty and eco lifestyle by proving that consumption, indulgence and mindfulness can be in perfect harmony.


* World Resources Institute report
** A list of environmental issues with coral reefs
** Coral reef function, WWF
*** dpa interview