BlueCommunities Member Is Helping Build a Healthier Future for Land and Sea

In Iceland, a vast territory of 40,000 square miles (over 100,000 square kilometers) is populated by a tiny community of 370,000 inhabitants, two-thirds of which inhabit the capital, Reykjavik, or its vicinity in the south-west of the country.

Oftentimes, however, it is in these more remote outposts where human relationships flourish best, where one individual relies on a neighbor, or a friend, and vice versa. Often, too, when our proximity to nature reminds us of its – and our – vulnerability, especially in a time of climate change. And nowhere on earth is nature and vulnerability more viscerally present than in the volcanic landscapes and plunging coastlines of Iceland, clifftops that are not by accident frequently described as drop-offs that resemble the end of the earth. 

In amongst this unique territory and its necessarily hardy but always friendly people, brothers Steindór and Þorarinn Ivarsson founded WorldWide Friends in 2001, and are now twenty years on from an inception that has positively affected thousands of people locally, and internationally, over two decades. 

WorldWide Friends was founded as an organization promoting nature protection, peace-oriented activities, friendship, and international understanding among people. To some this may seem a throwback to a sixties decade of peace and love, but it’s often forgotten in the telling how many existential threats the world faced back then and how the summers of love were a fundamental response to newly visible horrors. So it’s really no accident to find the likes of the Ivarsson brothers fighting tooth and nail for the joined-up thinking of nature, society and human connections, because they know and understand that the world is not changed by grand gestures and the “scaling up” exercises of so much of the nonprofit world, but local activity, local opportunities, local action, day after day, after day. 


WorldWide Friends cleanup work in Hrutafjordur, in northern Iceland.

Local action which has now led to WorldWide Friends (or Veraldarvinir in the Icelandic) to being one the newest members of the BlueCommunities global initiative. 

“Me and my brother Steindór wanted to create an organization which is open to all people and where the base is Friendship because that is the ground for Peace,” says Þorarinn, although in typically disarming way he insists on being referred to as Tóti, the nickname everyone knows him by.

When all is said and done, however, WorldWide Friends’ running focus is on the environment. 

“We plant a lot of trees,” says Tóti, “that and cleaning the coastline – but we also do a lot of environmental education in our three centers in Iceland. In the past 20 years we have hosted nearly two thousand international volunteers and they have collectively contributed all together 2.15 million working hours to Icelandic nature.” 

Iceland tree planting

WorldWide Friends planting trees against the stunning Icelandic backdrop.

 Although Veraldarvinir’s success and longevity is clearly much to do with the Ivarsson brothers, it also has a great deal to do with the multi-sector approach to collaboration which they have taken, cooperating with communities, universities, government and the private sector. 

 “As soon as I started to learn about Veraldarvinir,” says Andrea Torres Saa, Regional Director in Europe for Plastic Oceans International, “I knew that they were a perfect fit for the BlueCommunities family. They embody a classic, but massively undervalued, combination of idealism and action. What else do you need to plan and build a better future?” 

 Not much. 

 Plastic Oceans international’s BlueCommunities program is fundamentally based around progressive action and custodianship by and for communities based on or near water, but one of the happy coincidences of its development has been how inspiring stories – often against the odds – continue to crop up. Twenty years of the Ivarsson brothers driving forward WorldWide Friends is right at the top of this list. 

 “We are good at field work and holding the spirit of Friendship high!” exclaims Tóti as he says farewell.

 What an amazing combination, from some amazing people. 

Jon Bonfiglio is Managing Editor of Plastic Oceans International’s written content and also reports on society, environment and politics for a variety of international publications and broadcasters including Times Radio, EuroNews and Talk Radio.