Planet Forward in Iceland By Frank Sesno

Early in the morning, in mid-July, a group of weary but eager students huddled in the baggage claim area at the airport outside of Reykjavik. They’d flown all night. Some had gotten a little sleep, but most were simply wired and running on adrenaline. The students had been anticipating this trip since April, when they won the Planet Forward Storyfest Award for best environmental storytelling.

The students came from very different backgrounds and from colleges and universities across the U.S. — from California to Colorado, Arizona to Michigan, as well as Washington, D.C. Now, this “storytelling expedition” to Iceland was actually underway. And it started dramatically: as the bus took the students from the airport to downtown Reykjavik, they saw a plume of smoke from a volcano that had erupted on the Reykjanes peninsula just days before. How’s that for an introduction to the seismic roots of the place?

After a quick stop in downtown Reykjavik, we prepared to board the National Geographic Resolution, Lindblad Expeditions’ newest and largest ship.

It’s a beautiful ship, designed for exploring and learning. It is a true floating classroom of learning and discovery.

The guides were scientists and storytellers. The atmosphere was warm and welcoming. The sights from the deck were breathtaking. We explored and asked, saw and heard, and learned about the geology, ecology, energy policy, food systems, and unique culture of the place.

Photo by Gabe Allen

Joining the expedition aboard the Resolution was Ragna Árnadóttir, the first female Secretary General of Alþingi, Iceland’s Parliament. Meeting with the students, she spoke candidly about the political concerns surrounding environmental issues in Iceland.

Photo by Alexandra Daley-Clark

It is a fantastically sustainable place — nearly 100% of the country’s electricity is generated by renewable energy — geothermal and hydropower mostly. But even in Iceland, where just about everyone accepts the reality and dangers of climate change, the prospect of wind power produces not-in-my-backyard opposition and controversy.

On land, we met with experts at ON Power who spoke to us about their geothermal facilities. We got a tour with an engineer from Carbfix, working toward “mineralizing” carbon dioxide — essentially turn it into rock.

We visited Pure North Recycling, not only the lone recycling facility in all of Iceland, but an innovator in chemical-free recycling methods.

Photo by Alexandra Daley-Clark

Our Lindblad expedition took us to breathtaking waterfalls, dormant volcanoes, and coastal plateaus. It also exposed the students to the realities of climate change in a country that is trying to do something about it.

I learned a lot from our 2023 Storyfest travelers. Their passion for the planet inspires me. I believe today's young people will be the innovators, storytellers, and agents of change that we need.

I was also thrilled that four trustees from the George Washington University - where I work and where Planet Forward is based - were part of the trip. Committed to learning and research, they shared our sense of adventure, wonder, and commitment to the future.

Photo by Alexandra Daley-Clark

Our students’ stories will look at the evolving role of the fishing industry in Iceland, food waste strategies, and the power of Iceland’s saga narratives to celebrate a culture that has always embraced nature. We’ll share the stories and our expedition with you through the series we’ll post on a dedicated Planet Forward hub, Transforming Iceland: Where Sustainability Meets Growth.

Thanks again to these remarkable students for their passion and dedication. Thanks, too, to the amazing people at Lindblad Expeditions for making this experience possible and to Icelandair for helping the students get there!

The Planet Forward Storyfest winners, our amazing George Washington University Trustees and their family members, and Planet Forward staff on the deck of the National Geographic Resolution. Photo by Alexandra Daley-Clark.