by Brenda Nieves
Photography provided by ISF
Actor, Director, Model and now a member of People magazine’s Sexy at Every Age lineup, 33-year-old The Vampire Diaries star Ian Somerhalder is undoubtedly one of today’s hottest young celebrities. The Covington, La., native began his foray into the limelight at age 10 with modeling jobs that brought him to New York City and onto the advertising pages of Dolce & Gabbana, Calvin Klein and Versace.
Fortunately for Ian, and for the rest of us, he soon realized his true passion was acting. Now starring in the CW Network’s popular drama The Vampire Diaries, Ian proves that he is more than just a pretty face with acting chops. Following the Deepwater Horizon oil spill of 2010, Ian began speaking publicly on his concern about the impact the spill would have on the delicate ecosystem of the Gulf Coast and the people who live and work there. Having spent many summers swimming, boating and fishing in the waters of the bayous, Ian feels a strong connection to the area, its people and the local culture. Following the spill, Ian was quoted as saying that he worried about those who might not be able to feed their families or keep their businesses running and about the enormous impact on the area’s flora and fauna. As Ian’s concern grew he began a series of public speaking engagements about the devastation and how others (read everyday people) could get involved in the cleanup process. By late 2010, Ian announced to his fans that he was in the process of setting up the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF), an organization that would focus on global conservation efforts by involving businesses, government agencies and most importantly, youth.
Blindfold Magazine interviewed Ian about ISF and asked him about the mission of the foundation, its future and how he manages to juggle the demands of his career and his passion for global conservation. Here’s what he had to say:
Blindfold Magazine (BFM): You’ve been quoted as saying that the BP oil tragedy of 2010 and the resulting devastation to the Gulf Coast is what spurred you into action. It was the catalyst for the founding of the Ian Somerhalder Foundation. Prior to the disaster had you given much thought to the multitude of issues affecting the environment? If so, had you been involved in any conservation efforts?
Ian: Since an early age, my mother has instilled in me a “sensitivity” for the world around me. Although the BP oil spill provided the momentum for the IS Foundation’s large-scale movement, I have always looked for opportunities to take in stray animals and help conserve the areas that most directly affected me and my family. Thankfully, the oil spill opened my eyes to the fact that we all share one backyard and one biological process. This change in mindset feeds inspiration to all of us within the ISF family.
BFM: Part of the mission statement of the foundation is to bring the various people and entities involved in conservation together. How exactly is ISF getting businesses, people and agencies together to act as a unified force in the fight to end environmental destruction?
Ian: ISF urges everyone to get involved. Every voice has the ability to make a difference. We have kids involved as young as 5 and people from all over the world including Australia, China and Trinidad/Tobago creating ISF groups on Twitter and establishing projects that affect their local environment and ultimately the world at large. Our volunteers are from all over the globe as well, from Australia to South America. The Internet is a remarkable thing that has provided us the opportunity to connect all corners of the globe together to talk, plan, change and inspire each other. The synergy within ISF is nothing short of remarkable. Everyone connects and finds common bonds that are the catalyst for flourishing ideas and inspiration.
BFM: The ISF website asks youth to join in on the mission of global conservation by signing up to be a Youth Catalyst, which involves creating and being involved in projects that will have a direct impact on changing the environment for the better. What other efforts are being made by the foundation to educate and engage youth in environmental causes?
Ian: Our youth today are extremely capable. Kids as young as 5 years old are well educated about our current global environmental situation and they know the facts better than most adults. What is even more stunning is their ability to simplify. Adults tend to complicate, with past stories, histories and failures. Adults focus on the reasons why things CAN’T be accomplished. Youth see right through all these complexities. But where they have this remarkable ability to have vision, they have no support system to help them navigate all the channels adults have created. Some of these kids have phenomenal ideas and innovations, but just don’t know where to start. Because of their limited time on earth, they can sometimes lack the experience adults have to see a project to completion. We hope to provide the tools and templates to help them evolve their ideas into tangible activities and projects.
I think the best way to approach the enormity of our problems is to stay informed and always seek opportunities for collaboration, innovation and change in the world.
BFM: ISF is set up to be a charitable organization with 503(b) status. Tell me, how are donations being used?
Ian: As with most organizations, our donations go to many programs and sources we are passionate about, but some of the ones I am most proud of are our youth programs. Our youth are vital to changing the world. They are more capable, creative and intelligent than we tend to give them credit for. At Empoweresque (an ISF fundraising event in Atlanta in October) we sponsored a contest for youth and kids to identify a problem as well as a solution to that problem. Now, we are going to take their proposals and help one of these kids follow through with their ideas to see the difference their voice and effort make. Another initiative we did this year with donations was protecting acres of rainforest through “Lost There, Felt Here” with Conservation International. It is an amazing project and just $15 protects one acre of rainforest! We emphasize the spirit of collaboration and find only the most empowering and inspiring uses for our donations, so that all of the ISF family can see and feel the changes we’re making together.
BFM: You’ve been very vocal about animal rights lately. Out of all of the conservation efforts your foundation is involved in, do animal rights issues hold a special place in your heart?
Ian: Animals definitely hold a special place in my heart and I have been blessed to see firsthand the interconnectedness of species and how vital they are to our planet. No better experience explains this than my recent trip to Trinidad and Tobago where I watched turtles hatch and crawl their way to the ocean. The survival of those turtles has a massive effect on the ecosystem that crawls up the ladder of species — even reaching the fish that we consume as humans. We at ISF also focus on animal cruelty issues including our work for stricter animal cruelty laws after a horrific incident in British Columbia where sled dogs were brutally killed due to a drop in tourism. With goals of protecting all living beings, we aim to protect the habitat and conservation of our endangered wildlife while simultaneously working toward initiatives in topics such as horse slaughter and species-specific oral sterilization.
BFM: With your career in full swing and with all that being an actor demands of you, how do you find the time to stay involved with the I.S. Foundation? What else (aside from founder) is your current role within the organization?
Ian: The most amazing aspect of ISF is that at its essence, we are a collective. The true wealth behind ISF is the collection of passions, strengths and commitment offered by ALL the people involved. When we are strategizing on initiatives or projects, we do it as a team. Recently, at our last board meeting, we all spent three days together working on projects, needs and plans. More importantly, a good majority of the people within the organization, the volunteers, contributed to the meeting’s agenda and the projects on the hot plate are all co-created. So to answer your question, I play the same role we all do. I am a committed human being on this planet who wants to see change and know I can’t do it alone, and that in the diversity of thought lay the solutions to the problems we face.
BFM: Have you, or do you intend to partner with other celebrities who share in your passion for environmental issues?
Ian: ISF is always continuously exploring any open doors for partnerships small or large. Whether you are a celebrity, politician or a small town kid wanting to make a difference, we want to hear your voice! We are always seeking to cultivate relationships where we can work together to make changes happen — big or small — because they all add up to comprise the world we live in.
BFM: With so many important issues affecting the environment and the welfare of the planet, do you ever feel overwhelmed by the enormity of it all?
Ian: I think the best way to approach the enormity of our problems is to stay informed and always seek opportunities for collaboration, innovation and change in the world. Since you yourself are the world around you, it’s also important to look at your daily choices and consider whether it’s reflecting the change you want to see. And sure, there are a lot of problems in the world, but for every problem there is a passionate person just waiting to get involved and devise a solution. I am surrounded by so many change makers through ISF. When I see all their efforts for projects I had never previously heard of, I am hopeful and inspired that we are moving in the right direction and that we will ultimately be the change that we want to see in the world.
BFM: What little things do you do in your day-to-day life to support the goals of stopping the destruction of the planet and its animals?
Ian: There are so many little things that add up. What amazes me is the impact of something as simple as turning off the faucet when you brush your teeth. The average faucet puts out something like four gallons of water a minute and if you leave the faucet on that comes out to somewhere around 12,000 gallons of water per person wasted a year. Simple fixes like these often get missed. Another example is the large impact made by choosing to use a reusable water bottle. That saves countless plastic bottles from ending up in the trash. Each year, we fill enough garbage trucks to form a line that would stretch from the earth halfway to the moon! Truly, the more that one reflects on her or his daily habits as a consumer and a member of society, the more obvious it becomes that our personal choices reflect the whole picture of the current state of our planet.
BFM: If you could sit around a campfire and have a conversation with anyone throughout history, who would it be? What question would you like them to answer?
Ian: There have been so many amazing people throughout history who have made enormous contributions to the world and society as well as countless individuals who led fascinating lives. However, I am currently very focused on the importance of oneself. There is no one else like you in the world nor has there ever been. It is important to appreciate your own uniqueness and cultivate your distinct strengths to the best of your ability, while finding ways to continuously improve and grow as the person you are and want to be. Everyone can be the change they want to see and therefore everyone should appreciate himself or herself for who they are, their essence, and what they can contribute.
BFM: ISF is still pretty young. It seems as though it is just starting to stretch its legs. Where do you see the foundation in 10 years from now? What will be its legacy?
Ian: Wow … 10 years from now. There are so many things that have the potential to come to fruition in that time. In my ideal world, I would love for ISF’s work to be done. It is a strange concept but what organization like this doesn’t want to see their goals met and in a sense to be useless. At the very least I would love to have ISF continue to be an organization that supports future generations and gives them a voice and a platform to make changes in their lives and in the world as a whole. We have started in a positive direction in terms of helping to educate, empower and unite people from all over the world and I would just like to see that continue to solidify and grow.In the words of one of Ian’s favorite philosophers: Every man is a creative cause of what happens, a primum mobile with an original movement.
We couldn’t agree more.