Although Ian Somerhalder is best known for biting necks and breaking hearts as Damon Salvatore on the hit show “The Vampire Diaries,” his greatest passion is for the planet. After witnessing the devastation of the 2010 Gulf oil spill, he launched the Ian Somerhalder Foundation (ISF) in December 2010 to create awareness about environmental issues, raise funds and mobilize people to take action.
Today, the organization is involved in campaigns across the globe that focus on everything from pollution to animal cruelty. MNN talked with Ian about his environmental work, how he goes green on the set of “The Vampire Diaries” and how you can get involved with his foundation.
MNN: What inspired you to start ISF?
Ian Somerhalder: What didn't inspire me to start ISF is more like it! I've always understood the interconnected nature of all living things. Growing up in rural Louisiana, I was fortunate to experience the magnificence of nature firsthand. I formed compelling and significant relationships with both the grandest demonstrations of life as well as the most precious and small.
While this continuously shaped my beliefs and my lifestyle, the real tipping point for me was the Gulf oil spill. Watching the small part of Earth I call home succumb to wide-scale, man-made devastation, inspired me to use my voice for immediate worldwide change. Before I knew it, my voice was joined by an echoing family of voices that were equally as passionate and emphatically determined to heal, protect and honor the planet and all its creatures. These empowered voices are the ISF family.
What are some of the greatest challenges the planet faces today?
Each of us could easily list a million challenges facing the planet, but at ISF we believe that one fundamental understanding has the ability to catalyze infinite possibilities. It's the understanding that we are not separate from nature. Nature is an interdependent being that is expressed through us.
When young children think about air pollution, they tend to think it's "out there." It's not. It's in us, in "here." When we dump toxic waste into our rivers, it's essentially dumping waste into our bloodstream. When we ravage forests, we literally deforest our own lungs. Nothing we do is actually outside of us. Imagine a world where youth are raised with this understanding.
What role do youth play in ISF?
ISF addresses environmental issues with the single greatest underutilized global resource: youth. Our youth are smarter, more creative and grasp concepts far greater than we give them credit for. The potential of technology has created an opportunity for them to become a collective power. ISF sees what our youth are capable of producing, but we also see where they need help, which is why this year we are so excited to be developing the mentorship and skills they need through our Youth Development Program.
There is a new breed of social entrepreneur out there and some of them are as young as 7 years old. They have the untarnished capacity to perceive things without fear, limitations and boxes. This allows them to blast forward and create exceptional ideas that impact the world positively. Through this process, they obtain the wisdom that most adults still do not possess. We are really looking forward to launching our youth development training programs.
How do you work with the ISF team?
We have a ridiculously talented team of people and over 50 profoundly authentic and immensely talented volunteers that share their skills with our passion. I simply could not achieve an iota without their endless support and talent. We are a collective spirit and the role I play is no less important than the role any of us plays.
We’re a very unique team as well. We are not formal. When we come together around an idea, it evolves organically through each of us supplying our input. We are intoxicated with creating solutions and, more specifically, tactics. The result is a collective entity that is fueled by passion, equality and values. It's really special and continuously amazes me.
What campaign are you currently working on?
We've just launched Let's Get Dirty, a clean-up initiative that aims to inspire groups and organizations to clean up the state of California in one day. We are partnering with incredible organizations that truly grasp the power of real collaboration: Heal the Bay, Earth Echo and the California Coastal Commission. Not to mention more than 2,000 California schools! The Clean Up itself will happen on April 21. We're excited to join up and get dirty!
MNN attended your Empoweresque fundraising event in Atlanta. How did this impact ISF in terms of involvement and awareness?
Empoweresque was a huge party! We met ISF groups and volunteers — some for the first time in person after working with each other for months! The event not only allowed us to have a collective celebration, but it also helped create bonds and deep understandings with which we forged more collective passions. By hosting over 1,000 people at our first event, we learned a lot!
How do you and your co-stars go green on the set of 'The Vampire Diaries'?
Going green doesn't start with doing green acts — it starts with a shift in consciousness. This shift allows you to recognize that with every choice you make, you are voting either for or against the kind of world you wish to see. All of our cast members support a variety of incredible organizations and lend their time and passion to causes that move them. When you assume this as a way of being, your choices become easier. Using a reusable water bottle, recycling and making conscious daily consumer choices are just a few of the ways our incredible cast is green.
How can people get involved with ISF?
Visit www.isfoundation.org and find your way to connect, inspire and make change!
Check out MNN's video from ISF's Empoweresque fundraiser on Oct. 29, and see some of your favorite stars from "The Vampire Diaries" in costume, including Ian as Captain Planet and Nina Dobrev as Hermione Granger.