Inspiring stories from the Westfjords of Iceland

The Westfjords of Iceland is a large peninsula located at the north west of Iceland. The Westfjords has about 7.000 inhabitants, spread across nine municipalities. The region has a strong connection with the fishing industry due to its location close to some of the best fishing grounds in Iceland. For many centuries the lives of Westfjords locals revolved around fish, fish and some more fish.

When visiting the region you will most likely become aware of this legacy, you might see a fish drying hut alongside the road, you might eat fresh seafood at one of their many restaurants or see their fishermen heading out to sea early in the morning. Read more about their tourism experiences here.

The community is committed to responsible tourism and we had a chance to sit down with Lína Björg Tryggvadóttir, Project Manager for EarthCheck to discuss Westfjords approach to sustainability.

EarthCheck (EC): Sustainability means different things to different people. What does it mean to Westfjords?

Westfjords (W): For Westfjords sustainability means that the aim is to use the nature’s resources in the way that they can regenerate themselves although being used, so that the future generation will be able to use them in the same way. In the Westfjords the nature is in many ways untouched but in the last years’ tourism has been increasing a lot in and the need to prepare the area for increasing tourism is getting higher. The Municipalities in the Westfjords believe that the EarthCheck project can help prioritizing the need by making an effective action plan

EC: In terms of how that approach is integrated across your destination, what are the key sustainability initiatives that Westfjords has implemented?

W: The Westfjords have set purchase guidelines regarding paper and cleaning products. Environmentally certified products must always be purchased although it is not always possible because they are not available or too expensive for the municipalities to buy in a large quantity.  

EC: What initiatives are you most proud of and why? 

W: The municipalities in the Westfjords are working on a project called Plastic free Westfjords. Every home in the Westfjords did get a multi usable bag form the municipalities with a letter were they are encouraged to stop using plastic bags. There is also a Facebook page called plastic free Westfjords, the page is used to encourage people to find other solutions than plastic and also used to raise awareness of how harmful plastic can be for the environment. 

EC: Tell us more of the destination’s history, how did you decide to work towards a sustainable destination?

W: The interest getting sustainable destination came from various sources such as the Tourists- organizations in the Westfjords, the local authorities and from the public. All those people believe that being a sustainable destination will help the municipalities to be more attractive destination for the tourists. It was also believed that it could be feasible for the food industry to work in a certified environment and in the meantime the municipalities are showing a good example for their residence.

EC: How do you approach ethical sourcing and interactions with your supply chain and other businesses in your destination?

W: The municipalities have promised to work in the spirit of social responsibility (CSR – Corporate social responsibility). They have vouched that workforce who is available in the Westfjords will come first if work needs to be done and products from the Westfjords are bought if possible.

EC: Was it easy to go through the EarthCheck process?

W: No it wasn’t easy but not too hard either. After we got certified we look forward working on the projects which have arisen as a result of the EarthCheck project.

EC: How does Westfjords approach visitor engagement on sustainability concerns?

W: Yes, we really do feel that sustainability will be in our future and we will work hard to reach that goal.

EC: What message would you like to send to other destination in the world?

W: The municipalities in the Westfjords are really proud to have achieved Silver Certification from EarthCheck.  We encourage other communities to go the same path because it is not as difficult as many believe. By working on this project the municipalities in the Westfjords have passed and example to their residents to work in order to a sustainable future.