Iceland is a tiny island in the North Atlantic with a population of about 330,000. The summers are mild and the winters are cold. It rains a lot and the shortest day has just three hours of sunlight. But even there, at the end of the world, innovations are alive and well.
Because when you live far away from everywhere else, you need to be innovative to get by. What did the Icelanders do? Well, here are a few ideas that changed Iceland and, in some cases, the rest of the world.
People have been talking about the health benefits of skyr for a few years now. This Icelandic dairy product is full of protein and is considered one of the most healthy varieties of yogurt. Icelanders would never call it a yogurt though. The Norse settlers that founded Iceland brought the cuisine with them, and a thousand years later, it is very common among the Icelanders. An Icelandic innovator, Siggi Himarsson, had such faith in skyr that he started selling it in North America in 2006. Ten years later, his company supplies 25,000 stores. Skyr has now made its way into European markets. You can find it in a lot of supermarkets nowadays, and it is a favorite among many fitness lovers.
The Svartsengi power plant was built in 1976 and with it came an unexpected benefit. The plant pumped its wastewater into a nearby lava field. This created a warm water pool in the middle of nowhere, and people started to bathe in it. Silica in the water created a soft silica mud which had unexpected health benefits, especially for psoriasis patients. The first bathing facilities opened in 1987 and The Blue Lagoon Spa opened in 1995. Today, it is Iceland’s most popular tourist site, attracting about 700,000 visitors a year. So what started as production waste is now one of Iceland’s most profitable companies. If that isn’t a great way to innovate, I don’t know what is.
The implementation of Geothermal energy is by no means an Icelandic invention, but no country has had as many innovations in this field as Iceland. In 1943, the Icelandic government started using it for heating, and today, almost 93% of homes are heated that way. This saves the country more than $100 million in oil imports annually. Not only does Iceland produce more than 400 MW of electricity with geothermal energy each year – this widespread use of the technology has thrust Iceland into the forefront of the field. Teams from Icelandic energy companies go all over the world to help implement this renewable energy source. Geothermal and green energy, in general, are an important part of the Icelandic psyche. Everyone wants a greener world, and Iceland’s innovations in this field might just help us get there.
Magnús Scheving is a remarkable guy that had some remarkable ideas. He saw that nobody was effectively promoting healthy living to children, so he decided to take it upon himself. He published a children’s book called LazyTown in 1991, centered around the superhero Sportacus, who tried to teach the inactive inhabitants of LazyTown about athletic pastimes. Later, Scheving also introduced a villain called Robbie Rotten who hated sports. You get the picture.
Scheving went to interview after interview in Iceland and talked about how children could live healthier lifestyles. After gaining popularity locally, he commissioned his idea to Nickelodeon in 2003. LazyTown the TV series, which combined puppetry with live action, ran for three seasons and aired in over 180 countries. With a single children’s book, Scheving created a media empire that has spawned multiple spin-off projects, all while fighting for healthier lifestyle among children.
What is the best way to win a war? To not hurt anyone! As incredible as it may seem, that is exactly what happened in the Cod War of 1972. It started when Iceland expanded its fishery zone from 4 to 12 nautical miles. British fishermen were fishing in these waters so this lead to a conflict between the UK and Iceland known as the Second Cod War. The Royal Navy was sent alongside British fishing vessels to hinder the Icelandic coast guards from doing their job. The coast guard, therefore, created trawl shears which is one of Iceland’s most clever ideas. The coast guard used it to cut the fishing gear from the back of the British vessels and ruining their catch. The Royal Navy rammed the Icelandic coast guards to stop this, but in the end, the trawl shears (and, of course, some political pressure) ended the conflict.
Icelanders have always been open to new things, and today, the Icelandic startup community is booming. CCP Games, Össur and Marel are the three biggest success stories from the Icelandic startup scene. They have been around for years and employ thousands of employees in many countries. About 200 ideas compete for the Golden Egg innovation competition annually, and many new startups are founded each year. The University of Iceland also offers a master’s degree in Innovation & Entrepreneurship. There surely are more ideas to come from this tiny northern island, and hopefully, they’ll keep us all a little warmer in the future.
If you enjoyed this article make sure to check out our look at innovation in Canada, USA and France: 4 Inventions We Can Thank France For, Innovations born in the USA and Awesome innovations born in Canada.