Erla’s Santa Monica, California-based design studio Minarc developed an award-winning, high-performance, factory-manufactured paneling system (in partnership with her husband, Tryggvi Thorsteinsson) that employs passive sustainable components (recycled steel framing, a waterproof membrane, thermal break, and mechanical chases that replace traditional home insulation). The no-VOC system is manufactured off-site, ships flat, and is adaptable to design and construction variation. When asked for five key learnings about leadership and sustainability, this native Icelander gave us eleven.
“You don’t do anything alone, so say thank you,” Erla says. “Never give up. Never doubt that you can make a difference tomorrow. Don’t worry—things have the tendency to work out. Try your best. If you don’t make mistakes you are most likely not doing anything. Don’t give up; sometimes it feels like running a marathon, but when you feel like you are hitting the finish line, you have to do it all again. Don’t give up! Don’t be afraid of competition, it can help you spread the word. Be a good sport … show them how to do it. It takes a lot of education changing the world. Waste is a major problem—I am sure your mom told you to tidy up your room—it goes the same with Mother Earth. You will never please everybody so educate those who listen. Let your actions speak louder than your words.”
Erla grew up in a country that values women, where the country’s president from 1980 through 1996 (Vigdís Finnbogadóttir) was the first female head of state in all of Europe. Erla tells the story (incidentally, told to her by actress Gena Davis) of a letter received by Finnbogadóttir from a young boy. It read: “I am a boy. Do you think I could ever be a president?”
She is fascinated by products that make her ask, “Why did I not think of that?” citing coffee machines, Mac computers, white boards, the electric car, and salted caramels as examples. But among the many strong women of Iceland who she is inspired by, she names her daughters and her mother, a surgical nurse who managed the biggest surgical department in Iceland while her father spent weeks at a time in the North Atlantic as a fishing boat engineer.