Executive director of the Rainforest Alliance
Born May 20, 1960, in New York, NY; daughter of Sidney S. (an attorney) and Carol (a systems consultant; maiden name, Storke) Whelan; married Johan Ashubud (an activist), December 9, 1987 (died, 1988); married second husband; children: Lora-Faye (from first marriage). Education: New York University, B.A., 1981; American University, M.A., 1983.
Addresses: Office —Rainforest Alliance, 665 Broadway, Ste. 500, New York, NY 10012.
Editor, Ambio , Stockholm, Sweden, 1986–87; freelance journalist in Costa Rica, 1987–88; vice president for information, National Audubon Society, New York City, 1989–92; Rainforest Alliance, member of board of directors, beginning 1989, consultant, then executive director, 2000–; edited book Nature Tourism , 1991; executive director, New York League of Conservation Voters, New York City, 1992–97; management consultant for environmental and political groups, 1997–2000.
Member: Board of directors, National Association of Professional Environmental Communicators, 1991–; chair, Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition; board, League of Conservation Voters Education Fund; board, Vermont League of Conservation Voters.
Tensie Whelan is an environmental activist who once served as the executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters and later helmed the Rainforest Alliance. She has also worked as a journalist and served as an editor of a book called Native Tourism . As executive director of the Rainforest Alliance, Whelan works to persuade companies to protect ecosystems and workers' rights through strategic alliances with farmers and a certification process which identifies companies with responsible business practices. In an interview published on the Rainforest Alliance website, Whelan stated, "Being a responsible global citizen requires us to understand our place in the world and to act with respect toward others…. It means that we do our best to ensure that our lifestyle does no harm."
Born in 1960 in New York City, Whelan is the daughter of Sidney and Carol Whelan. Her father worked as an attorney and was also the vice president of the New York Community Trust, while her mother was a systems consultant for computer business systems. Whelan's maternal grandfather was Thomas M. Storke, the publisher of the Santa Barbara News-Press in California, who once won a Pulitzer Prize.
Whelan grew up as a child of privilege in New York City. As a youth, she initially wanted to be an artist; later, she decided to become a poet or writer. Whelan attended New York University, where she earned her B.A. in political science in 1981. She then went to the American University, graduating with her M.A. in international communication in 1983. Whelan began her professional career in 1986 in Sweden, where she worked as an editor at the Stockholm-based Ambio . This was a journal which focused on international environmental issues.
In 1987, Whelan moved to Costa Rica where she was a freelance journalist. She wrote primarily about environmental issues as well as development issues. In December of that year, she married her first husband, Swedish native Johan Ashubud, in New York City. The couple then lived in Turrialba, Costa Rica, where Ashubud worked for the International Union for Conservation of Nature and Natural Resources as the coordinator for Central American projects. The couple conceived a child before Ashubud died in a car accident only six months into their marriage. He had been in Sweden on a visit with his family at the time of his death. Their daughter, Lora-Faye, was born after his death.
Whelan left Costa Rica in 1988 and returned to New York City. In 1989, she took a position at the National Audubon Society, becoming the environmental group's vice president of information. She was the youngest person to hold a vice president position at the National Audubon Society. While working there, Whelan served as the editor of a book called Nature Tourism , published by Island Press in 1991. This book was one of the first published on the subject of eco-friendly tourism. In the text, topics included how programs can be planned and developed to encourage tourism of nature that is non-invasive yet beneficial for both developed and developing countries.
In 1992, Whelan left the National Audubon Society to become the executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters, also based in New York City. She spent five years in the position. Moving on in 1997, Whelan became a management consultant, advising groups that work in political and environmental issues. She advised groups like the Hudson River Park Alliance, the Environmental Defense Fund, and the Federation of State Leagues of Conservation Voters.
Another environmental organization for which Whelan also worked as a consultant was the Rainforest Alliance. This group had been founded in 1986, and Whelan became a member of its board of directors in 1989. In 2000, Rainforest Alliance hired her as executive director, overseeing a staff of 120 who work all over the globe. In this position, Whelan carried on the work of her deceased husband, who had strived to care for endangered environments as well as the people who live and work there.
In addition to working increase eco-tourism in Latin America, Whelan and the Rainforest Alliance worked with farms and corporations on conservation-related issues. She helped convince farms to meet Alliance standards for workers' rights while encouraging companies to buy products grown by these farms. The Rainforest Alliance devised standards for a certification system which encouraged more organic and environmentally friendly practices on the farms. Such practices included the use of fewer pesticides and a reduction in the amount of clear cutting in the growth of products like bananas and coffee. Farms worldwide that produced products like coffee, fruit, and timber, agreed to give their employees living wages, health care, and access to clean water.
Whelan and the Rainforest Alliance arranged agreements with big companies like Kraft Foods and Ikea to buy products produced by farms who met these standards. Banana farms were a primary target of the Alliance, and one certification deal was reached with Chiquita in 2004. The environmental group showed companies that consumers would pay more for such certified products, so called eco-labeled goods. Initially Rainforest Alliance-certified companies and their products were more popular in Europe than the United States, but Whelan worked to make headway wherever she could.
Whelan works well with major corporations in part because of her background but also because of her own talents. Kraft executive Annemieke Wijn told Joseph Hooper of Elle , "Tensie conveys what she believes in an open, positive way, not in a 'nag the industry' way. And after work, we can have dinner, a glass of wine, and girl talk." Whelan herself told Organic Style , "Some people are dreamers; some implementers. I like to do both."
Elle , May 2006, p. 222.
Financial Times (London, England), November 26, 2004, p. 12.
New York Times , December 20, 1987, sec. 1, p. 72.
Organic Style , May 2004, p. 82.
Contemporary Authors Online , Thomson Gale, 2002.
" Nature Tourism: Managing for the Environment , by Tensie Whelan," Powell's Books, http://www.powells.com/cgi-bin/biblio?inkey=1-1559630361-1 (August 12, 2006).
"Tensie Whelan," DiscovertheNetworks.org, http://www.discoverthenetworks.org/individualProfile.asp?indid=1882 (August 12, 2006).
"Tensie Whelan, Executive Director," Rainforest Alliance, http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/about/tensie_whelan.html (August 12, 2006).
"What's New: Interview with Rainforest Alliance Executive Director Tensie Whelan," Rainforest Alliance, http://www.rainforest-alliance.org/news/2002/news/news39.html (August 12, 2006).