Tensie Whelan

  • Executive Director of the Rainforest Alliance
  • Asserts that global inequities cause both environmental destruction and terrorism
  • Has worked for League of Conservation Voters and the Environmental Defense Fund

Tensie Whelan is the Executive Director of the Rainforest Alliance (RA), an environmental organization that “certifies” certain brands of products if, in its estimation, they are produced in a manner that is not destructive to the environment. Founded in 1986 and attaining nonprofit status in 1987, RA has approximately 25,000 members in 53 countries worldwide and operates on an annual budget of $8.8 million. RA describes its mission as follows: “to protect ecosystems and the people and wildlife that depend on them by transforming land-use practices, business practices, and consumer behavior. . . . Companies, cooperatives, and landowners that participate in our programs meet rigorous standards that conserve biodiversity and provide sustainable livelihoods.” RA seeks to place severe restrictions on industries it deems harmful to the environment, including agriculture, forestry, and tourism.

Whelan has been with RA since 1990. She became the group’s Executive Director in 2000, prior to which she served as both a board member and consultant. She also sits on the Advisory Board of the Environmental Media Association (EMA), and is the author of Nature Tourism: Managing for the Environment.” In Whelan’s view, global inequities cause both environmental destruction and terrorism. She stated in an interview, “Our work [as environmentalists] is more important than ever. Many of the people providing tacit, though not active, support to the terrorists are doing so because these people are living in squalor and see no hope for themselves and their children. To the extent that the Rainforest Alliance and similar organizations can work with industry and government to ensure that globalization provides benefits to local communities, rather than exploit them and their environment, we will reduce their anger and despair.” Whelan recommends that a good way for consumers to become “responsible global citizens,” and to thereby diminish the aforementioned anger and despair, is by purchasing RA’s certified products. “Certification” Whelan states, “is a process by which the Rainforest Alliance and other organizations review the environmental and social performance of companies here and abroad to ensure they employ responsible business practices. We then award responsible companies with the right to use an eco-label that enables consumers to make informed choices.”

Whelan was the Executive Director of the New York League of Conservation Voters from 1992 to 1997, and served also as the Vice President of Conservation Information at the National Audubon Society. In addition, she has worked in various capacities for such groups as the Environmental Defense Fund, the Federation of State Leagues of Conservation Voters, and the Hudson River Park Alliance. Whelan earned her B.A. in Political Science from New York University and her M.A. in International Communication from American University’s School of International Service.