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October 27, 2011 / sadhbhanu

Interview with Tensie Whelan: ‘we meet resistance every step of the way’

The President of the Rainforest Alliance tells Sadhbh Walshe about her determination to bring sustainable products into the mainstream

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Spend an hour or so in the company of Tensie Whelan, the President of the Rainforest Alliance, and you may find yourself wanting to rush out to plant a tree, such is her enthusiasm for the cause to which she has dedicated her life; changing how we do business with the environment.

Whelan learned early on in her career while working as a journalist and environmental consultant in Costa Rica, that business and the environment are mutually dependent rather than mutually exclusive entities, and they must sustain each other in order to prosper.

Understanding this fundamental principal is the key to mainstreaming sustainability and changing how we produce and consume on a grand scale.

The Rainforest Alliance has managed to certify 63.6 million hectares of forestland and helped over 80,000 farms adopt sustainable practices in just two decades of operation, but Whelan is the first to acknowledge that they meet with resistance every step of the way – from the farm level where producers don’t want to change their ways up to the big buyers who don’t want to pay more for something they say consumers don’t care about anyway. Whelan does not accept such excuses.

“So I come back to them and say ‘Well, did the consumer wake up in the morning and decide they wanted a ruffled potato chip? No! You marketed it to them, until they had to have it. And you can do the same thing with sustainability.’ “

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