Rainforest Alliance President Tensie Whelan Honored with 2012 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award

July 25, 2012

Tensie Whelan, president of the international sustainability nonprofit the Rainforest Alliance, has been chosen as a recipient of the 2012 James Beard Foundation Leadership Award -- recognizing visionaries who are helping to create a healthier, safer and more sustainable food world. Whelan will share this honor with four other leaders in the sustainability field: Wendell Berry, the noted farmer, poet and author; Jason Clay, senior vice president of Market Transformation at the World Wildlife Fund; Kathleen Merrigan, the deputy secretary of Agriculture at the US Department of Agriculture; and Malik Yakini, executive director of the Detroit Black Community Food Security Network.

Now in its second year, the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards were created to shed light on the issues of sustainability, food access and public health. Whelan and her fellow honorees were selected by an advisory board, comprised of a dozen experts committed to advancing food quality and sustainability. Among the criteria used were excellence of work, innovation in approach and scale of impact within a community or the nation.

james beard leadership award

“The 2012 recipients of the James Beard Foundation Leadership Awards are all working to create a more sustainable future and it is through their monumental achievements that we are able to continue a critical conversation about the future of food,” said Susan Ungaro, president of the James Beard Foundation. “We are pleased to recognize the outstanding efforts of Tensie Whelan and the Rainforest Alliance in advancing sustainable certification and helping consumers understand the importance of sustainable food production.”

Whelan was selected in recognition of her distinguished work overseeing the development of the Rainforest Alliance into a respected international organization that works to transform land-use practices, business practices and consumer behavior to conserve biodiversity and ensure sustainable livelihoods.

“It has been a privilege to work with the Rainforest Alliance over the past two decades and I am honored to accept this award on behalf of the organization,” said Tensie Whelan. “The Rainforest Alliance has worked tirelessly over the past 25 years to transform the global marketplace into a more sustainable model, and this award lends further credibility to our efforts.”

The awards will be presented at New York City’s Hearst Tower on October 17, 2012, as part of the foundation’s two-day food conference. Taking place on October 17 and 18, this year’s James Beard Foundation Food Conference will focus on the theme of trust and the role that it plays in the food system, examining how we form trust, where we place it, how we can build and maintain it and how we can all work to improve the wholesomeness and sustainability of the food we eat.

Whelan became the Rainforest Alliance’s executive director in 2000 but she has been involved with the organization since 1990 -- first as a board member and later as a consultant. She has more than 25 years of experience in the environmental field, having served as a vice president of the National Audubon Society and the executive director of the New York League of Conservation Voters. Whelan currently serves on the advisory boards of Social Accountability International and Unilever Sustainable Sourcing, and she co-chairs the steering committee of the Sustainable Food Lab.

Whelan holds an M.A. in International Communication from American University's School of International Service and a B.A. in Political Science from New York University. She worked as a journalist and environmental communications consultant in Costa Rica and was the managing editor of the international environmental journal Ambio, based in Stockholm. Her published work includes Nature Tourism: Managing for the Environment (1991, Island Press), one of the first books on eco-friendly tourism. Recognized as one of the “100 Most Influential People in Business Ethics” by Ethisphere for several years, including in 2011, Whelan was also the recipient of the Wall Street Journal/Winning Workplace “Top Small Workplace Award” in 2008 for the Rainforest Alliance.