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Tensie Whelan

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About Tensie

Director, NYU Stern Center for Sustainable Business

  • Director of the Center of Sustainable Business at the NYU Stern Center of Business
  • Advocate for creating a better world through better business practices
If you could invite 1 person to a dinner party – who would it be and why?

Warren Buffet. To encourage him to use his bully pulpit to support corporate investment in sustainability and also I would ask him to stop working with 3G, an activist investor which pursues a strategy of cost-cutting—eradicating jobs, ignoring environmental issues, to the detriment of society, and often the company (as has happened with Kraft Heinz).

What motivates you? Makes you happy?
Being with my daughter and the rest of my family and their families makes me happy. Being with them in nature—hiking, making meals together, makes me even happier. Influencing society for the better always has and always will motivate me.
What advice would you give your 10-year-old self?
Honestly, keep doing what you are doing. Maybe eat fewer candy bars.
If you could make 1 global change – what would it be?
Transform capitalism to be focused on serving stakeholders and sustainability rather than on shareholder primacy and short-term stock price gains.
What are your Top 3 achievements?
Raising a talented, loyal, smart, independent and caring daughter.

Building the Rainforest Alliance into an international brand and change-maker that transformed the coffee, cocoa, tea and forest industries to be more sustainable—at scale.

Persuading Stern to let me launch a Center for Sustainable Business at the school, and in three short years, creating sustainable business specializations for grads, undergrads, on-line learning certificates, executive courses, robust and pragmatic research on sustainable business published in top business journals, and well-attended thought leadership events.

What does sustainability mean for you?
Behaving in a way, whether you are an individual or a corporation, that respects and supports people, protects and conserves the environment, and ensures sufficient financial growth and stability now and for future generations
What was the most important event/influence that changed your perspective?
I have to describe two:

1. My husband died at 28, a few months after we were married. I was 3-months pregnant. Living through that, I decided that I really could do anything I put my mind to and because I know knew life was short, I wanted to focus on things that mattered.

2. When I lived and worked in Costa Rica in the late 1980s, activist environmentalists boycotted McDonalds over “rainforest beef” They were right about the unsustainable practices, but they were wrong about their tactics, because when beef demand plummeted, people didn’t stop cutting down trees—they needed to feed their families so they switched to slash and burn agriculture. So I got very interested in how to help people have sustainable livelihoods while producing products that protected the environment.

Is there anything else you would like to share with us?
Probably, but how to choose?

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