7 Questions with Meriwether Hardie | Net Impact

7 Questions with Meriwether Hardie

This ongoing Q&A series profiles a few of the speakers we're looking forward to seeing at this year's Net Impact Conference. Meriwether is a Senior Executive Associate with the Rainforest Alliance and will be speaking in our Sustainable Food & Agriculture and Environment & Natural Resources tracks.

If you could spend 15 minutes with one impact hero past or present, who would it be and why?
Wendell Berry is one of my heroes in the sustainability movement. Whether Berry is writing fiction, poetry, or essays, his message is essentially the same: humans must learn to live in harmony with the natural rhythms of the earth or perish.

His outlook marries agrarian and environmental ideologies, but he doesn't settle for either. Environmentalists often push protection of wilderness as the number one priority, and although this is imperative, I also believe, like Berry, that land was meant to be worked by man, but that we need to find the boundaries, and the give and take to make that possible.

"Do unto those downstream as you would have those upstream do unto you." ― Wendell Berry
What’s one surprising stat or emerging trend anyone looking to make an impact in your field should know?
Some of the reasons why I am working in the field I am in (conserving biodiversity and ensuring sustainable livelihoods):

  • Agricultural expansion is responsible for 70% of global deforestation and is the single greatest threat to tropical forests.
  • 1.6 billion people depend on forests for their livelihoods worldwide, and approximately 40% of the global economy is based on biological products and processes – particularly farming and logging.
  • Nearly 1.3 billion people earn less than US $1.25 per day.
  • 14% of all greenhouse gas emission are related to farming - more than the world’s planes, trains, and automobiles combined.

What do you love about your work?
I love working on both the big scale and the small scale. Some days I wake up and head into an "office" that consists of small, one hectare plots of cropland, farming families, rural communities, and very important day-to-day issues of plant diseases, climate change, and market prices. And other days, I head into New York City, I meet with company executives, and we work on the case for sustainability and certification, decreasing risk in the supply chain, and how to help educate consumers on their sustainable food options. Both are scales are important, and both help me keep a healthy perspective of what’s important in the world around me.  
What's the single biggest challenge in your work?
Staying positive. Some days I feel invigorated by the change in companies, farmers, and individuals that I work with, and other days, I feel overwhelmed by how much change we have still to make. On most days, however, I feel a mix – concerned about our future, but also optimistic that there are ways to preserve and live healthily within boundaries.
What's your best advice for someone who wants to create positive change through their career?
Never take "you can’t" for an answer. I have been told "you can’t" a lot – I have been told that I am too young, that I don’t have enough experience, and that because I am a female, it is too dangerous for me to work and travel to the places where I travel. If I had listened those people, I wouldn’t be where I am. Be smart, be a problem solver, be a leader (you don’t need a loud voice to be a leader!), use creativity and humor as tools in your toolbox, be determined, and don’t accept a "you can’t." If we are to truly deliver the Rainforest Alliance’s vision of a world where "people and the environment prosper together," we must push back the boundaries of what others say is possible and instead focus on what is necessary.
When have you found yourself breaking boundaries in your work? (Breaking boundaries is this year’s conference theme.)
When I was younger, I used to think that the idea of business co-existing with conservation was impossible. Now, I believe that it is the only way to create change on a big enough scale. For me, this was breaking a boundary in my perspective, and my understanding of impact.
What’s your best advice for first-time conference attendees?
This is my first Net Impact conference, and I am very excited to participate as a speaker, learner, listener, and sharer!

About Meriwether

Meriwether Hardie has diverse experience in project leadership, sustainability education, and remote wilderness exploration, and is the Senior Executive Associate at the Rainforest Alliance, where she leads special projects. Currently Meriwether is working on a Water Program Exploration and a Farmer Communication Platform (an initiative that aims to increase producers' connectivity to the rest of the certified value chain, reinforcing how their efforts in growing sustainable food will contribute to the movement of preserving biodiversity and improving livelihoods for themselves and future generations). Additionally, Meriwether is developing a new MBA initiative to work with future business leaders to share Rainforest Alliance’s successful model, impact, and way of “doing business NOT as usual” throughout supply chains, from producers to consumers. She is speaking at Overcoming Obstacles in Environmentalism and Agricultural Supply Chain Sustainability From the Soil Up at this year's conference.

Want more? 

This year's conference is over, but you can also catch up with video of several sessions on our site. Watch now!