Sierra Club names new executive director
SAN FRANCISCO – Environmental group Sierra Club has named its first new leader in 18 years – an activist who once took over the intercom of a Home Depot to tell customers not to buy lumber from ancient forests.
Michael Brune, 38, replaces Carl Pope in March. Pope served as executive director for the nation’s oldest environmental group since 1992 and will remain with Sierra Club as chairman focusing on the group’s work battling climate change.
Most recently, Brune worked as executive director of the Rainforest Action Network, where he earned a reputation for successfully working to get corporations such as Home Depot and financial companies like Citigroup and Goldman Sachs to adopt more environmentally friendly policies.
Brune now brings his aggressive style of activism to the cherished, 118-year-old environmental group, which is focused on lobbying to speed America’s transition to more reliance on renewable energy and passage of greenhouse gas reduction legislation.
“The Sierra Club has long been a grass roots force, and has been creative at finding ways to pressure and inspire business and political leaders to do the right thing,” Brune said.
Sierra Club, which said it has 700,000 paying members, was founded in 1892 in San Francisco by legendary conservationist John Muir.
The group was created to help lobby the federal government for the creation of national parks, including Yosemite and Yellowstone, and has evolved into a powerful organization with an influential lobby in Washington.
Brune – who lives with his wife, son and daughter in Alameda, California – often used tactics while at Rainforest Action Network more dramatic than Sierra Club has traditionally undertaken.
“While we … are sad to see Mike go, it is tremendous for our movement and for America’s future to have a young, bold environmental leader take the helm of the country’s largest membership organization,” said Andre Carothers, Rainforest Action Network’s chairman.
In a campaign to stop Home Depot from buying lumber from a company that was clear-cutting rainforests in British Columbia, Brune entered one of the company’s stores in Atlanta and took over the intercom, telling customers they were buying wood cut from ancient California redwoods and forests in Indonesia.
He credited that campaign with spurring Home Depot to change its corporate policy change in 1999, which Brune said saved 5 million acres (2 million hectares) of forest in British Columbia.
“We have a mantra at Rainforest Action Network to be hard on the issues and soft on the people,” he said. “We wanted to always run a grass roots campaign that would seek to provoke and inspire corporate leaders to do the right thing.”
Of the many issues Brune sees Sierra Club emphasizing are plans to build new coal-fired power plants.
Saving natural places has long been Sierra Club’s goal, but the organization is also planning to continue increasing its efforts to combat climate change.
“Some of Sierra Club’s most successful work to date has been the successful opposition of new coal fired power plants. There have been more than 100 proposals defeated,” he said. “It’s one of the few areas of dramatic success the environmental movement has enjoyed over the past decade. We will accelerate that work. There are a couple dozen more coal-fired power plant proposals on the books.”
Joe Lucas, director of the American Coalition for Clean Coal Electricity, has sparred with Brune about the future of coal power in the U.S. but believes the two can work together.
“In past personal conversations with me, Michael has shown a willingness to understand that environmental progress must be balanced with the need to provide affordable, reliable energy to fuel our economy and the American way of life,” Lucas said in an e-mail. “We can bring cost-effective technologies to the marketplace to reduce carbon emissions while continuing to rely upon our nation’s most abundant energy resource American coal.
“I look forward to a constructive dialogue with (Brune) in his new role as executive director of the Sierra Club.”