Sierra Club names new executive director

The Sierra Club, the nation’s largest and oldest environmental advocacy group, has named Michael Brune its next executive director.

A longtime environmental organizer who has headed the Rainforest Action Network for the last seven years, Brune will succeed Carl Pope in March.

Pope, the organization’s executive director since 1992, will stay on as executive chairman and devote himself to climate change issues.

Brune is moving from a small, feisty group known for its attention-getting stunts to a pillar of the mainstream environmental movement. The San Francisco-based Sierra Club, founded in 1892 by John Muir, has an $85-million operating budget, 1.3 million members and donors, and a staff of 530.

“The Sierra Club has evolved in the last couple of decades from being an organization that was almost exclusively focused on expanding protection for wild places to focusing more on clean energy and climate change,” said Brune, 38. “I’m coming to the Sierra Club because I’m interested in both.”

Brune will be the Sierra Club’s sixth executive director and third recruited from the outside. Board President Allison Chin said there were multiple internal candidates, but the board thought Brune was a good fit. “We focused on the temperament of an individual who could come in and embrace the diversity and complexity of the organization and keep trying when it was hard,” Chin said. “We’ve got lots of people with lots of opinions.”

Brune, who has undergraduate degrees in economics and finance, previously worked for Greenpeace and the Coastal Rainforest Coalition, now known as ForestEthics. In 1998, he joined Rainforest Action Network, pressuring big business to stop environmentally damaging practices.

One of the San Francisco-based group’s best-known campaigns was against Home Depot, which was selling lumber from old-growth forests. Brune got the code to use the intercoms found on every aisle of the big-box stores. “We would grab the microphone and say, ‘Attention Home Depot shoppers. We want to draw your attention to the wood in aisle 13: Mahogany doors ripped from the heart of the Amazon rain forest.’ ” Within four months, he said, Home Depot phased out lumber from endangered forests.

Sierra Club tactics tend to the less theatrical, relying more on lawsuits, lobbying and traditional media campaigns. But “I don’t think my hiring necessarily represents a change in tactic” for the club, Brune said.

Pope earned $207,374, according to the group’s most recent tax filing. Brune’s salary was not disclosed.