Michael Brune is the sixth executive director in the history of the Sierra Club, which was founded in 1892 by John Muir. Brune joined the influential environmental group in March and applies family values to the organization, which has 1.4 million members.
Who has had a big influence on you in your life?
My parents. My sisters, brother and I were raised in a family of do-gooders. My mom was a public school teacher working with disadvantaged kids for more than 25 years. My father ran his own construction company and was also mayor of Toms River Township, N.J., where I grew up. They took us camping everywhere, but they also taught us that if you care about justice and the environment, then you have to work for it.
Is there a golden rule by which you live?
I think the golden rule is the best rule of all. As a parent, I can’t count how many times we teach this: “If you don’t want your sister to hit you, then don’t pull her hair!” But as an environmental leader, the same challenge applies. My job is to confront some of the world’s biggest polluters in the coal, oil, logging industries, etc. How do we teach those CEOs that when they foul our air and water or decimate our forests and wild places, they are harming themselves as well as the rest of us?
Where do you find inspiration?
In the two little cuties my wife and I put to bed each night. I grew up in New Jersey, and I remember plenty of times we’d be driving around and my parents would point to a strip mall or some development, and say, “There used to be this huge forest back there” or “All of this used to be farmland.” Kids today face a potentially stark environmental future, but I’d like to be able to point to a row of houses and say to my kids, “Not every house used to have solar panels on it like today” or say “Look how this river has been restored.” Crissy Field is a great example of turning a dump into something beautiful.
How did you come to be the Sierra Club executive director and what are your responsibilities there?
Before starting at the Sierra Club, I worked at Rainforest Action Network for about a decade, where we helped to protect millions of acres of forest by changing the behavior of corporate giants like Home Depot, Lowe’s, Citigroup, Kinko’s and others. Running the Sierra Club is a dream job. We want to create a fair, prosperous and sustainable society that leaves our air and water clean and our forests and wild places in a better place than we found it. My purpose is to make the Sierra Club the most effective group in the country in achieving those goals.
Describe the Sierra Club and the goal behind its work.
The mission of the Sierra Club is to explore, enjoy and protect the planet. We’re the largest grass-roots environmental organization in the country with volunteer chapters and groups in every state and in almost every major city. Our top priority is to fight climate change by cutting our dependence on coal and oil, hastening the transition to a clean energy economy, and protecting forests and other wild places from exploitative development.