New leader looks to fire up Sierra Club

You could say that Michael Brune graduated to the big time in environmental politics when he learned the magical powers of the pound sign and the numerals 8 and 0.

When he punched those numbers into a telephone inside a Home Depot store in Atlanta in 1999, Brune suddenly found himself in full control of the building's intercom system. From atop this electronic bully pulpit, Brune's voice rolled across the cavernous store, reminding shoppers that Home Depot was, at the time, buying wood products from companies harvesting trees from rare and endangered old-growth rain forests.

The stunt, subsequently repeated at hundreds of other Home Depot stores over the next several months by scores of Rainforest Action Network activists, forced the building supply chain to change its purchasing practices – thus preserving some 5 million acres of rain forest in British Columbia that otherwise would have been logged. Time magazine called the unique protest the year's most important environmental victory.

More than a decade later, the Alameda, Calif., resident who has gained a national reputation for embarrassing, shaming, cajoling and generally annoying some of America's most high-powered corporate chieftains into doing the environmental "right thing," is about to become executive director of the Sierra Club, the nation's oldest and largest environmental organization.

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