The San Francisco-based Sierra Club has announced that Carl Pope, its longtime leader, has stepped down as chairman, a position he assumed in April 2010 when Michael Brune succeeded him as executive director.
The 66-year-old Pope, who has been a member of the environmental organization for nearly forty years, will continue to serve the club in the capacity of senior strategic advisor but will devote much of his time to new initiatives, including efforts to revitalize the country's manufacturing sector.
The announcement comes after years of declining membership at the club — a trend some say is the result of Pope's emphasis on partnering with corporations and courting large donors. Indeed, after Pope negotiated a multimillion-dollar-deal with Clorox that allowed the Fortune 500 company to use the club's emblem on its "green" products, many of the organization's members showed their displeasure by leaving, the Los Angeles Times reports. Brune — whose background includes "scrappy and theatrical anti-corporate" groups like the Rainforest Action Network and Greenpeace — recently ended the Clorox partnership and told the Times he plans to steer the organization away from doing business with companies which produce "products that can damage the environment in ways they are not willing to address."
Despite the criticism he received for the Clorox deal and his support of utility-scale solar arrays in the Mojave Desert, Pope vigorously defends his efforts to protect the environment. During his seventeen-year tenure as executive director of the club, he led projects to protect millions of acres of wilderness and challenged the energy policies of former vice president Dick Cheney that benefitted major oil companies. "I'm a big-tent guy," Pope told the Times. "We're not going to save the world if we rely only on those who agree with the Sierra Club. There aren't enough of them. My aim is getting it right for the long term. I can't get anything accomplished if people think: 'This guy is not an honest broker. He's with the Sierra Club.'"