Sierra Club Communications Department, firstname.lastname@example.org
After National Search, Ben Jealous, Former NAACP President,
Coalition Builder & Community Organizer Will Lead
Nation’s Most Enduring & Influential Grassroots Environmental Organization
OAKLAND, Calif. – The Sierra Club’s Board of Directors unanimously selected Ben Jealous (he/him) to be the next executive director of the nation’s most enduring and influential grassroots environmental organization on Monday. Jealous will be the seventh executive director since the position was created in 1952 and the first person of color to serve in the role.
The board’s vote ended a nine-month search process, which was guided by a leadership profile created from input by more than 2,000 Sierra Club volunteers, staff members, and donors. A search committee of board members, staff, and volunteers used that description to consider hundreds of applicants.
Jealous will join the Sierra Club on January 23, 2023. He will devote his first month entirely to reaching out and listening to the organization’s base of volunteers and chapters, staff, donors and partners, and will share his observations from that listening tour with the board at its February meeting.
“After an extensive search, we are thrilled to welcome Ben Jealous to the Sierra Club during such a critical juncture in our transformation, as we continue to discover more equitable and just ways to fight for a healthy and sustainable future,” said Sierra Club President Ramón Cruz. “Ben has demonstrated a personal commitment to our core values throughout his career as a community organizer, environmental and civil rights leader. He’s been a staunch advocate for the health of our planet since he was a child growing up in California and has worked tirelessly at the intersection of the environment, equity, and social justice - marking the path to a world that honors the harmony between our collective humanity and our planet.”
In a career that has spanned from organizer to social impact investor in green technology, Jealous has been president of People for the American Way since 2020 and was the youngest person to serve as president and CEO of the NAACP from 2008 to 2013. The NAACP launched its climate justice program under Jealous’ leadership and in 2012 issued its report Coal Blooded: Putting Profits before People, which assessed the impact of the nation’s 378 coal-fired power plants on communities of color and low-income communities. It was an extension of work Jealous began as an investigative reporter for the Jackson Advocate exposing “cancer clusters” in Mississippi’s rural communities caused by industrial pollution.
“In this existential moment in history, when planetary preservation is a human rights issue, we all need to consider pivots in our lives. Too many leaders still think that we can only create a growing economy if we sacrifice people, the wild, and even the planet itself. This flawed 'either/or' mindset--with its roots deep in our nation’s history of colonialism--has led our planet to the brink,” Sierra Club Executive Director Ben Jealous said. “We now know better. We can both create more good jobs for communities that have suffered for too long and build a healthier, more sustainable future for everyone."
“Early trips with my parents and sister to the Sierras and the copies of Sierra magazine in our house inspired me to become an environmental advocate. They steeled my commitment to supporting local and national efforts to both preserve the wild places and to save the planet,” Jealous continued. “New technologies and recent major progress in our nation's capital have us poised to reduce carbon emissions faster than ever before. As a nation, we are on the cusp of finally cutting bait with dangerous 'either/or' strategies and embracing a 'both/and' future in which all communities become more prosperous and we help save the planet in the process. I am proud to join the nation’s largest army of environmentalists and conservationists to help hasten that day."
The selection of the Sierra Club’s executive director comes at an important time for the 130-year-old, volunteer-led organization, and the environmental movement overall. Work has started to carry out the Sierra Club’s 2030 strategic framework, which calls for:
- Protecting 30% of U.S. lands and waters
- Cutting the nature equity gap in half
- Restoring access to clean air and water, supporting family-sustaining jobs, and addressing inequities in our response to climate disruptions
- Transforming our energy system
- Building power by diversifying and expanding our base
With more than 1 million volunteers and supporters and at least one chapter in every state, the Sierra Club is uniquely positioned to cement the historic victory and once-in-a-generation investment in the environment achieved with the Inflation Reduction Act.
“Ben’s leadership in organizations like ours - organizations with long histories of impact and foundations in their grassroots - is vital experience to lead the Sierra Club,” said Interim Executive Director Loren Blackford, a long-time Sierra Club volunteer, former board member and former Sierra Club President. “Ben’s leadership and experience will help us leverage our long history of mobilizing grassroots power and reflect on the ways we have failed to recognize people of color and caused harm to communities that we aimed to protect. At the same time, he can point us to a future where we recognize the disproportionate impact of climate change and environmental decay, based on race, gender, class and other identities and that it will truly take all of us to preserve a livable planet and create a transition from an exploitative economy to one that works for everyone.”
Ben Jealous’ Biography:
During Jealous’ presidency, the NAACP doubled its budget, grew its donor base eightfold, and increased its activist base by hundreds of thousands (in part by making more effective use of technology in its work). At People for the American Way, he boosted accountability internally, modernized its operations, and diversified the organization’s leadership in terms of race, gender and age.
Jealous grew up in Pacific Grove, Calif., which he describes as a community of oceanographers and nature photographers. As a teenager, he founded the first high school chapter of the Student Environmental Action Coalition (SEAC) and at age 12 was a docent at the Monterey Aquarium.
As a student at Columbia University, he was suspended after leading protests against financial aid cutbacks and a plan to transform the ballroom where Malcolm X was assassinated into a lab. After graduating from college and studying at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, Jealous’ first jobs after college were as an organizer for SEAC and US PIRG’s Neighborhood Green Corps.
Prior to joining People for the American Way, Jealous was a partner at a venture capital firm leading an investment portfolio of green start-ups. He was the Democratic candidate for governor in Maryland in 2018 and was endorsed by the Sierra Club. He has served on the boards of the Trust for Public Land, the Wilderness Society, the Environmental Defense Fund, and Aspiration, a fast-growing financial services company that was built on the concept of financial inclusion and does not invest in fossil fuels.
About the Sierra Club
The Sierra Club is America’s largest and most influential grassroots environmental organization, with millions of members and supporters. In addition to protecting every person's right to get outdoors and access the healing power of nature, the Sierra Club works to promote clean energy, safeguard the health of our communities, protect wildlife, and preserve our remaining wild places through grassroots activism, public education, lobbying, and legal action. For more information, visit www.sierraclub.org.