04/11/2013 07:16 pm ET Updated Jun 11, 2013

'Jersey Smart'

Today reminded me of what makes both America and the Sierra Club great: people who care and who do something about it. Gregory Auriemma, a cofounder and the chair of the New Jersey Chapter's Ocean County Group, was honored by the White House as a "Champion of Change" for his work as a community climate resilience leader.

Seeing a Sierra Club leader and volunteer alongside the other honorees was great, but I confess to being a little extra proud this time. Greg comes from my old Jersey Shore stomping grounds. My folks belong to the Ocean County Group, and they've gotten to know Greg pretty well (one unhappy thing they have in common is that Superstorm Sandy wrecked their homes). Greg was recognized in part for his work on post-Sandy recovery efforts, although he says the real credit should go to "all the dedicated NJ Sierra Club activists and supporters."

At the White House, here's what Greg had to say about the Club's approach: "Our governor likes to talk about being 'Jersey strong.' The Sierra Club thinks we should be 'Jersey smart.'" One way some beachfront communities haven't been too smart is by using lumber harvested from the Brazilian rainforest to rebuild beach boardwalks that were destroyed by Sandy. Noting that deforestation is the second-largest contributor to climate disruption after greenhouse gases, Greg said, "That's kind of like feeding the dog that just bit your hand."

Thanks to Greg and his fellow "Jersey-smart" activists, though, some towns have switched their plans and chosen to rebuild with sustainably sourced lumber or with a composite of wood and recycled plastic.

Congratulations to Greg Auriemma and to all the hard-working volunteers in the Ocean County Group and in Sierra Club chapters and groups across the nation. Not only do you make us proud, you're making a difference.