People of Net Zero: Jason Jay of MIT Sloan

Marley Flueger
December 17, 2021

People of Net Zero is a series highlighting the stories of people using Joro to track and minimize the emissions from their spending, offset what they can’t avoid by supporting meaningful climate projects, and amplify their impact through community action.

Jason Jay is a Senior Lecturer and Sustainability Initiative Director at the MIT Sloan School of Management. As an educator and researcher, Jason explores the tensions inherent in the quest for sustainability. In his personal life, he does his best to navigate those tensions as a global citizen of a fossil-fueled world.

See more People of Net Zero features
here and learn more about the impact Jason has had with his network in his Joro influencer profile.

For Jason Jay, solving climate change means learning to hold tough tensions.

If we want to achieve a net zero world by 2050, a lot needs to change along the way. And in the process of restructuring our global society – we, as people, also have to change.

As a Senior Lecturer and Director of the Sustainability Initiative at MIT Sloan, Jason Jay leans into the discomfort inherent in a changing world.

As an educator, Jason mentors students in MIT’s Sustainability Lab (S-Lab) and teaches leadership and strategy for green business. As a researcher, he looks at how the quality of our conversations can aid and impede global progress on climate change.

Jason is an expert in management and sustainability, but he’s still a citizen of a fossil-fueled world. In his daily life, he navigates the same tensions as the rest of us.

At home, he and his wife do their best to make choices reflective of their values. They power their home with 100% renewable energy, co-commute in their plug-in hybrid, and try to keep red meat off the dinner table. As busy parents, they strive to balance their family’s needs with their values.

“I’m always co-optimizing for everyone's convenience and our collective footprint as a family,” he says. “If I bike to work on a day where my wife has to drive, our car is still getting driven that day – so I may as well carpool with her.”

Joro helps Jason visualize how his lifestyle choices translate to a carbon footprint. He also enjoys how Joro’s in-app challenges, community leaderboard, and personal progress stats gamify positive behavior change – just like his Peloton bike.

“We just got our Peloton a couple weeks ago, and it’s really good at pushing all of the motivational buttons,” he says. “I think Joro could be the Carbon Peloton.”

For the emissions he can’t yet eliminate, Jason uses Joro’s Net Zero Membership to support meaningful, vetted carbon offsets. It’s one way he uses his personal climate practice to influence society as a whole. He likes the Joro’s offset subscription because it’s directly tied to his own emissions – almost like a carbon tax. It creates an in-built reward for improvement.

“The personal is political,”
says Jason. “The reason to do personal footprint work is to give yourself a window into the big systemic issues we have to face.”

In a way, Jason sees the Net Zero Membership as a first step towards putting a price on carbon more broadly. Managing our personal carbon footprints gives us insight into how our collective choices affect climate change.

If you’re a heavy meat-eater, for instance, Jason suggests seeking ways to make plant-based alternatives more accessible and appealing to people like you. If your transportation emissions are high, you can both green your own commute and support policies that would make it easier for others to do the same.

We all need to play our part to reverse climate change, but getting started can be daunting. Jason’s advice? Be compassionate with yourself..

“You’re not a bad person for having a high carbon footprint,” he says. “You were born into a society that has a high carbon footprint. But you, as a citizen, are responsible for taking a hold of that and changing it.”

While he’s been a prophet of “win-win” climate action in the past, Jason acknowledges now that reimagining our entire society won’t be without sacrifice.

“You don’t vote to tax yourself or make Net Zero commitments on Joro without a heartfelt, emotional commitment to creating a better future,”
he says. And letting go of the world we’ve created so far involves pain, and loss, and anxiety.”

Jason says he encounters this tension most strongly in his identity as a “global citizen.” While they live in the Boston area, Jason and his wife’s families live in Italy and India, they’ve got strong social ties to California, and his work requires frequent international travel. All this translates to a lot of flying.

Unfortunately, flying is one of the most carbon-intensive choices we make – a single roundtrip flight from Boston to San Francisco, for instance, has the same emissions as a whole month of the average American’s footprint.

“There’s a painful tension there,”
he says. “Building the empathy and sensibility of being a global citizen requires travel – and in terms of individual footprint, travel is quite substantial."

Jason confronts this tension by seeking to understand how global citizens can shrink their carbon footprints. Lately, he’s been considering the idea of slow travel: staying in a destination longer, making fewer trips overall, and leveraging technology to stay connected.

As someone who spends most of his waking hours examining what drives human behavior, Jason says one of the biggest hurdles to achieving a fossil fuel-free world is misinformation and fake news on the internet.

“We’re in a mess with that,” he says. “[The abundance of misinformation online] allows people to use motivated reasoning to seek out things that agree with their point of view and that really stalls us in action.”

Finding ways to work together and rally behind a shared vision for the future won’t be easy. But Jason believes we can change the world by changing the way we interact with one another. In fact, you could say he wrote the book on it.

In “Breaking Through Gridlock,” Jason and his co-author Gabriel Grant share a framework for creating positive results from difficult conversations. It starts with examining our role in the interaction rather than the conflict itself.

For Jason, that’s where our power lies in breaking through climate gridlock, too – in changing our own belief systems, our inner dialogues, and our ways of being to become better stewards of a connected and healthy new world.

Recently, Jason was inspired by a book by former UN Climate Chief Christiana Figueres. In “The Future We Choose: Surviving the Climate Crisis,” Figueres encourages readers to reimagine our collective climate mindset.

Let go of the old world. Face your grief, but hold a vision of the future. Defend the truth.

Jason finds inspiration when he thinks about a movement infused with ideas like these. “I think that speaks to the transformational journey we have to go on to really be effective as climate leaders.”

A climate action practice is the daily exercise of bringing awareness and intention to reduce the carbon emissions within your control.

Grow your practice with exclusive tips and advice.

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