Getting Started on the Future Today

Jason Jay Talks About the Acuteness of the Energy Problem

"We recognize it is an incredibly urgent issue … we don't have time to do five years of research," said Jason J. Jay G, as he talked about the challenge of creating a more sustainable future with new technologies and policies. Jay, a doctoral student who has an academic interest in corporate and social responsibility and the study of organizations, said that the challenge of sustainability is "for our generation what getting into space was for our parents."

Jay is a member of S*, the Sustainability@MIT Student Working Group. The group sent a letter to the MIT Energy Council expressing hope that renewable energy, energy efficiency, and energy demand would be part of the energy question that the Energy Initiative was created to tackle. Students wanted to see MIT "walking the talk," Jay said.

As new campus expansions, including a Media Lab extension and a new Sloan School of Management building, were announced last fall, there was no mention of "green" buildings, Jay said. And though there were rumors of the creation of an MIT "Walk the Talk" task force, it was coming about "slower than students get excited about," Jay said.

So, in fall 2006, Jay helped organize the MIT Generator, which was advertised as "students walking the talk on energy and the environment." Other people who helped plan the event were Kate W. Parrot G, Elsa A. Olivetti G, Amanda C. Graham, student administrator in the Laboratory for Energy and the Environment, and Steven M. Lanou, deputy director of environmental sustainability in the Environmental Programs office.

Groups all over campus had already been working on separate projects. These groups gave open mike pitches at the Generator, an opportunity to recruit new students and to increase collaboration on different tasks. One such project involves creating an energy map of campus, based on building audits.

As a student activist, Jay said he feels that MIT is very decentralized. The Generator was intended to pull the groups together. This February, a Re-Generator was organized, in order for working groups to show their progress and to have open time to talk about each project. As a result, a sense of community has developed, he said. There is a student movement and a different sense of coherence around the issue of campus sustainability than there was a year ago, he said.

In the meantime, the Campus Energy Task Force, also known as the Walk the Talk Task Force, was created. Two students, Jay and Ariel M. Esposito '09 sit on the committee, which is chaired by Professor Leon R. Glicksman. Esposito is one of the organizers of a campus-wide dormitory electricity competition.

The committee's goals include setting campus carbon targets by the end of the semester, Jay said.

"I'm in favor of setting more ambitious goals," Jay said, because picking reachable goals does not create space and impetus for the new and unpredictable. But he added that the task force's goals, which take what he describes as a more technical, conservative approach, probably work better for the MIT culture.

The coming year should bring results, Jay said, as well as another Generator. The initiatives of the first Generator should "start to bear fruit," hopefully showing lower energy use and carbon emissions on campus. In addition, student groups will be working to make the idea of sustainability more mainstream and part of the course curriculum, Jay said.

Jay said that a lot of money will be needed to make MIT a shining example of energy conservation and sustainability. Physical infrastructure can costs tens of thousands of dollars, he said, while something like another cogeneration plant would cost millions of dollars. But nationally, the tide has turned in the last year, he said, and sustainability is now an "absolutely essential challenge we have to tackle."

And as for Jay's future? As a Boulder, Colorado native who was often "up and about in the mountains," Jay said he has always felt a connection to nature. And although he is not sure whether he would like to become a professor who does some consulting or a consultant who does some teaching, he said that he knows he will be pulled in the "direction of mobilizing people."