Social entrepreneur Sanchali Pal leads a passionate crew of doers to address the biggest crisis of our times.
Sanchali Pal is the founder of Joro, an app that helps people track and manage their carbon footprint. Sanchali believes in the lightness of being! We are talking about a light footprint on the planet here. She is determined to make it easy and accessible for anyone who wants to manage their carbon footprint.
On the occasion of Earth Day, she spoke with Venky Raghavendra on what prompted her to take the entrepreneurial route, the injustices of the climate crisis and the challenges of changing behavior for a better planet.
Venky Raghavendra: The effect of climate change hit home in so many ways in 2020. The fires that ravaged California is a vivid memory and scar although public memory tends to be short-lived. It may seem like a distant problem or a past issue to many folks. How would you drive home the message that the problem is “here and now”?
Sanchali Pal: The climate crisis is no longer in our future: it is our present. 2020 was the hottest year on record. More acres burned in 2020 in forest fires in the US than in any year in history. Almost everywhere in the world – from Australia to Ethiopia, and India to France – the effects of a changing climate are manifesting more frequently and more intensely than ever before. The nearly 4 billion people on earth who are considered Millenials or Gen-Z name the climate crisis as their greatest fear.
But more importantly – we are in a unique moment for action. The UN’s Special Report in 2018 shared that the decade between now and 2030 is a critical window. If we can reduce emissions by 50%, we can limit global temperature rise to 1.5C and prevent the most catastrophic effects of the climate crisis. So the solution is “here and now”, too.
You had incredible academic success, followed by lucrative career opportunities. You could have stayed the course and been an accomplished professional. Why did you choose the risky path of a start-up?
As I’ve made career choices, I’ve been motivated by one core principle: am I inspired enough by the outcomes of the work to give it 110% of my effort? For this reason, I have been drawn to mission-driven work – and have come to appreciate the challenge of approaching problems where the objective isn’t solely profit, but more human outcomes.
Entrepreneurship is not the only or the best means through which to pursue mission-driven work: there are countless critical, highly-functioning organizations to join. Personally, I decided to take the founder’s path when I found an unsolved problem that I couldn’t stop thinking about: how to help people take climate action through their daily choices.
COVID-19 wreaked havoc on lives, livelihoods and economies. It brought into sharp contrast the huge inequities. Yet it can be an opening and opportunity for issues that did not, till now, get the attention they deserved. Do you see that opening for the mission of Joro and climate tech?
One of the most profound impacts of the pandemic has been in forcing us to reimagine aspects of our lives that we previously took for granted. Seeing our global community take swift action to address an invisible crisis inspires me. I wrote a blog last year about how even the language of “flatten the curve” is incredibly applicable to the climate crisis: it is just that the arc of the climate crisis is longer than that of the pandemic.
The spirit of collaboration, imagination, and collective action that we have invoked to address COVID-19 is absolutely an opening for climate solutions, too. In the months and years ahead, there are opportunities to reimagine how we travel, eat, shop, and power our homes to become sustainable and even regenerative.
What about the effects of the climate crisis, especially for poor and vulnerable populations? Why and how can the privileged be more accountable and empathetic?
The incredible injustice of the climate crisis is that those who have contributed least to the climate crisis will be most affected by it. This is a big reason why I am so motivated to build Joro: to help people build a personal connection to the climate crisis and to climate solutions. When we see the direct connection between our daily spending and carbon emissions, we feel both more inspired and more capable of taking action. Understanding that we are part of the problem is also a powerful act of laying claim to our role in the solution.
We all know behavior change is hard. Also there is the notion or assumption that one has to give up conveniences and daily comforts to be kinder to the earth. How would you counter that?
A life lived more in harmony with our living ecosystems is, in so many ways, a richer life. When we eat seasonal, plant-centric diets, we boost health, metabolism, and flavor. When we build walking and biking into our lifestyles, we are happier and fitter. When our lifestyles produce less waste, we cultivate less toxic, more regenerative environments. So much of building a personal climate practice is intertwined with health, well-being, and self-care.
It’s true that the way we consume now is unsustainable, and that intentionality and modesty are important characteristics of climate-forward lifestyles. But it’s not helpful to have a scarcity mindset. At Joro, we aim to meet people where they are to find a balance of the actions that improve their own well-being and the planet’s.
As we celebrate Earth Day this year, trying to wish away the topsy-turvy existence of 2020, what are one or two things that you would like to see transformed and changed in people’s ways and attitudes as a champion of positive climate action?
On Earth Day as we are reminded of all the great things we receive from the Earth, I would love to see people consider gradual changes to their lifestyles as part of building their climate practice. When I was first learning about the climate crisis, I started to feel intensely guilty about eating meat and taking flights – but I felt it was impossible for me to go vegan or stop flying, so I dismissed climate action as “unrealistic.” The more I learned, though, the more I saw the power of collective changes, even moderate ones. From 2005 to 2014, Americans have eaten 19% less beef.
That’s a massive impact — and one that has been achieved by many people choosing to eat beef less option, rather than 20% of the population going vegan. I hope that – especially in the world we are living in now – people consider how they personally can help build a solution as big as the problem we face.
(Venky Raghavendra is Contributing Editor of American Bazaar & SVP, Safe Water Network.)