Frequently Asked Questions

What are U-M’s carbon neutrality targets?

Achieving carbon neutrality is multifaceted and complex. U-M plans to eliminate Scope 1 emissions (resulting from direct, on-campus sources) by 2040, achieve carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions (resulting from purchased electricity) by 2025, and establish net-zero goals for Scope 3 emissions categories (resulting from indirect sources like commuting, food procurement, and university-sponsored travel) by 2025.

How will the university achieve carbon neutrality?

To reach these targets, U-M will begin implementing many recommended actions, including:

  • Installing geothermal heating and cooling systems in conjunction with some of its new construction projects, beginning with the Bob and Betty Beyster Building addition on North Campus, as a first step in a phased transition of heating and cooling systems.
  • Electrifying the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campus buses as a first step toward decarbonizing U-M’s entire vehicle fleet.
  • Initiating a campus master planning process that includes carbon neutrality at its center, in collaboration with faculty experts.
  • Making all new building projects compatible with renewable-energy-driven heating and cooling systems, and developing overall standards for new construction and renovation that address increased energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions.
  • Launching a revolving fund for energy efficiency projects, beginning with $25 million over five years. Energy savings will be reinvested into the fund, which will accelerate energy conservation projects on all three campuses and Michigan Medicine.
  • Submitting a request for proposals to secure all purchased electricity from renewable sources.
  • Forming several distinct working groups, consisting of specialists from across the university, to develop roadmaps for implementing a wide range of commission recommendations.

In addition to the emissions-reduction efforts outlined above, U-M will undertake actions to instill a culture of sustainability throughout the university. Among them are:

  • Creating a new executive-level leadership position reporting to the president, tasked with managing and coordinating carbon neutrality-related efforts universitywide. That position will be filled through a national search in the months ahead.
  • Incorporating environmental justice principles into the university’s future decision-making, acknowledging that the climate crisis poses the most harm to frontline communities that are historically and unfairly disadvantaged and disenfranchised.

     

  • Prioritizing meaningful engagement with surrounding communities — Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Flint and Detroit — on how to best address equity and justice issues at U-M’s three campuses, around the region, and globally in the transition to carbon neutrality.
  • Appointing an internal advisory committee, with leadership from units across the university, to help guide implementation toward carbon neutrality. U-M leaders will also engage within and beyond the university to shape the development of a community advisory council to ensure that strategies are inclusive, responsive and supportive of local communities.
  • Working with deans and other academic leaders across the university to identify and support opportunities to integrate sustainability and carbon neutrality into core curricula.
  • Making significant investments in carbon neutrality research and deployment, building on multidisciplinary initiatives like the Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program, the Global CO2 Initiative and the Institute for Global Change Biology.
  • Expanding the Planet Blue Ambassador program to cover the Flint and Dearborn campuses, and investing in the Student Sustainability Coalition to foster greater student involvement.
How do U-M’s carbon neutrality efforts build on previous efforts?

U-M’s carbon neutrality commitments and sustainability efforts build on the recent work of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN), tasked with recommending a plan for U-M to achieve carbon neutrality universitywide. The commission’s objective was to outline strategies that:

  • Are environmentally sustainable, involve the regional community and create scalable and transferable models.
  • Include the participation and accountability of all members of the university community.
  • Are financially responsible in the context of U-M’s mission of education, research and service.
  • The scope of the charge to the advisory committee to the president spanned all three U-M campuses – Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn.

A timeline showcases some of the work that U-M students, faculty, administrators, and staff members have undertaken, paving the way for the university’s most recent carbon neutrality commitments.

What was the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality?

President Mark Schlissel announced his intention of putting U-M on a trajectory towards carbon neutrality in October 2018, and in February 2019, he charged the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN) with recommending scalable, transferable, financially responsible and just strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero emissions. Co-chaired by professors Stephen Forrest and Jennifer Haverkamp, the 17-member commission included U-M faculty, staff and students, as well as members representing the local government, advocacy community, and energy utilities.

There were many others involved in this important work. Thirteen U-M faculty members led eight internal analysis teams, which employed almost fifty-two U-M student research assistants. U-M staff members also supported the commission’s work. Two staff members worked directly for the commission and many others supported the commission as part of their normal duties. Many of these individuals worked with the analysis teams to provide vital information and data to inform the work. The commission has also hired two outside firms, Integral Group and SmithGroup, to assess options for transitioning the university’s heat and power infrastructure toward carbon neutrality and to study building energy reduction opportunities through deep energy retrofits, respectively. The commission also included several subgroups, which engaged faculty and staff expertise on an ad-hoc basis in a number of areas.

In March 2021, the PCCN submitted its final report and recommendations to President Schlissel and university leadership.

The report included a set of 50 proposed actions that, if enacted, could enable U-M to achieve net-zero emissions universitywide. Over 700 public comments — including 521 following the release of the Commission’s draft report in December — along with reports from internal and external analysis teams, were critical to the completion of its final report.

How do carbon neutrality efforts incorporate UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn?

U-M’s goals of carbon neutrality span the entire university, including 40 million square feet in buildings, U-M’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses, Athletics and Michigan Medicine.

Initial actions taking place on the Dearborn and Flint campuses include decarbonizing the Dearborn campus buses, and expanding the Planet Blue Ambassador program to cover the Flint and Dearborn campuses.

How do the Flint and Dearborn campuses compare to the Ann Arbor campus?

The three campuses are all quite different in terms of their community size, makeup, and physical footprint. Flint is a 120-acre campus consisting of 21 buildings containing 2.2 million square feet of space. Dearborn is a 160-acre campus consisting of 33 buildings containing 1.7 million square feet of space. Ann Arbor is a 3,000-acre campus consisting of 380 buildings containing 38 million square feet of space. While the building and carbon footprints of the Flint and Dearborn campuses are each approximately 5 percent of Ann Arbor’s, their involvement is critically important in U-M chartering a path to carbon neutrality. Each represents a different mix of urban/suburban and commuter vs. live-on campus demographics that are representative of a large number of campus communities across the globe. U-M’s carbon neutrality efforts across all three campuses are the first to explicitly include the Flint and Dearborn campuses.

How do U-M’s carbon neutrality and sustainability efforts incorporate environmental justice and equity considerations?

The climate crisis poses the most harm to frontline communities that are already historically and unfairly disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Among the University of Michigan’s recently announced carbon neutrality commitments is a pledge to incorporate environmental justice principles into the university’s future decision-making. This will require meaningful engagement with faculty experts in environmental justice, and importantly, substantial engagement with surrounding communities — Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Flint and Detroit. 

In its analysis, the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality included a subgroup dedicated to addressing environmental justice considerations related to U-M pursuing carbon neutrality. These considerations are noted throughout the commission’s final report. 

Going forward, U-M will engage with frontline and fenceline communities to ensure that its actions are just and inclusive, and provide transferable models for other large institutions seeking to move forward with just approaches. More concrete steps will be defined as U-M continues its carbon neutrality pursuit.

What are the university’s strategies regarding fossil fuel investments?

The University of Michigan is the first American university to publicly commit to this unique combination (according to data compiled by the Intentional Endowments Network):

  • Achieving a net-zero endowment.
  • Discontinuing direct investments into publicly traded companies that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
  • Shifting its natural resources investment focus toward renewable energy investments while discontinuing investments into funds primarily focused on oil reserves, oil extraction, or thermal coal extraction.

U-M’s net-zero endowment commitment is the first such commitment from a public American university. A net-zero endowment strategy considers the greenhouse gas emissions from all of the university’s investments. Substantial greenhouse gas emissions occur outside of the energy sector, and this approach applies broadly rather than targeting a single industry. Once achieved, U-M’s assets will represent net-zero emissions, whereby created greenhouse gas emissions are offset by removed emissions. U-M is committing to achieving this goal by 2050.

U-M will not directly invest in companies that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, currently defined as the top 100 coal and the top 100 oil and gas publicly traded reserve holders globally as compiled on the Carbon Underground 200TM list. U-M does not currently hold any such direct investments.

U-M is shifting natural resources investment focus toward renewable energy investments with an attractive risk-adjusted return profile. 

Over the past decade, U-M has not invested in companies that extract thermal coal or oil from tar sands. U-M will not invest in such companies going forward.
 

In moving toward a carbon-neutral university, what has U-M done to increase the mix of renewables relative to fossil fuels in generating purchased electricity?

The university committed to purchase approximately 200,000 megawatt hours per year of electricity produced by the new wind parks in a 2019 power-purchase agreement with DTE Energy. This step will reduce U-M greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually—equivalent to the annual emissions generated by 12,000 homes.This agreement is expected to allow U-M to achieve its 2025 GHG reduction goal more than 3 years ahead of schedule.

In May 2021, President Schlissel committed to achieving carbon neutrality for all Scope 2 emissions on the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses by 2025. To achieve this, the university plans to submit a request for proposals to secure all purchased electricity from renewable sources. 

Where can I find more information on U-M’s Greenhouse Gas emissions profile?

U-M’s Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) maintains a wide range of environmental metrics and also summarizes various emissions reduction efforts.