Frequently Asked Questions

What is the purpose of 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 established the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN) with an overarching mission of contributing to a more sustainable and just world. The PCCN’s purpose is to recommend a plan for U-M to achieve carbon neutrality that includes developing approaches and solutions regarding U-M carbon emissions that are environmentally sustainable, involve the regional community and create scalable and transferable models. The PCCN’s objectives are to define a goal for, and clarify parameters of, U-M carbon neutrality; and to outline a timeline, pathway and approaches for achieving that goal, which:

  • 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 spans all three U-M campuses – Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn. You can read more here.
What is the timeline for completing the Commission’s work?

The Commission began its work in February 2019 and will submit its final report in the fall of 2020. The first phase of the PCCN’s work focused on defining the many dimensions of the challenge, developing a structure and work plan to effectively address them, securing the expertise needed to carry out robust analyses across the multiple dimensions, and getting that work underway. PCCN meetings also have focused on establishing a shared baseline understanding of key issues among all commissioners, which will be critical when deliberations take place later in the PCCN process. This level-setting phase will continue into early 2020 and will shift to a deliberation phase in the spring of 2020, where the PCCN will digest the analyses and options emerging from the various streams of work. The deliberations phase will continue into the fall of 2020, at which point the PCCN will finalize its recommendations and draft its report. Following a period for public comment and revisions, the final report will be delivered to President Schlissel by the end of the fall 2020 semester. A schematic depicting the Commission timeline can be seen here.

How soon will the PCCN recommend a date for achieving carbon neutrality?

Achieving carbon neutrality is multifaceted and complex. The Commission is in the process of conducting in-depth analysis across numerous topic areas to assess what is possible and at what cost. This work will inform scenarios that will help the PCCN recommend timelines and strategies as part of their recommendations in the fall of 2020.. More information on the phases of work can be found here.

Who are the members of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality?

Co-chaired by professors Stephen Forrest and Jennifer Haverkamp, the 17-member Commission includes U-M faculty, staff and students, as well as members representing the local government, advocacy community and energy utilities. You can learn more about Commission members here.

Why are energy companies represented on the Commission?

Energy providers are among the most critical players in finding pathways to carbon neutrality and President Schlissel wanted to ensure this sector participated on the commission. Other important groups in the energy ecosystem are also included such as representatives of the environmental community and local government.

Aside from commissioners, who else is contributing to the PCCN effort?

There are many others involved in this important work. 13 U-M faculty members are leading eight internal analysis teams, which employ 45 U-M student research assistants. U-M staff members are also supporting the commission’s work and this will continue throughout. Two staff members are working directly for the Commission and many others are supporting the Commission as part of their normal duties. Many of these individuals are working with the analysis teams to provide vital information and data to inform the work. The Commission has also hired an outside company, Integral Group, to assess options for transitioning the university’s heat and power infrastructure toward carbon neutrality. That team includes six core members and others supporting their work. The Commission also has several subgroups, which are engaging faculty and staff expertise on an ad-hoc basis in a number of areas. A schematic conveying the Commission structure is available here.

How is the Commission involving UM Flint and UM Dearborn in the process?

Facilities and operations personnel at both the Flint and Dearborn campuses are connected to the work through providing relevant information and data to the Commission and analysis teams. In addition, one of the analysis teams is being co-led by two Flint professors, and four students from Flint and Dearborn are working as research assistants on internal analysis teams. A PCCN community engagement event was held on the Dearborn campus in October 2019 and a similar event will be held on the Flint campus early in the new year. As the commission’s work progresses to the recommendation development stage, advisors from various university units, including from the Flint and Dearborn campuses, will help to explore unit-level implications associated with potential recommendations.

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. The Commission’s efforts are UM’s first efforts to explicitly recommend carbon goals for the Flint and Dearborn campuses, which were not included in the scope of UM’s current 2025 GHG reduction goal.

What is the Commission doing about community engagement?

The PCCN has conducted several community engagement activities since it was launched in February 2019. During the first phase, engagement activities focused on introducing the commission’s work to, and soliciting ideas from, the community. During the second phase, engagement will focus more specifically on informing the various analyses underway, which will be conducted by the analysis teams and the Commission more broadly. During the third and final phase, engagement efforts will focus more directly on understanding stakeholder-related impacts associated with potential recommendations. More details on community engagement are available here.

Can I submit an idea to the Commission outside of the public engagement sessions?

Absolutely. The PCCN website seeks to complement and reinforce the commission’s in-person engagement efforts with a comments portal that has received 157 submissions to date. The Commission also has published a synthesized and categorized summary of all public comments to date. The PCCN’s draft final report will be open for public comment in the fall of 2020, prior to being finalized and submitted to President Schlissel.

How can I find out what happens during Commission meetings?

The PCCN co-chairs publish a summary of all Commission meetings. Those summaries are available here.

How does the Commission plan to incorporate elements of justice and equity into their work and recommendations?

A Commission subgroup is dedicated to addressing environmental justice considerations throughout the commission’s work. This effort focuses on issues that are directly related to potential actions that the university might take to reduce emissions. Equity and environmental justice are also key considerations for each of the internal analysis teams, and this subgroup will serve as a consultant to these teams as they develop their analyses. Commission recommendations must align with U-M’s commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion and seek to contribute to a more just world.

Will the Commission recommend divesting from fossil fuel companies that are part of the university’s endowment portfolio of investments?

No. University investments are not within the purview of the PCCN’s charge. For more information on the university’s current position on this issue, please visit here. For more information on the university endowment in general, please visit here.

How is the Commission factoring the central power plant expansion into its work?

The Central Power Plant expansion was previously recommended as a key strategy to reduce the carbon emissions of the Ann Arbor campus by 25% by 2025 from its baseline in 2006. The campus is moving forward to complete the expansion as planned, and a significant focus of the PCCN’s effort is to identify technically feasible and cost-effective solutions for transitioning away from reliance on fossil fuels at the Central Power Plant. Toward this end, the PCCN has secured the services of Integral Group, which is performing an analysis of options for transforming U-M’s heat and power infrastructure, including but not limited to the Central Power Plant. The PCCN has also done a study on methane leakage so that it can be properly factored into decisions moving forward around natural gas as an energy source.

How can the community trust there will be accountability to move forward with the recommended plan?

President Schlissel has publicly committed to put the university on a path to carbon neutrality and has established the PCCN to recommend an actionable plan for getting there. The Commission builds upon previous actions taken by the President to reduce emissions. For example, when he arrived on campus in 2014, President Schlissel endorsed UM’s existing 2025 Greenhouse Gas (GHG) Reduction goal and committed to accelerating progress toward it. To do this, he asked for a review of the goal to assess the university’s progress, identify barriers and make recommendations that could speed progress to the 2025 goal.

In its report, the 2015 GHG Reduction Committee recommended strategies for achieving the 2025 goal ahead of schedule. Since receiving those recommendations, the university has committed to expanding and increasing the efficiency of the Central Power Plant along with entering into a new wind electricity purchase agreement with DTE Energy. Together, these actions have put the university on target to achieve the 2025 goal.

The 2015 group also voluntarily recommended longer-term ideas for reducing GHG emissions beyond the current goal. While the group did not conduct extensive analyses on these ideas, some have undergone further study, some have been implemented and others are under further study. The PCCN is exploring many of them in depth to inform the most effective future strategies to achieve carbon neutrality.

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?

On April 9, 2019, U-M announced that it is on track to reduce greenhouse gas emissions significantly with a power purchase agreement to buy renewable energy through DTE Energy. The agreement will result in about half of the purchased electricity for the Ann Arbor campus coming from Michigan-sourced renewable resources. U-M has committed to purchase approximately 200,000 MWh of renewable energy annually through DTE Energy beginning in 2021. This agreement, in combination with the expansion of the Central Power Plant, is expected to allow U-M to achieve its 2025 GHG reduction goal more than 3 years ahead of schedule.

How is the Commission incorporating stakeholders with relevant expertise regarding facilities, operations and finance into its work?

Each of the eight internal analysis teams is working with U-M staff members with relevant responsibilities and expertise, and who are key contributors to the team’s work. These staffers provide critical information and data regarding university operations and costs. These staff members are in regular communication with the teams, and participate in meetings as needed throughout the analysis.

The PCCN mandate called for four advisory panels. What is their status?

The president’s charge to the PCCN envisioned the creation of four advisory panels. The general intent was to ensure the PCCN involved critical expertise and a wide range of stakeholders in the work, recognizing that the PCCN membership, while diverse, did not represent all the perspectives needed. Determining the panels’ respective roles and how they should be constituted was placed within the PCCN’s mandate.

The structure established by the PCCN has multiple dimensions, including subgroups and analysis teams, and now has approximately 75 people working directly on the project. The commission’s various subgroups and teams’ analyses also will include input from a wide array of internal and external experts and stakeholders. This direct involvement of U-M faculty, students, staff, and external experts in PCCN analysis teams and subgroups, which was not foreseen when the charge was issued, largely satisfies the original intent of the advisory panels.

The PCCN nevertheless sees considerable additional value in gaining the broad-based perspectives of U-M students, faculty and organizational units, with each bringing a unique and important voice to inform the overall work. More information on current plans for engaging each of these groups can be found here.

Where can I find more information on UM’s Greenhouse Gas emissions profile?

U-M’s Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS) maintains a wide range of environmental metrics, which can be found here. OCS also summarizes various emissions reduction efforts here.