In May 2021, President Schlissel announced a series of commitments and initial steps that place carbon neutrality at the center of U-M’s mission. U-M will 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. These commitments followed the guidance of the final recommendations of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN), unveiled in March 2021.
These and other strategies—the first of more to come in a comprehensive climate action plan—cover the entire university, including 40 million square feet in buildings, three campuses, an expansive athletics complex and the Michigan Medicine health system.
- U-M will create a new executive-level leadership position reporting to the president, tasked with managing and coordinating carbon neutrality-related efforts university-wide. That position will be filled through a national search in the months ahead.
- U-M will incorporate environmental justice principles into its future decision-making, acknowledging that the climate crisis poses the most harm to frontline communities that are historically and unfairly disadvantaged and disenfranchised.
- U-M will appoint 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.
- U-M will develop a dashboard to track its progress toward carbon neutrality and keep the community informed.
- U-M will initiate a campus master planning process, in collaboration with faculty experts, that includes carbon neutrality as a central component.
- U-M will make all new building projects compatible with renewable energy-driven heating and cooling systems.
- U-M will develop overall standards for new construction and renovation that address increased energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions.
Research and Education
- U-M will work with deans and other academic leaders across the university to identify and support opportunities to integrate sustainability and carbon neutrality into core curricula.
- U-M will make 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.
- U-M will expand the Planet Blue Ambassador program to cover the Flint and Dearborn campuses and invest in the Student Sustainability Coalition to foster greater student involvement.
U-M will prioritize 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 as it transitions to carbon neutrality.
Scope 1 Emissions Reduction Strategies
- U-M will eliminate Scope 1 emissions by 2040.
- U-M will install 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.
- U-M will electrify Ann Arbor and Dearborn campus buses as a first step toward decarbonizing U-M’s entire vehicle fleet.
- U-M will launch 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.
Scope 2 Emissions Reduction Strategies
- U-M will achieve carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions by 2025.
- U-M will submit a request for proposals to secure all purchased electricity from renewable sources.
Scope 3 Emissions Reduction Strategies
- U-M will establish net-zero goals for Scope 3 emissions categories by 2025.
- U-M will form several distinct working groups, consisting of specialists from across the university, to develop roadmaps for implementing a wide range of commission recommendations.
Carbon Offsets and Sinks
U-M will examine the feasibility of carbon offsets more closely, in order to urgently combat climate change while making a tangible and just impact, locally and beyond. Though the PCCN called for the use of offsets to accelerate Scope 1 neutrality, that recommendation was the only one in the report that was also accompanied by a minority opinion, which prioritized eliminating direct emissions over purchasing offsets.
- Drew Horning serves as special advisor to the president for carbon neutrality strategy, with responsibility for leading and coordinating the university's efforts to proactively address climate change. Contact Drew at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Lydia Whitbeck supports this work as project manager for carbon neutrality strategy. Contact Lydia at email@example.com.