Carbon Neutrality Goals

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.
  • 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.

Status updates in the accordions below were last updated on September 9, 2021. 

Leadership Structures

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 launched in the months ahead.

Current Status:

  • The Office of the President is laying the groundwork for the search, which will be launched this fall. Staff members have been researching positions at other higher education institutions, talking with search firms that specialize in this area and developing a draft position description that will be shared with the search advisory committee once it is appointed. 

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.

Current Status:

  • U-M carbon neutrality personnel are consulting with experts on environmental justice (EJ) to begin informing an overarching EJ strategy for the university-wide carbon neutrality initiative and to help incorporate EJ principles into specific university actions. 

U-M will appoint an internal committee, with leadership from units across the university, to help advise and guide implementation toward carbon neutrality. U-M leaders will also engage within and beyond the university to begin shaping long-term engagement structures and strategies that are inclusive, responsive, and supportive of local communities.

Current Status:

  • A university units leadership council has been formed with representation from major university units across all three campuses. This group will help to advise and facilitate the implementation of carbon neutrality efforts across all university units. 
  • U-M carbon neutrality personnel have met with all U-M executive officers, gathering feedback and identifying opportunities for collaboration. Similar conversations with U-M deans are underway. 
  • U-M carbon neutrality personnel are consulting with relevant units and programs (e.g., Government Relations, Student Sustainability Coalition, the Ginsberg Center, Planet Blue Ambassadors) to begin the process of shaping long-term strategies for inclusive and productive community engagement. Initial exploratory conversations are also taking place with external constituents, with a goal of more formal engagement with these key partners as potential pathways take shape. 

U-M will develop a dashboard to track its progress toward carbon neutrality and keep the community informed.

Current Status:

  • A comprehensive dashboard to track progress and provide updates is in the conceptual design stage. In the interim, community members can refer to this web page for monthly progress updates. 
     
Campus Planning

U-M will initiate a campus master planning process, in collaboration with faculty experts, that includes carbon neutrality as a central component.

Current Status:

  • Carbon neutrality personnel are working with the planner's office and other relevant U-M units to discuss pathways for embarking on this process. 

U-M will make all new building projects compatible with renewable energy-driven heating and cooling systems.

Current Status:

  • New building and renovation projects are being designed to be compatible with renewable energy-driven heating and cooling systems, including the new Michigan Medicine Clinical Inpatient Tower. 

U-M will develop overall standards for new construction and renovation that address increased energy efficiency and lower carbon emissions.

Current Status:

  • Intial work is underway to develop new building standards that incorporate energy efficiency and reduce 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.

Current Status:

  • During the fall semester, central carbon neutrality personnel are meeting with deans and other academic leaders across the university to explore pathways for embedding carbon neutrality efforts in U-M schools and colleges. This will include preliminary discussions regarding opportunities to incorporate 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.

​​​​​​​Current Status:

  • In the first round of funding, the Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program awarded $1.75M to seven multidisciplinary projects, each with dramatic potential to help reduce net carbon emissions. Additional faculty funding opportunities and research support will occur during the current academic year (2021-2022). 

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.

Current Status:

  • The Planet Blue Ambassador (PBA) program hired student interns over the summer to lay the groundwork for expanding the PBA program to the Flint and Dearborn campuses. The students became familiar with the Ann Arbor PA program, conducting interviews to learn about the existing carbon neutrality and sustainability efforts at Flint and Dearborn, and created a first draft of the PBA training content that will be used at each campus. 
  • The university carbon neutrality intiative is working with the Student Sustainability Coalition to garner and learn from student perspectives. 
External Collaboration

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.

Current Status:

  • U-M carbon neutrality personnel are engaging relevant campus units (e.g., Government Relations, Student Sustainability Coalition, the Ginsberg Center, Planet Blue Ambassadors) to inform potential strategies for effective long-term engagement with communities. 
  • U-M carbon neutrality personnel are also meeting regularly with A2Zero staff and joining the A2Zero Collaborators quarterly meetings to stay up to date on City of Ann Arbor happenings and indentify opportunities for partnership. UM-Flint meets regularly with the City of Flint's mayor's office and are collaborating with them on the creation of an environmental sustainability plan for the city. 
Scope 1 Emissions: Initial Reduction Strategies

U-M will install geothermal heating and cooling systems in conjunction with some of its new construction projects.

Current Status:

  • Two building projects are currently being evaluated for geothermal installations 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.

Current Status:

  • U-M Facilities and Operations is developing a roadmap to decarbonize the U-M vehicle fleet, starting with the campus buses on the Ann Arbor campus. This work includes refining existing and developing new roadmaps to decarbonize the entire vehicle fleet on each U-M campus by 2040. 

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.

Current Status:

  • U-M energy managers are collaborating across U-M's three campuses (Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint) to identify and fund $5 million in energy conservation projects in FY22. The Energy managers will continue to identify projects for funding in FY23 through FY26. 
Scope 2 Emissions: Initial Reduction Strategies

U-M will launch a selection process to secure all purchased electricity from renewable sources, in a manner that considers a wide range of issues, including community engagement, justice and equity, and implications for land use, habitat, wildlife and air quality.

Current Status:

  • In consultation with internal and external experts, U-M is identifying key considerations (e.g., specific requirements, desired co-benefits) toward conducting a renewable energy selection process, with the aim of launching that process during the fall. 
Scope 3 Emissions: Initial Reduction Strategies

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.

Current Status:

  • Several staff-led teams are being formed to develop roadmaps for mitigating Scope 3 emissions across several categories. 
  • Additionally, U-M is in the early stages of developing carbon accounting and report systes for the Scope 3 emissions categories identified in the PCCN's final report. 
Carbon Offsets and Sinks

U-M will consult with experts to examine the feasibility and credibility of various carbon offsetting options as a means to combat climate change. 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.

Current Status: 

  • U-M is conducting research to identify a wide range of experts on this topic, with plans to learn more from them in the year ahead. 

Contact Information

  • 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 ahorning@umich.edu
  • Lydia Whitbeck supports this work as project manager for carbon neutrality strategy. Contact Lydia at whitbecl@umich.edu