Environment and Sustainability

“Human influenced global climate change is the defining scientific and social problem of our age.” – President Mark S. Schlissel

ENVIRONMENT, SUSTAINABILITY, AND CARBON NEUTRALITY

The threats posed by the climate crisis extend far beyond the University of Michigan community. By bringing together academics, advocates and community leaders, U-M, as a top public research university, has a distinct opportunity to help chart the path forward. Faculty and students from a wide variety of disciplines are working together, in partnership with those on the front lines in communities, to pursue scalable, transferable, financially responsible, and just approaches to combat climate change.

Whether pioneering new practices in carbon sequestration and emissions reduction, furthering renewable energy technologies, or assessing environmental determinants of health, U-M faculty conduct research and scholarship on virtually every aspect of the climate crisis and sustainability. U-M leadership in this area spans all three campuses, including both universitywide efforts to reduce greenhouse gas emissions and on-the-ground work within Planet Blue Campus.

President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality

The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, charged with recommending scalable, transferable, and financially responsible strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions, submitted its final report and recommendations in March 2021.

President Schlissel launched the commission in 2019.

The report includes a collection of 50 recommendations that U-M could take to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions across the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses (inclusive of Michigan Medicine). Recommendations account for U-M’s: Scope 1 emissions, resulting from on-campus sources; Scope 2 emissions, resulting from purchased electricity; and Scope 3 emissions, resulting from indirect sources like commuting, food procurement and university-sponsored travel.

The commission comprises 17 members, including students, faculty, staff and local partners. The commission’s broader analysis involved eleven internal teams and two external consultants. The internal analysis teams each examined distinct topics crucial toward achieving carbon neutrality. Topics included: biosequestration, building standards, carbon accounting, campus culture and communication, commuting, energy consumption, environmental justice, external collaboration, fleet electrification, food, and university travel. Approximately 50 undergraduate and graduate students and 17 faculty members took part on these internal analysis teams. In addition, the commission received and considered more than 700 public comments over the course of its process from more than 400 U-M students, staff, faculty members, alumni, and community members.

Progress toward Sustainability Goals

While U-M reviews recommendations outlined by the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, the university continues to progress toward its 2025 sustainability goals, established in 2011. U-M is expected to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goal (to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2025) ahead of schedule, through increasing the capacity to generate energy on campus at the Central Power Plant, purchasing additional renewable energy from local utilities, and continuing to invest in energy efficiency; each as recommended by the President’s Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee in 2015.

Alongside more than 20 other North American universities, U-M is part of the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3) — a program administered by the environmental organization Second Nature — in the quest to share knowledge and ideas to accelerate climate change solutions, and collaborate with local, regional and national institutions working to achieve their climate goals.

U-M carries a storied history in environmentalism and sustainability, including a role in the nation’s first “Environmental Teach-In,” which drew more than 15,000 participants. The event served as a model for the events of the first Earth Day on April 22, 1970. In the 1980s, U-M helped to pioneer the environmental justice discipline. In the early 2000s, the university began accounting for its greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.

Planet Blue

Planet Blue refers to the breadth of U-M sustainability work, whether it pertains to multidisciplinary research, operations, or campus involvement. Planet Blue Global Impact represents U-M’s sustainability-related research and academic programs, across all U-M schools and colleges, and in particular, the School for Environment and Sustainability, the Graham Sustainability Institute, and the Erb Institute. Because sustainability is such a multifaceted topic, Planet Blue Global Impact delves into a number of distinct areas, including: Climate & Energy, Conservation & Restoration, Environmental Justice, Environmental Policy & Business, Food Systems, Human Health , Sustainable Infrastructure and Water. U-M offers approximately 700 sustainability-related courses, and there are more than 800 faculty experts working on sustainability-related topics across the university.

Planet Blue Campus represents all of U-M’s campus-focused sustainability operations and outreach efforts, including much of the work of the Office of Campus Sustainability (OCS), the Planet Blue Ambassador Program, Student Life, Matthaei Botanical Gardens and Nichols Arboretum, the Student Sustainability Coalition, M Dining, the Campus Farm, the U-M Sustainable Food Program, and others.