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 pursuing new practices in carbon sequestration and emissions reduction, furthering renewable energy technologies, or assessing environmental determinants of health, U-M faculty advance research and scholarship on virtually every aspect of the climate crisis and sustainability. U-M leadership in this area spans all three campuses, encompassing universitywide carbon neutrality as well as myriad on-the-ground opportunities toward greater sustainability on campus.

Carbon Neutrality

Since 2021, U-M has been working toward a comprehensive set of carbon neutrality goals that advance the university’s commitment to climate action. Following the guidance of the final report of President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, U-M will eliminate Scope 1 greenhouse gas 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. U-M is also committed to instilling a campus-wide culture of sustainability, with justice as a core principle.

These commitments cover the entire university, including 40 million square feet in buildings, the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses, Athletics and Michigan Medicine.

Key strategies pertain to campus planning, building standards and energy conservation, research and education, leadership structures, vehicle decarbonization, culture and communication, external collaboration, and sustainable investing.

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

The final report serves as a roadmap for current U-M carbon neutrality efforts and includes a collection of 50 recommendations that the university could take to achieve net-zero emissions. The commission comprised 17 members, including students, faculty, staff and local partners. The commission’s broader analysis involved eleven internal teams and two external consultants, each examining distinct topics crucial toward achieving carbon neutrality. 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, Engagement and History

While U-M takes action on its carbon neutrality commitments, the university continues to work toward its 2025 sustainability goals for the Ann Arbor campus, established in 2011. U-M is on track to meet its greenhouse gas reduction goal (to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2025) by the end of fiscal year 2022—three years ahead of schedule. This progress stems from 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; 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 is also a founding member of the Midwest Climate Collaborative, which strives to enable a coherent regional response to the climate crisis.

U-M has a longstanding commitment to 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 1990s, U-M launched targeted efforts to reduce energy use in buildings, and in the early 2000s, the university began quantifying and reporting its greenhouse gas 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 the university’s sustainability-related research and academic programs across all U-M schools and colleges, delving 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.