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.
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, commitments include:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity (Scope 2) to net zero by 2025.
- Eliminating campus emissions (Scope 1) by 2040.
- Establishing goals by 2025 for a wide range of indirect emission sources (Scope 3).
- Fostering a universitywide 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. Notable efforts include planning geo-exchange systems, pursuing 100% renewable purchased electricity by 2025, enacting new maximum building emissions targets to cover new projects over $10 million, and launching a revolving energy fund to finance energy conservation projects.
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 met its greenhouse gas reduction goal (to reduce emissions by 25 percent by 2025) at 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.
In addition, the Ann Arbor campus is working toward 2025 goals in waste reduction, fuel efficiency, healthy environments and community engagement.
U-M holds 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.
U-M is a founding member of the Midwest Climate Collaborative, which strives to enable a coherent regional response to the climate crisis. U-M serves as the lead institution for the University Climate Change Coalition (UC3)—which connects 23 North American universities committed to accelerating climate action on campus, in communities, and at a global scale. Additionally, the university is a member of the U.S. Department of Energy Better Climate Challenge as well as the U.S. EPA Green Power Partnership.
U-M boasts more than 8,000 certified Planet Blue Ambassadors, who advance sustainability through their studies, work and life at U-M, on and off-campus. The program recently expanded to cover UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn.
The university also has more than 100 student organizations focusing on sustainability or the environment. Initiatives include:
- The Student Sustainability Coalition, which seeks to connect students and student groups to catalyze university sustainability efforts. The group is facilitated by Student Life in collaboration with the Graham Sustainability Institute and other university partners.
- The U-M Sustainable Food Program, a student-led initiative that aims to build just and resilient campus food systems. This includes helping scale the Campus Farm and expanding the Maize and Blue Cupboard.
- Planet Blue Student Leaders, which focuses on peer-to-peer engagement and culture change, with focus on early undergraduates as well as those who are less familiar with U-M carbon neutrality work or sustainability generally.
Research and Academics
U-M offers more than 800 sustainability courses. In addition, the Graham Sustainability Institute’s Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program awarded $2.1 million to fourteen multidisciplinary projects with significant potential to help reduce net carbon emissions.
The Office of the Vice President for Research (OVPR) launched its Bold Challenges initiative in 2021, which includes a significant emphasis on sustainability and carbon neutrality research.
Michigan Engineering and OVPR launched a new Institute for Energy Solutions that aims to accelerate an equitable transition to a more sustainable energy future.
Michigan Engineering, OVPR, and the School for Environment and Sustainability launched MI Hydrogen, a new initiative to provide the leading research necessary to accelerate the use of hydrogen beyond current industrial limits.