1. U-M will achieve carbon neutrality across all greenhouse gas emissions scopes

    May 20, 2021

    To All Members of the University Community:

    In March, the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality issued its final report and recommendations, after two years of thorough analysis, community engagement and expert input. The commission’s report, along with the tremendous advocacy and passion in our community, lead us to be confident in the major commitments we announce today to address climate change caused by human activity – the defining scientific and social challenge of our age.

    I’m pleased to announce that the University of Michigan will achieve carbon neutrality across all greenhouse gas emissions scopes.

    Our commitment is comprehensive, spanning our $1.62 billion research enterprise, our 40 million square feet in buildings, our three campuses, Athletics, and Michigan Medicine, which annually serves the public with 2.3 million patient visits, 60,000 surgeries and 5,000 births.

    The key points are below, and additional details, projects and actions are described on my website and in the University Record.

    A carbon neutral University of Michigan

    By 2025, we will achieve carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions, those coming from purchased power, as recommended by the commission.

    By 2040, we will eliminate Scope 1 emissions, as recommended by the commission. These are emissions from direct, on-campus sources. As first steps, we will install a geothermal system for heating and cooling a planned major building addition on North Campus, begin electrifying campus buses for Ann Arbor and Dearborn, and launch a $25 million university-wide revolving fund for energy efficiency projects.

    By 2025, we will establish carbon neutrality goals for Scope 3 emissions categories, as recommended by the commission. This covers emissions from indirect sources like commuting, food procurement, and university-sponsored travel.

    A comprehensive commitment

    U-M’s carbon neutrality commitment seeks to address the climate crisis throughout the full breadth of our mission, while serving as a model for how a large, comprehensive university with a leading health system and the nation’s largest public research enterprise can achieve carbon neutrality in a cold climate.

    We will achieve carbon neutrality through actions that embrace urgency, accountability and inclusivity as called for by the commission. Further, we will incorporate environmental justice principles in our decision-making, as the climate crisis poses the most harm to frontline communities, those who experience the climate crisis most urgently and who are historically and unfairly disadvantaged and disenfranchised. We’ll conduct meaningful engagement with our surrounding communities, as well.

    Today’s commitments integrate our work on carbon neutrality including both how we operate the campus and how we fulfill our academic mission. Specific to our mission, we will:

    • Further strengthen discovery by making significant investments in carbon neutrality research and development, building on the success of multidisciplinary initiatives such as the Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program, the Global CO2 Initiative and the Institute for Global Change Biology.
    • Work with schools and colleges to identify and support opportunities to integrate sustainability and carbon neutrality into core curricula.
    • Provide all university community members with the resources they need to live and work sustainably at U-M, by expanding the Planet Blue Ambassador program to cover the Flint and Dearborn campuses and investing in the Student Sustainability Coalition to foster greater student involvement.

    The work will begin immediately, and following the commission’s guidance, I am creating a new executive-level leadership position to manage and coordinate our carbon neutrality efforts. We expect to define and fill that position in the coming months through a national search.

    In the meantime, I am appointing Drew Horning as my special advisor to help lead and develop our near-term efforts. He will split time with his current role as the managing director of our Graham Sustainability Institute.

    I want to close by thanking the commission for their great work and the community for its tireless advocacy.

    The recommendations were designed not only to help the University of Michigan achieve carbon neutrality, but also to be financially responsible, environmentally just, scalable and transferrable to help other large institutions achieve neutrality. The commission’s process was thoughtful and engaging. It brought together a broad group of stakeholders and advocates – the outcome is better as a result.

    This is a plan created by our community and for our community. Hundreds of faculty, staff and students participated in its creation. The level of enthusiasm and advocacy is inspiring, and most definitely needed, as achieving our carbon neutrality goals will require all of us to participate and do the work needed to ensure a better future for our planet and society.

    Sincerely,

    Mark S. Schlissel
    President