1. Statement on U-M carbon neutrality at May 2021 Board of Regents meeting

    May 20, 2021

    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 recommendations were designed not only to help the University of Michigan achieve carbon neutrality –but also to be financially responsible, environmentally just, and scalable and transferrable to help other large institutions achieve neutrality, as well.

    Climate change caused by human activity, particularly the burning of fossil fuels, is the defining scientific and social challenge of our age. We will not solve the climate crisis if we stand alone as an island in a rising sea of apathy and inaction.

    We must use the full breadth of our research, education and service mission to address the problem, while at the same time 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.

    The plan put forth by the commission, along with the tremendous advocacy and passion in our community and the actions I am announcing today, will do precisely that.

    The University of Michigan will achieve carbon neutrality across all greenhouse gas emissions scopes.

    This carbon neutrality 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.

    By 2025, we will achieve carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions, or 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.

    A set of initial transformative projects will advance this goal, including:

    • Geothermal systems for heating and cooling some of our new construction projects, beginning with the Beyster building addition on North Campus.
    • Electric campus buses for Ann Arbor and Dearborn, as a first step toward decarbonizing U of M’s entire vehicle fleet.
    • Reevaluating the campus master plan with carbon neutrality at its center in collaboration with faculty experts.
    • Making all new building projects compatible with renewable energy powered heating and cooling systems, and developing higher energy efficiency standards for new construction and renovation.
    • We’ll also launch a university-wide revolving fund for energy efficiency projects, beginning with $25 million over five years. This is a five-fold increase over our current commitment.

    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.

    We will achieve carbon neutrality through actions that embrace urgency, accountability and inclusivity. Further, we will incorporate environmental justice principles in our decision-making, as the climate crisis poses the most harm to frontline communities that are historically and unfairly disadvantaged and disenfranchised. We’ll continue meaningful engagement, as well.

    To further strengthen discovery in this area, we will make significant investments in carbon neutrality research and development, building on the success of multidisciplinary initiatives like the Carbon Neutrality Acceleration Program.

    We will work with deans to identify and support opportunities to integrate sustainability and carbon neutrality into core curricula.

    And to provide all university community members with the resources they need to live and work sustainably at U-M, we will expand the Planet Blue Ambassador program to cover the Flint and Dearborn campuses.

    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.

    Part of our work will include studying the feasibility of carbon offsets more closely. Though the commission called for offsets to accelerate Scope 1 neutrality, that recommendation was the only one in the report that was also accompanied by a minority opinion, which called for the prioritization of eliminating direct emissions over purchasing offsets. Further study will allow us to carefully assess different strategies within the context of urgently combatting climate change while making a tangible and just impact, locally and beyond.

    Today’s commitments place carbon neutrality at the center of U-M’s mission. To fulfill our mission as a public research university, we must address the climate crisis by leading the way on our campuses and beyond, creating, testing and teaching the knowledge and technologies that will transfer to other large institutions, and inspiring and empowering others to help solve the defining scientific and social challenge of our time.

    Finally, I want to thank the commission for their great work. Their 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 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.

    We are sharing more details on our plans today on my website and in the University Record.