University of Michigan’s carbon neutrality commission releases ‘bold, visionary plan’

Credit: Michigan Photography

ANN ARBOR – The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality at the University of Michigan has submitted its final report for the university to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions on all of its campuses, including Michigan Medicine.

President Mark Schlissel, the Board of Regents and other university leaders will now review the collection of 50 recommendations that the school could take to achieve net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

“The PCCN plan is ambitious and bold, both of which are essential to meet the urgency of the crisis,” wrote Dean Jonathan T. Overpeck and Professor Gregory A. Keoleian, who are both PCCN commissioners. “Through implementation of the carbon neutrality plan, U-M will provide a model for taking early action to avoid the most adverse impacts of climate change.

“The plan highlights a wide range of carbon reduction strategies from large infrastructure investments to electrify heating and cooling, to fleet electrification and food service diet shifts. These on-campus strategies will be combined with off-campus activities, such as renewable power purchase agreements to achieve carbon neutrality goals.”

The recommendations address the university’s three types of emissions:

  • Scope 1 emissions: Result from on-campus buildings and transportation.
  • Scope 2 emissions: Result from purchased electricity.
  • Scope 3 emissions: Result from indirect sources like food procurement, commuting and university-sponsored travel, waste and more.

An institution can achieve carbon neutrality by offsetting the emissions it creates with emissions it removes.

According to a U-M news release, the report outlines the following goals:

  • Reach carbon neutrality for Scope 1 emissions across all three campuses by 2025 — including the use of carbon offsets — and eliminate Scope 1 emissions entirely by 2040.
  • Achieve carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions across all three campuses by 2025 or earlier.
  • Establish, by 2025, carbon neutrality goal dates for Scope 3 emissions categories that are set for no later than 2040.
  • Deepen its commitment to environmental justice and strengthen its connections with local communities.

To read the full report, click here.

The report, which took the commission two years to complete, identifies transferable, scalable and financially responsible strategies to cut emissions across U-M’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses.

“Combating climate change remains global society’s greatest challenge because of its urgency and potential adverse impact on all of the earth’s inhabitants and everything that we do. Success will require the collaboration of many disciplines and all institutions,” said President Schlissel in a statement.

“I applaud the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality for leveraging the strengths of our university and broader community to bring forward a comprehensive report. I look forward to reviewing each recommendation with university leadership to determine U-M’s best path forward.”

In total, 17 commissioners, including faculty, students, staff and regional stakeholders, sat on the task force.

The commission used external consultants SmithGroup and Integral Group along with 11 internal teams to examine specific topics for achieving net-zero greenhouse gas emissions.

The internal analysis teams consisted of 50 undergraduate and graduate students and 17 faculty members. The commission also received more than 700 public comments over the course of the two-year process from more than 400 members of the U-M community.

“We’re confident that the steps outlined in our report provide U-M with a bold, feasible and just path toward carbon neutrality,” commission co-chair and engineering, physics and computer science professor Stephen Forrest said in a statement.

“The report spans emissions scopes, disciplines and leading topics in sustainability, and community input has been critical in making it as thorough as it is. We’re immeasurably encouraged by the interest in and ideas around this work, which push U-M to be a leading university in sustainability.”

“We chose to highlight organizational recommendations and environmental justice considerations in large part because they can foster a culture of sustainability that complements our technical, emissions-reduction recommendations,” commission co-chair and Graham Family Director of the Graham Sustainability Institute Jennifer Haverkamp said in a statement.

“Our community comprises more than 100,000 students, staff and faculty, and our path toward carbon neutrality requires that they all feel empowered, represented and responsible. We’re confident that in this report, everyone will find something directly relevant to their daily experience at U-M.”

These culture and organization recommendations include creating an carbon neutrality executive leadership position, integrating ways to cut emissions into campus planning, investing in carbon neutrality research and more.

According to a U-M release, emission reduction recommendations include:

  • Converting existing heating and cooling infrastructure on all campuses to an electrified system centered on geothermal heat exchange with heat recovery chiller technology.
  • Transitioning U-M’s entire vehicle fleet — including BlueBuses, campus cars and trucks, and maintenance vehicles — to a fully decarbonized fleet.
  • Incentivizing commuter electric vehicle use by increasing electric vehicle charging stations across all three campuses.
  • Creating a Revolving Energy Fund in conjunction with an internal carbon pricing system to support energy conservation and carbon reduction projects across the university.
  • Reforming U-M’s parking policy and investing in ridesharing, telecommuting and cycling infrastructure to spur university community members away from regular personal vehicle use.

Established in 2011, U-M is on ahead of schedule to reduce emissions on its campuses by 25 percent by 2025. The university is achieving this by generating more energy on campus at its Central Power Plant, by investing in energy efficiency and purchasing more renewable energy from services in the area.

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.