University of Michigan pledges steep carbon emission cuts

ANN ARBOR, Mich. – The University of Michigan announced a plan Thursday to reduce carbon emissions from its campuses while compensating for future releases by preventing them elsewhere or removing the planet-warming gas from the atmosphere.

The measures intended to achieve “carbon neutrality" include use of geothermal heating and cooling, electric buses and a fund for energy-efficiency projects. An executive-level position will be created to direct the initiative.

“Today’s commitments place carbon neutrality at the center of U-M’s mission,” President Mark Schlissel said after outlining the steps during a Board of Regents meeting. “To fulfill our mission as a public research university, we must address the climate crisis by leading the way on our campuses and beyond."

Institutions achieve carbon neutrality by cutting their own emissions and investing in projects that prevent releases elsewhere, or remove carbon from the air and store it underground.

The university's plan covers all operations of the nation’s largest public research institution, including campus buildings in Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn; an athletics complex; and the Michigan Medicine health system.

Goals include eliminating emissions from direct, on-campus sources by 2040 and achieving carbon neutrality for emissions resulting from purchased electricity by 2025.

It also calls for setting net-zero targets for emission categories such as commuting, food procurement and university-sponsored travel by 2025.

Among immediate actions will be installing geothermal heating and cooling systems in some construction projects and electrifying the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campus buses.

The fund for energy efficiency will begin with $25 million over five years. Energy savings will be reinvested into the fund to accelerate conservation projects.

Officials also promised to talk with communities near its campuses about equity and justice issues in the transition to carbon neutrality.