U-M Carbon Neutrality Commission Releases Final Report; SEAS Plays Key Role in Recommendations
Humanity is facing a climate crisis. Drastic reductions in greenhouse gas emissions are required in the coming decade to avoid irreversible damage to the planet’s life support systems. Universities have a critical role to play in creating solutions to address this emergency by accelerating greenhouse gas emission reductions to zero.
We are pleased to announce the release of the University of Michigan President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN) report. This report recommends a bold and visionary plan for achieving carbon neutrality across the Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint campuses and other U-M locations throughout Michigan. This report is a roadmap for U-M achieving carbon neutrality using a comprehensive set of carbon reduction strategies and goals for Scope 1 (campus buildings and transportation), Scope 2 (purchased electricity), and Scope 3 (commuting, food, business travel, waste, biosequestration, and upstream fuel emissions).
We are grateful to the many SEAS, Program in the Environment, and Center for Sustainable Systems faculty, students, and staff for their contributions throughout the two-year process in developing our recommendations and report.
Key PCCN recommendations (which exceed Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) 1.5°C targets) include:
- Reaching carbon neutrality for Scope 1 greenhouse gas emissions across all three campuses by 2025 using carbon offsets where local actions aren’t fast enough, and eliminating Scope 1 emissions entirely through local actions by 2040;
- Achieving carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions across all three campuses by 2025 or earlier;
- Establishing, by 2025, carbon neutrality goal dates for Scope 3 emissions categories no later than 2040; and
- Deepening our carbon neutrality commitment to environmental justice and strengthening its connections with local communities. By setting 2025 neutrality goals for Scope 1 and 2 emissions, we are explicitly recognizing that climate change and air pollution from fossil fuel burning are disproportionally affecting disadvantaged communities in an ever-increasing manner, and must be halted as fast as possible. We also are recommending that environmental justice considerations be integral to all implementation decisions.
These recommendations are based on extensive research from 11 Internal Analysis Teams representing a broad range of expertise across U-M. SEAS, PitE, and Center for Sustainable Systems faculty and staff played a leadership role on many of these teams, ranging from Carbon Accounting (Greg Keoleian, Geoff Lewis), University-Sponsored Travel (Ming Xu), and Energy Consumption (Tom Lyon) to Environmental Justice (Larissa Larsen, Jonathan Overpeck), Campus Culture and Communication (Joe Trumpey), External Engagement (Andy Hoffman), and topics such as Carbon Offsets and Electricity Purchasing (Michael Moore, Sam Stolper, Barry Rabe). More than 100 SEAS and PitE students were engaged in Commission activities, from building an accounting system for simulating greenhouse gas emission reduction strategies, to estimating commuting and business travel footprints, and characterizing returns on investments from energy efficiency initiatives on campus. Two alumni, Drew Horning (SEAS) and Lydia Whitbeck (PitE), played a major role in providing staff support to the Commission. Three recent SEAS alumni (Nick Kemp, Nate Hua, and Stephen Hilton) worked with Keoleian and Lewis to construct the university-wide carbon accounting model that provided the Commission the analytical basis to make its recommendations. Commissioner Andy Berki, SEAS alumnus and Director of the Office of Campus Sustainability, also played a key role in supporting collaborations between Internal Analysis Teams and U-M Facilities and Operations. Commissioner Missy Stults, a SEAS alumna and Sustainability and Innovations Manager for the City of Ann Arbor, is leading A2Zero and facilitated PCCN coordination with the city. We also greatly appreciate the participation of all of our students, alumni, external advisory boards, and other external partners for providing their valuable input throughout the process.
The PCCN plan is ambitious and bold, both of which are essential to meet the urgency of the crisis. 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.
President Mark S. Schlissel, the Board of Regents, and other U-M leaders will now review the Commission’s recommendations to determine the university’s next steps. Implementation of the proposed plan and recommendations will demonstrate U-M’s commitment and leadership in addressing the climate crisis and create opportunities for innovation, public engagement, and tech transfer, and will provide an excellent living laboratory and learning opportunity for our students, staff, and faculty. A team of SEAS students is already implementing plan recommendations by developing a model to accurately estimate greenhouse gas emissions from the $2.5 billion of purchased goods and services, a Scope 3 category.
We thank President Schlissel for his leadership in charging our Commission to develop U-M’s carbon neutrality plan and his commitment to carbon neutrality implementation. We also wish to thank the Commission co-chairs, Steve Forrest and Jennifer Haverkamp and other colleagues and students on the Commission for their hard work. We look forward to the engagement of the entire SEAS community to accelerate carbon neutrality at U-M and in the cities of Ann Arbor, Dearborn, and Flint, the state of Michigan, and beyond.
Jonathan T. Overpeck and Gregory A. Keoleian are PCCN Commissioners. Overpeck is the Samuel A. Graham Dean and William B. Stapp Collegiate Professor of Environmental Education at SEAS. Keoleian is the Director of the Center for Sustainable Systems, the Peter M. Wege Professor of Sustainable Systems at SEAS, and a Professor of Civil and Environmental Engineering.
Read an executive summary of the final report and recommendations.
Read more about the President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality's final recommendations in the University Record.
Learn about the analysis teams and subgroups that have supported the Commission's efforts.