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Historic Milestones


Landscaping The U

Finding a barren campus upon his arrival in Ann Arbor, Professor Andrew Dickson White takes it upon himself to transform the landscape one tree at a time.


Arbor Day Origins

Alumnus J. Sterling Morton originates a tree-planting celebration in Nebraska called “Arbor Day.” Today, this event is celebrated globally.


First Forestry Class

Volney Spalding, a U-M botany instructor, teaches a forward-thinking course on forestry that also explores its impact on the social and economic welfare of the country.


Department Status

Spalding and others interested in natural resource management prompt the Regents to establish a department of forestry, in the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts.


Biological Station Begins

The U-M Biological Station is founded on a logged-over parcel, enabling students to observe firsthand how natural resource exploitation impacts the environment.


New School, First Dean

Reflecting its growing breadth of focus, the department of forestry evolves into a full-fledged School of Forestry and Conservation. Its dean for the next 24 years, Samuel T. Dana, is a noted scientist and scholar consulted by two U.S. presidents during his extensive career. When the school moves to a dedicated home on the Diag, the building is named for Dana.


Nuclear Research

A small nuclear reactor is built on North Campus as part of the Michigan Memorial Phoenix Project, honoring U-M community members who gave their lives in World War II. Its purpose is to facilitate research into the peaceful uses of atomic energy.


Power Conversion

The Central Power Plant is converted from a coal-burning facility to one that uses natural gas.


Teach-In/Earth Day

In mid-March, U-M students Dave Allan (who later became interim dean of the School of Natural Resources and Environment) and Doug Scott organize the "Teach-In on the Environment," a huge and spectacularly successful prototype for the first Earth Day held five weeks later. Crisler Arena is filled to the rafters for four days, as the campus comes together to learn how they can “give Earth a chance.”


Early Green Efforts

U-M begins sponsoring van pools to facilitate employee commuting and institutes a recycling program.


Students Go Solar

Engineering undergrad Bill Kaliardos founds the University of Michigan Solar Car team, which becomes the most successful solar team on the continent.


First Professorship

The Max McGraw Professorship of Corporate Environmental Management, U-M’s first professorship dedicated to sustainability, is established between the School of Natural Resources and Environment and the business school.


Earthfest Debuts

U-M hosts its first annual party for the planet, called Earthfest, which is designed to engage the campus community in sustainability programs and activities.


ERB Institute Opens

SNRE and the business school establish the Frederick A. and Barbara M. Erb Institute, committed to creating a socially and environmentally sustainable society through the power of business.


Gold LEED Building

A five-year program of renovations to the Dana building begins, resulting in U-M’s first Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design certification (gold). Later, the university commits to LEED Silver certification for all new construction and renovation projects that cost more than $10 million.


Center for Sustainable Systems

The interdisciplinary Center for Sustainable Systems (formerly the National Pollution Prevention Center) is established within SNRE to promote research and implementation of the Life Cycle Design Methodology.


First for Justice

The nation’s first academic program in environmental justice is launched at U-M, promoting research about the causes and consequences of the inequitable distribution of environmental benefits and hazards. Students focus on the mechanisms that give rise to class, gender, racial and other types of disparities.


LSA & Environment

The new Program in the Environment, located within the College of Literature, Science, and the Arts, offers students a broad liberal arts education in environmental topics.


Graham Institute

An initial $5 million gift from Don and Ingrid Graham, paired with matching funds from U-M, creates the Graham Sustainability Institute, a campuswide institute to catalyze and coordinate a wide variety of sustainability initiatives. Over the next decade, programs administered by the institute go on to financially support 1,100 students and 200 faculty at U-M.


Climate Gathering

U-M hosts the first National Summit on Coping with Climate Change.


New Dual Degree

Engineering Sustainable Systems, a dual degree between the College of Engineering and SNRE, is established.


Students Unite

The Student Sustainability Initiative (now the Student Sustainability Coalition) launches to bring together likeminded student groups across campus.


Tree Campus Honor

U-M is recognized as a Tree Campus USA by the Arbor Day Foundation. It continues to be recognized every year after.


NOAA & Great Lakes

A $4 million grant from the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration funds the creation of the Great Lakes Integrated Sciences and Assessment Center, focused on regional adaptation to climate change and variability.


Coleman’s Plan

President Mary Sue Coleman announces the university’s sustainability initiative supported by an investment of $14 million and commits the campus to a series of ambitious goals, including reducing landfill waste by 40 percent and requiring 20 percent of campus food to be locally sourced by 2025.


Dow Fellows

With a gift from The Dow Chemical Company, U-M establishes the Dow Sustainability Fellows program to support scholars committed to finding innovative sustainability solutions on local-to-global scales.


Water Center

To strengthen the university’s work in the Great Lakes, the U-M Water Center is established with a $4.5 million gift from the Fred A. and Barbara M. Erb Family Foundation. Two years later, NOAA supplements the center’s budget with a $20 million grant.


Farming at Matthaei

An experimental farm is tilled at Matthaei Botanical Gardens as part of U-M’s Sustainable Food Program, and addresses student interest in gaining practical growing experience. The Campus Farm is supported by an award from the Planet Blue Student Innovation Fund, which offers grants of $5,000 to $50,000 for student-initiated projects that promote environmental sustainability on campus.


AASHE Recognizes U-M

U-M earns the prestigious silver rating from the Association for the Advancement of Sustainability in Higher Education. In 2015, 2018 and 2023, it receive a Gold rating.


Ambassadors Debut

The university launches the Planet Blue Ambassador program, focused on encouraging faculty, staff, and students to engage in personal sustainability actions. It also establishes the Sustainability Cultural Indicators Program, a first-of-its-kind study by the Graham Sustainability Institute and the Institute for Social Research for tracking sustainability culture changes and progress on campus.


New Journal

A team of Graham Sustainability Doctoral Fellows publishes the first issue of the Michigan Journal of Sustainability, making scholarly sustainability research accessible to practitioners and policymakers worldwide.


Home for Batteries

The Battery Fabrication and Characterization User Facility (Battery Lab) is developed in cooperation with the Michigan Economic Development Corporation and Ford Motor Company.


New Progress

University leadership reinvigorates campus sustainability progress by committing $100 million to new efforts relating to climate action, waste prevention, healthy environments and community awareness and action. These efforts include retooling the Central Power Plant to register a 20 percent decrease in greenhouse gas emissions.


UMHS is Lauded

The University of Michigan Health System is named one of the 50 “greenest” hospitals in America.


Dow Fellows program extended

A new $3 million gift from the Dow Chemical Co. Foundation to the Dow Sustainability Fellows Program at U-M will enable fellows to continue implementing sustainable solutions for food systems, cities, infrastructure, mobility, consumption and energy systems from Michigan to Sub-Saharan Africa.


Zero Waste Stadium

Michigan Athletics launches zero-waste game days at Michigan Stadium, helping to move U-M closer to reaching its campus sustainability goals.


Grand Opening of SEAS

The opening ceremony for the new School for Environment and Sustainability marks the start of a new path in sustainability research and education that brings together faculty from a wide variety of disciplines and many U-M schools and colleges to address local and global sustainability challenges.


President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality Established

Former U-M President Mark Schlissel establishes the President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality to develop recommendations for how to achieve carbon neutrality for U-M, as well as scalable and transferable strategies that can be used by other institutions and larger communities to achieve the same goal.


Earth Day at 50

Earth Day at 50, a year of lectures, special events and courses dedicated to bringing the U-M campus and community partners together, explores the impact we are currently making on sustainability and how we can rise to the challenge of creating a better future for our planet. From March 2020 onward, the Covid-19 pandemic interrupted in-person Earth Day at 50 programming. Nonetheless, U-M marked the occasion with an array of limited-capacity and virtual offerings, including a series of podcasts and videos covering various resonant topics in sustainability, a panel featuring original "Teach-In on the Environment" organizers, and the annual Peter M. Wege Lecture on Sustainability.


Carbon Neutrality Commission Submits Recommendations

The President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality, charged with recommending scalable, transferable, financially responsible and just strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero emissions, submits its final report and recommendations to university leadership. The report includes a set of 50 proposed actions that, if enacted, could enable U-M to achieve net-zero emissions universitywide.


U-M Commits to Carbon Neutrality

In May 2021, following the release of the final report of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, U-M committed to achieving carbon neutrality universitywide, encompassing the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses, as well as Athletics and Michigan Medicine.


University Centers Sustainability in Central Initiatives

"Carbon neutrality, climate action and environmental justice" becomes a core impact area of Vision 2034 as well as key elements of Campus Plan 2050 efforts. In addition, Shana S. Weber becomes U-M's inaugural associate vice president for campus sustainability and the university announces plans to hire an inaugural vice provost for sustainability and climate action.