Frequently Asked Questions
What is carbon neutrality?
An institution achieves carbon neutrality when all quantifiable greenhouse gas emissions are eliminated or offset by investments in carbon credits or sequestration projects. Although the phrase “carbon neutrality” mentions carbon specifically, it usually refers to all greenhouse gas emissions, as is the approach at U-M.
What are U-M’s carbon neutrality targets?
Achieving carbon neutrality is multifaceted and complex. U-M plans to:
- Eliminate Scope 1 emissions (resulting from direct, on-campus sources) by 2040, without relying on the use of carbon offsets.
- Achieve net-zero Scope 2 emissions (resulting from purchased electricity) by 2025.
- Establish net-zero goals by 2025 for a wide range of Scope 3 emissions categories, which result from indirect sources like commuting, food procurement, and university-sponsored travel.
What are the boundaries for U-M's carbon neutrality targets?
U-M’s carbon neutrality goals encompass all U-M-owned properties. This includes the Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses, Michigan Medicine, Athletics, and owned off-campus properties.
How will the university achieve carbon neutrality?
To reach these targets, U-M is pursuing a number of strategies, including, but not limited to:
- Installing geothermal heating and cooling systems in conjunction with some of its new construction projects,
- Launching a revolving fund for energy efficiency projects, beginning with $25 million over five years. Energy savings will be reinvested into the fund, which will accelerate energy conservation projects at all three campuses and Michigan Medicine.
- Submitting a request for proposals to secure all purchased electricity from renewable sources.
- Planning to build on-campus solar installations with a capacity of 25 megawatts across the Dearborn, Flint and Ann Arbor campuses, including Michigan Medicine and Athletics. The city of Ann Arbor issued a parallel call for onsite solar and the city and university are cross-promoting opportunities.
- Forming several distinct working groups, consisting of specialists from across the university, to develop roadmaps for implementing a wide range of commission recommendations.
Explore all of the ongoing efforts toward U-M carbon neutrality and climate action goals on the Priorities & Progress page.
How do U-M’s carbon neutrality efforts build on previous efforts?
U-M’s carbon neutrality commitments and sustainability efforts build on the work of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN), which was tasked with recommending a plan for U-M to achieve carbon neutrality universitywide. The carbon neutrality commitments also build on the Ann Arbor campus’s sustainability goals, created in 2011.
A timeline showcases some of the work that U-M students, faculty, administrators, and staff members have undertaken, paving the way for the university’s most recent carbon neutrality commitments.
What was the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality?
The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN) was an advisory committee, charged with recommending scalable, transferable, financially responsible and just strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero emissions, which convened from February 2019 to March 2021. The 17-member commission included U-M faculty, staff and students, as well as members representing the local government, advocacy community, and energy utilities.
In March 2021, the PCCN submitted its final report and recommendations to university leadership.The report included a set of 50 proposed actions that could enable U-M to achieve net-zero emissions universitywide. Over 700 public comments — including 521 following the release of the commission’s draft report in December 2020 — along with reports from internal and external analysis teams, were critical to the completion of its final report. In May 2021, the U-M Board of Regents embraced the commission’s final report and committed to achieving university-wide carbon neutrality
Learn more about the commission’s process and work.
How do the Flint and Dearborn campuses compare to the Ann Arbor campus?
The three campuses are all quite different in terms of their community size, makeup, and physical footprint. Flint is a 120-acre campus consisting of 21 buildings containing 2.2 million square feet of space. Dearborn is a 160-acre campus consisting of 33 buildings containing 1.7 million square feet of space. Ann Arbor is a 3,000-acre campus consisting of 380 buildings containing 38 million square feet of space.
While the building and carbon footprints of the Flint and Dearborn campuses are each approximately five percent of those of the Ann Arbor campus, their involvement is critically important in U-M chartering a path to carbon neutrality. Each represents a different mix of urban vs. suburban and commuter-dominant vs. live-on-campus demographics that are representative of a large number of campus communities across the globe. U-M’s carbon neutrality efforts across all three campuses are the first university targets to explicitly include the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
How is U-M Health advancing sustainability?
Ongoing U-M climate action efforts and carbon neutrality goals encompass U-M Health and the Medical School. The Planet Blue at U-M Health program, formerly called the Environmental Sustainability & Carbon Neutrality program, is actively expanding its efforts, particularly in building standards, waste reduction, recycling, energy conservation, virtual care, and green anesthesia, among others.
U-M Health has been recognized for 20 consecutive years by Practice Greenhealth, which provides oversight and guidance to healthcare organizations committed to waste reduction, recycling and reuse, among other priorities. U-M Health earned three awards from Practice Greenhealth for 2023.
In 2022, U-M Health recycled 1,550 tons (e.g. batteries, paper, cardboard, construction materials, motor oil, single-use devices, food compost, etc.) avoiding the landfill. U-M Health also composted 120 tons of food waste. The health system is also finalizing a roll-out of a medical plastics recycling initiative, to begin in Children's and Women's Hospitals Operating Rooms, followed by other operating rooms and procedural locations across the organization. This initiative is a collaboration with DuPont.
U-M Health is replacing single-use "sharps" containers with reusable collector bins, which are sanitized and then reused. One reusable container can eliminate 500 single-use containers — saving more than 75 tons of plastic from being thrown away. The new containers feature a design that limits employee harm.
Virtual Patient Care has increased significantly over the past few years. Since its introduction in 2017, nearly 100 million miles of driving have been avoided, in turn avoiding nearly 38,000 metric tons of GHGs being emitted into the atmosphere.
Anesthesia services release greenhouse gases and ozone-depleting agents into the atmosphere. The Green Anesthesia Initiative (GAIA) removes and reduces harmful anesthetic materials, contributing to a smaller carbon footprint.
How do U-M’s carbon neutrality and sustainability efforts incorporate environmental justice and equity considerations?
The climate crisis poses the most harm to frontline communities that are already historically and unfairly disadvantaged and disenfranchised. Among U-M's carbon neutrality commitments is a pledge to incorporate environmental justice principles into the university’s future decision-making. This will require meaningful engagement with faculty experts in environmental justice, and importantly, substantial engagement with surrounding communities — Ann Arbor, Dearborn, Flint and Detroit.
More concrete steps will be defined as U-M continues its carbon neutrality pursuit.
What are the university’s strategies regarding fossil fuel investments?
The University of Michigan is the first American university to publicly commit to this unique combination (according to data compiled by the Intentional Endowments Network):
- Achieving a net-zero endowment.
- Discontinuing direct investments into publicly traded companies that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gas emissions.
- Shifting its natural resources investment focus toward renewable energy investments while discontinuing investments into funds primarily focused on oil reserves, oil extraction, or thermal coal extraction.
U-M’s net-zero endowment commitment is the first such commitment from a public American university. A net-zero endowment strategy considers the greenhouse gas emissions from all of the university’s investments. Substantial greenhouse gas emissions occur outside of the energy sector, and this approach applies broadly rather than targeting a single industry. Once achieved, U-M’s assets will represent net-zero emissions, whereby created greenhouse gas emissions are offset by removed emissions. U-M is committing to achieving this goal by 2050.
To date, U-M has $300M in green bonds issued to fund infrastructure investments that advance sustainability goals, discontinued direct investments in companies that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, discontinued investments in funds whose primary focus is oil reserves, oil extraction, or thermal coal extraction, and invested $420 million in sustainable energy over the past two years.
Avoided emissions from U-M investments in 2023 are on track to exceed the total amount of greenhouse gases produced by the Ann Arbor campus.
In moving toward a carbon-neutral university, what has U-M done to increase the mix of renewables relative to fossil fuels in generating purchased electricity?
The university committed to purchase approximately 200,000 megawatt hours per year of electricity produced by new Michigan wind parks in a 2019 power-purchase agreement with DTE Energy. This step reduced U-M greenhouse gas emissions by more than 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually—equivalent to the annual emissions generated by 12,000 homes. This agreement enabled U-M to achieve its 2025 GHG reduction goal more than 3 years ahead of schedule.
Read more about U-M purchased electricity and renewable energy credits.
In May 2021, the university committed to achieving carbon neutrality for all Scope 2 emissions on the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses by 2025. To achieve this, the university plans to launch a selection process to secure all purchased electricity from renewable sources.
Furthermore, U-M is planning to build on-campus solar installations with a capacity of 25 megawatts across the Dearborn, Flint and Ann Arbor campuses, including Michigan Medicine and Athletics. The city of Ann Arbor issued a parallel call for onsite solar and the city and university are cross-promoting opportunities.
How do U-M construction efforts align with carbon neutrality efforts.
New U-M construction projects are currently evaluating embodied carbon related to their structure and skin. In early 2023, U-M unveiled updated standards for building construction and renovation to reflect university carbon neutrality goals. In addition to adopting maximum emissions targets, U-M design guidelines now:
- Codify procedures for project teams to track and verify project-specific carbon targets.
- Require embodied carbon analyses to inform design decisions.
- Require new construction projects to exceed energy code standards by 20%; and major renovation projects to exceed standards by 15%.
- Require that carbon reduction, energy savings and water conservation goals are established early and evaluated throughout the design process.
- Require hot water used for heating systems to be compatible with low/medium-temperature hot water, in preparation for future heating technologies.
- Have new plumbing specifications that include lower-flow fixtures to reduce potable water use.
Where can I find more information on U-M’s greenhouse gas emissions profile?
The Planet Blue Dashboards page is a great place to start. It includes tools that track total emissions reductions and trajectories, Ann Arbor campus sustainability metrics, green bonds, and building energy use.
How can I get involved?
Achieving carbon neutrality at U-M will require the entire university community’s support, action and engagement. Community members can submit comments via the public comment portal on the Carbon Neutrality page.
Explore a whole host of sustainability engagement opportunities for faculty, staff and students on the Get Involved page.