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 carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions (resulting from purchased electricity) by 2025.
- Establish net-zero goals by 2025 for 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 taking a number of immediate actions, including, but not limited to:
- Installing geothermal heating and cooling systems in conjunction with some of its new construction projects,
- Electrifying the Ann Arbor and Dearborn campus buses as a first step toward decarbonizing U-M’s entire vehicle fleet.
- 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.
- 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 recent 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’ sustainability goals that were created in 2011. Learn more about the Ann Arbor sustainability goals here.
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, U-M Regents embraced the commission’s final report and committed to achieving university-wide carbon neutrality
Learn more about the commission’s process and work on the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality page.
How do carbon neutrality efforts incorporate UM-Flint and UM-Dearborn?
U-M’s goals of carbon neutrality span the entire university, including 40 million square feet in buildings, U-M’s Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses, Athletics and Michigan Medicine.
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 Ann Arbor’s, 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 to explicitly include the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
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 the University of Michigan’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.
U-M will not directly invest in companies that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, currently defined as the top 100 coal and the top 100 oil and gas publicly traded reserve holders globally as compiled on the Carbon Underground 200TM list. U-M does not currently hold any such direct investments.
U-M is shifting natural resources investment focus toward renewable energy investments with an attractive risk-adjusted return profile.
Over the past decade, U-M has not invested in companies that extract thermal coal or oil from tar sands. U-M will not invest in such companies going forward.
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 the new wind parks in a 2019 power-purchase agreement with DTE Energy. This step will reduce 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 is expected to allow U-M to achieve its 2025 GHG reduction goal more than 3 years ahead of schedule.
In May 2021, U-M 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.
Where can I find more information on U-M’s Greenhouse Gas emissions profile?
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.