The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality has released its second interim report, building on extensive analyses by various affiliate teams and external firms across myriad topics crucial to the University of Michigan’s carbon neutrality effort.

The task force is charged with recommending strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero carbon emissions. The report summarizes activities that took place during its second phase of work, which began in November.

Whereas the commission’s initial phase focused on community engagement, assembling teams and structuring the work, this phase involved developing a common understanding of key issues that the commission will need to consider in making its final recommendations to President Mark Schlissel, and overseeing the work it had tasked out.

In that process, the commission reviewed key inputs from:

  • Eight internal analysis teams, comprising student and faculty experts, which explored biosequestration, food, commuting, internal energy consumption policies, university-sponsored travel, campus culture and communication, building standards and external collaboration.
  • Three additional subgroups, led by commissioners and supported by students, faculty and staff, which examined carbon accounting, mobility electrification and social justice.
  • External consulting firms that assessed potential pathways for evolving heat and power generation infrastructure across U-M, and opportunities for major retrofits of existing buildings to decrease their energy impacts.
In its second interim progress report, the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality builds on analyses from an array of internal, external and student- and faculty-led teams. (Graphic courtesy of President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality)

The commission’s second interim progress report provides an overview of these analyses, which will inform the commission’s final recommendations. The commission will publish draft recommendations for public comment during the fall semester and expects to deliver its final report to Schlissel by the end of 2020.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has revealed how boldly society can respond when many different sectors and disciplines collaborate to increase knowledge and solve problems,” said Schlissel, who launched the commission in February 2019.

“The commission’s work moves us closer to our goal of carbon neutrality, and I am looking forward to the positive difference we will make at U-M and beyond through the commission’s impactful and scalable recommendations.”

“The commission’s mandate is broad, spanning all three U-M campuses, athletics and Michigan Medicine; and covering emissions from on-campus, purchased and indirect sources. Accordingly, the commission is considering an array of strategies, and establishing a shared baseline understanding of key issues has been crucial in this phase of work,” added Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute and co-chair of the commission.

“This work also spans disciplines and we thank the students, faculty and staff assisting the internal analysis teams and subgroups for their rigorous analyses.”

In addition to convening internal meetings on emerging trends in renewable energy, carbon offsets and related topics, the commission and affiliated internal analysis teams also conducted public engagements across the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses. Although the COVID-19 crisis ultimately prompted a pause on in-person gatherings, several teams found alternate ways to solicit public input, including surveys.

At this time, the ongoing pandemic has not significantly affected the commission’s timeline. As the situation evolves and workflows continue to adjust across U-M, the commission’s timing may change as well. Co-chairs stressed that they are committed to proceeding as quickly as circumstances allow, citing the urgency of the commission’s work.

The commission continues to host an online comments portal to complement and reinforce in-person and virtual community engagements, as well as a synthesized and categorized summary of all public comments to date.

“During the third and final phase of work, the commission will thoroughly examine internal analysis team proposals, develop preliminary recommendations and determine cost estimates accordingly,” said Stephen Forrest, co-chair of the commission and professor of electrical engineering and computer science, physics, and materials science and engineering.

“As recommendations begin to take shape, we will continue to seek a broad range of perspectives represented in the U-M community. We are grateful for engagement to date, and encouraged by the valuable input that we’ve received even as public attention has turned to the COVID-19 pandemic.”

In its final phase of work, the commission expects to:

  • Deliberate on the findings of internal analysis teams, commission subgroups and external consultants.
  • Determine preliminary recommendations for public comment, with an eye toward financial costs and benefits, organizational challenges and opportunities, social justice implications and scalability opportunities.
  • Engage U-M students, staff, faculty and community constituents for their input on preliminary recommendations.
  • Develop and revise a final report, in response to community feedback.
  • Deliver final, public recommendations to Schlissel.
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