The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, charged with recommending scalable and transferable strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero emissions, has released its preliminary draft recommendations for public comment.

The commission is inviting U-M students, staff, faculty and community members to review proposed recommendations and submit feedback and ideas by Jan. 26, 2021, via an online public comment portal. In addition, the Planet Blue Ambassador program and Student Sustainability Coalition will host a series of community conversations around the draft recommendations in January.

“Community engagement is a critical step from here,” said Jennifer Haverkamp, commission co-chair and Graham Family Director of the Graham Sustainability Institute. “Ultimately, the commission’s recommendations should accommodate the needs and lived experiences of those in the U-M community.

“Recommendations also need to be just, recognizing that large research institutions like ours bear an outsized responsibility for the climate crisis, and concomitant responsibility to contribute to solutions. We look forward to convening U-M and community partners during the weeks ahead.”

The draft report includes a collection of steps that U-M could take to reduce greenhouse gas emissions across the Flint, Dearborn and Ann Arbor campuses, including Michigan Medicine. It accounts for U-M’s Scope 1 emissions, resulting from on-campus sources; Scope 2 emissions, resulting from purchased electricity; and Scope 3 emissions, resulting from indirect sources like commuting and university-sponsored travel.

“We’re seeking to go beyond previous U-M efforts, and indeed, beyond other leading research universities in offering a comprehensive and practical path toward carbon neutrality,” said Stephen Forrest, commission co-chair and professor of electrical engineering and computer science, material sciences and engineering, and physics.

“U-M has three campuses in distinctly different communities. Achieving full carbon neutrality requires an array of different strategies — both technical and behavioral — from transitioning our vast heating and cooling systems to building new leadership structures that incentivize the community to buy in.

“We’ve put together a robust set of draft recommendations, and we’re looking forward to receiving community feedback to inform us in presenting our final report to President (Mark) Schlissel.”

Proposed recommendations include, among other actions:

  • Converting U-M’s existing heating and cooling infrastructure to an electrified system centered on geothermal heat exchange with heat recovery chiller technology.
  • Purchasing power from 100 percent renewable sources.
  • Transitioning U-M’s entire vehicle fleet — including Blue Buses, campus cars and trucks, and maintenance vehicles — to a fully electric-powered fleet.
  • Creating a Revolving Energy Fund to support energy conservation and carbon reduction projects across the university, and establishing a universitywide internal carbon pricing system.
  • Incentivizing commuter electric-vehicle use by increasing the number of electric-vehicle charging stations across all three campuses.
  • Reforming U-M’s parking policy and investing in ride-sharing, telecommuting and cycling infrastructure to spur university community members away from regular personal vehicle use.
  • Investing in and expanding carbon neutrality-focused research, “living-learning labs,” and sustainability curriculum and literacy options across all three U-M campuses, for all university community members.

Other draft recommendations relate to new building standards, alternatives to university-sponsored travel, plant-forward dining options, upstream emissions, U-M leadership structure, campus culture and communication, biosequestration and carbon offsets.

The draft outlines a pathway for U-M to potentially:

  • Reach carbon neutrality for Scope 1 emissions across all three campuses by 2025 (inclusive of carbon offsets) and eliminate direct Scope 1 emissions entirely by 2040. Offsets represent facilitated reductions in carbon emissions elsewhere that counterbalance direct emissions on campus.
  • Achieve carbon neutrality for Scope 2 emissions across all three campuses by 2025.
  • Establish, by 2025, carbon neutrality goal dates for Scope 3 emission categories that are set for no later than 2040.

An array of completed analyses has informed the commission’s deliberations and is incorporated extensively throughout the draft report. These include reports from several internal analysis teams and subgroups examining many distinct topics critical to U-M’s net-zero push.

Teams included student and faculty experts from across the university, and each team dedicated sections of their final reports to environmental justice considerations. Approximately 50 undergraduate and graduate students were involved in these analyses.

The commission also engaged an engineering consulting firm, Integral Group, to help identify a way for U-M to transition its heating and cooling infrastructure to net-zero. Draft recommendations related to geothermal heat exchange, in particular, draw heavily from its completed analysis.

Importantly, the proposed actions are draft recommendations and do not necessarily reflect a unanimous consensus among members of the commission. Once the commission reviews and considers all public comments, it will submit a final set of recommendations to Schlissel in February 2021.

“I invite all U-M community members to provide feedback on the commission’s draft recommendations so that its final report can best reflect our ambitions, expertise and perspectives,” Schlissel said. “I look forward to reviewing the commission’s final recommendations once it concludes its process.”

Editor’s note: This story has been updated to reflect an extension in the deadline for U-M students, staff, faculty and community members to submit feedback and ideas to Jan. 26.

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