The University of Michigan, in an annual fact sheet, detailed progress toward its 2025 sustainability goals in the areas of healthy environments and community engagement, and highlighted promising initiatives ahead for reducing greenhouse gas emissions.
During fiscal year 2019, which ended June 30:
- U-M finalized a wind-power purchase agreement with DTE Energy, estimated to lead to greenhouse gas reductions equivalent to 100,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide annually — or the combined emissions of 21,000 cars over one year. This agreement, along with a planned increase of the Central Power Plant’s capacity to generate cleaner energy on campus than what’s available through energy providers, will enable the university to achieve its 2025 greenhouse gas reduction goal ahead of schedule.
- U-M expanded composting to 40 new buildings, bringing the total to 105 — including all residence halls and all 22 on-campus cafes.
- During the 2019 calendar year, U-M exceeded its Huron River protection goal of reducing chemical applications to campus landscapes by 40 percent by 2025 with a 46 percent reduction.
These initiatives, among others, are outlined in the Office of Campus Sustainability’s 2019 sustainability goal update. The update summarizes how the Ann Arbor campus, including Michigan Medicine, is progressing toward its 2025 targets, and where there is work to be done.
The goals guide the university’s work in greenhouse gas reduction, fuel efficiency, waste reduction, sustainable food purchases, Huron River protection, and broader awareness and engagement cross-campus around sustainability topics.
“This year, we’ve made considerable strides in our efforts to expand composting and engage the campus community,” said Andrew Berki, director of the Office of Campus Sustainability.
“We’re also excited about two major initiatives — a wind-power purchasing agreement and a high-efficiency turbine at the Central Power Plant — that will enable us to move further, and urgently, on greenhouse gas reductions.
“Other areas, like waste reduction, remain challenging and require continued attention and collaborative effort.”
Operations data in the fact sheet show the following movement toward the 2025 sustainability goals:
- Goal: Cut U-M greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent from the 2006 baseline.
- Status: Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 5 percent.
- Goal: Decrease vehicle carbon output on passenger trips by 30 percent from the 2006 baseline.
- Status: Reduced vehicle carbon output by 20 percent.
- Goal: Shrink the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40 percent from the 2006 baseline.
- Status: Reduced waste levels by 3 percent.
- Goal: Protect the Huron River through stormwater-control strategies and apply 40 percent less chemicals, from the 2006 baseline, to campus landscapes.
- Status: Reduced chemical application by 46 percent.
- Goal: Purchase 20 percent of U-M food from local and sustainable sources.
- Status: Currently purchasing 14 percent of U-M food from local and sustainable sources.
The latest update shows that energy conservation continues to help offset increased emissions from campus growth. Since 2006, U-M has reduced energy use in general fund buildings by 17 percent while at the same time increasing building square footage by 2 million square feet.
Regarding greenhouse gas reductions, Berki explained, “By increasing the amount of renewable energy that U-M purchases, we will reduce carbon emissions universitywide.”
“Our new wind-power purchase agreement with DTE fulfills a key recommendation of the 2015 Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee, building on U-M’s progress to date as we now focus on creating a plan to reach carbon neutrality.”
To help combat waste on campus, U-M has continued expanding composting to new buildings, promoting zero-waste events, and conducting a waste audit at Michigan Medicine to identify opportunities for further reduction.
There were 478 zero waste events during FY ’19, serving 76,000 attendees, and hosted by 94 departments and groups. U-M diverted more than 1,100 tons of waste through composting and 5,600 tons of waste through recycling in FY ’19, although continued campus growth has mitigated waste-reduction efforts.
U-M purchased a slightly smaller percentage of its food from local and sustainable sources in FY ’19 than in the previous two fiscal years, although the university remains on track toward its food sustainability goal for 2025. A FY ’20 focus for MDining will be on increasing plant-based food purchases.
The fact sheet further details community engagement initiatives that work in concert with U-M’s sustainability progress.
The U-M Sustainable Food Program is a student-led coalition that founded the Campus Farm in 2012 and supports food systems change on campus. Last year, the program helped scale Maize and Blue Cupboard from an informal student group to an institutionally-backed initiative to address food insecurity among students by providing food and other basic needs.
The Zero Waste Program at Michigan Stadium, which encourages game-goers to compost and recycle the majority of gameday waste, diverted nearly 78 tons of waste from the landfill during the 2019 season — up from 65 tons the previous season.
Planet Blue Ambassadors is another pathway for all faculty, students and staff to become involved broadly in sustainability. Currently, there are 5,600 certified ambassadors whose collective actions have resulted in estimated reductions of 9 million pounds of carbon dioxide, 600,000 pounds of waste, and 52 million gallons of water.
As U-M progresses toward its 2025 goals, the university’s sustainability work continues to evolve. OCS and partners across campus are identifying additional opportunities — including anticipated recommendations from the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality — toward making U-M more sustainable.