Remarks by Regents Bernstein and Brown regarding U-M carbon neutrality measures

Regent Mark Bernstein

At our last meeting we announced a commitment to carbon neutrality with regard to our investment policy.  

Today, we commit to carbon neutrality with regard to the operations of our university.  

The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality completed an ambitious endeavor. The process was thorough and inclusive. And their report is outstanding. We embrace the commission’s high level of analysis, applaud the commission’s robust engagement, and are proud to announce these first (of many) steps toward implementation.

We’re integrating sustainability into the core of our mission.  

I think it’s important to highlight how comprehensive this commitment will be.

This work applies to every single aspect of our institution — every decision, every building, every student, every faculty member, every staff person, every administrator on every campus, in Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint.      

We are not taking any shortcuts — we’re including every single structure and process of our university from teaching to research to the health system to athletics.

And we’re including every single source of greenhouse gas emissions — Scope 1 emissions caused by direct, on-campus emissions from heating and cooling our buildings to fueling our transit systems; Scope 2 emissions, emissions generated by electricity we purchase; and Scope 3 emissions. These are emissions created by indirect sources like commuting, food procurement and travel.

Make no mistake, this is going to be a really big challenge. Maybe harder for us than most other universities — given our massive, complex infrastructure (40 million square feet, the largest public research enterprise in the nation, a huge health system, tens of thousands of students across three large campuses).  

Environmental justice will be an important feature of this work. … As the commission notes “the climate crisis poses the most harm to communities that are historically and unfairly disadvantaged and disenfranchised.”  To put it bluntly, the people who have done the least to cause climate change feel the impact of climate change most acutely.

That’s why environmental justice experts and communities most affected by climate change must have a powerful voice in shaping solutions. The commission and our community have demanded that we prioritize and integrate environmental justice in our work — and we will.

We’re building accountability into every step of this process.  We’ll have a public dashboard and the carbon neutrality leader will ensure that we embrace the urgency and accountability that this issue needs and deserves. 

If we can do this — and we will — then every university, every institution must step up.

Nothing is going to be easy about this effort, but everything depends upon us meeting this challenge.  

There is no time to waste … so let’s get to work.

Regent Paul Brown

Thank you, and I wanted to second everything that Regent Bernstein said. Large efforts like this are one of the main reasons I wanted to join the board of the University of Michigan.

But we are aware of how difficult the past year and a half have been, particularly at the University of Michigan. Despite these unprecedented challenges, the university, led by the President, staff, and commission, has remained focused on achieving one of my campaign, and the board and president’s, promises, that is, to make the University of Michigan carbon neutral in the coming decades.  

Everyone should understand, the allocation of the University of Michigan’s resources is a pure zero-sum game.  This effort will take an enormous investment and that could mean other priorities are delayed or scaled back. But we will never compromise on educating our students, caring for our patients or competing with Ohio State. 

Becoming carbon neutral, in many ways, is our moon shot.  But we are definitely not choosing to do this because It will be easy, because it will not.  We are also not choosing to do this because it is hard.  We are choosing to become carbon neutral because it is absolutely necessary.  

This will serve the university, but like our core mission, this will also serve our state and our society. This will test whether we are truly the leaders and best, because that is what it will take to achieve this goal.  As President Kennedy said, this is a challenge “we are willing to accept, we are unwilling to postpone, and one which we intend to win.”

So thank you again to the president, the staff and the commission for your work.

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