The University of Michigan has made progress toward its 2025 sustainability goals for the Ann Arbor campus in many areas, while the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on campus operations continues, according to an annual fact sheet released by the Office of Campus Sustainability.
U-M committed to achieving carbon neutrality across all scopes of greenhouse gas emissions last year. While initial efforts toward universitywide net-zero emissions are underway, the Ann Arbor campus continues to work toward existing 2025 targets, defined in 2011.
The 2025 goals pertain to greenhouse gas reduction, fuel efficiency, waste reduction, sustainable food purchases, Huron River protection, and broader awareness and engagement around sustainability topics.
“We’re very pleased to be continuing to progress against the Ann Arbor campus’ 2025 sustainability goals, even as U-M is taking a comprehensive approach to climate action in the years and decades to come,” said Andrew Berki, director of OCS.
“We’re excited about a number of new efforts, including an initial investment of $5 million in energy conservation measures spanning campuses and units. This will build upon energy conservation efforts that have contributed to the 2025 greenhouse gas reduction goal.”
- The university began purchasing electricity from three new wind-energy parks. Approximately half of the purchased electricity for the Ann Arbor campus now comes from renewable sources.
- Logistics, Transportation and Parking purchased four electric buses, to be delivered in fall 2022, as a step toward decarbonizing the U-M vehicle fleet.
- Programs and student groups promoting sustainability engagement led a resurgence of activity with the return of the in-person campus experience.
These initiatives and others are outlined in the OCS Fiscal Year 2021 Sustainability Goal Fact Sheet.
2025 Ann Arbor sustainability goals and progress
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 2006 baseline.
Status: Reduced greenhouse gas emissions by 24 percent.
The university’s agreement to purchase approximately 200 million kilowatt hours per year of electricity produced by new DTE Energy wind parks took effect in June, boosting progress on this goal.
Another long-planned effort — a new highly-efficient turbine at U-M’s Central Power Plant — will come to fruition in early 2022. These initiatives and others will enable the university to meet this goal about three years early.
Concurrently, efforts toward U-M’s carbon neutrality commitments are underway. The university is launching a revolving fund for energy conservation projects with $25 million over five years, working to secure all purchased electricity from renewable sources by 2025, and planning geothermal heating and cooling systems for the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building, among other steps.
Goal: Decrease vehicle carbon output on passenger trips by 30 percent from the 2006 baseline.
Status: Unlike recent years, there was no reduction in FY ’21.
Progress on this goal has been temporarily stymied by pandemic safety needs. Fuel efficiency, measured per passenger trip, declined because the number of passengers per bus was capped to enable social distancing.
However, this pandemic impact will be mitigated soon as planning is underway to decarbonize the U-M vehicle fleet by 2040, starting with the deployment of four electric buses in 2022.
Goal: Shrink the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40 percent from the 2006 baseline.
Status: Reduced waste levels by 32 percent.
Fewer people on campus due to the pandemic boosted progress toward this goal. Although the effect is likely to diminish since campus has significantly repopulated since this data was collected in FY ’21, U-M has continued to innovate and refine waste reduction practices.
For instance, OCS launched an “Adopt a Compost Bin” pilot to expand public-facing compost bins. There are now more than 1,000 compost bins on campus, and compost collection reached 1,100 tons in FY ’21.
“We’ve placed bins in most areas of campus with high impact and low risk of contamination,” said Anya Dale, manager of waste reduction and engagement in OCS. “We are now fine-tuning the program. If people fully use the available infrastructure, we have the potential to compost up to one-third of a typical building’s waste.”
Michigan Medicine also has been making strides in reducing waste by composting, exceeding its collection record by composting leftover food from patient trays.
Goal: Protect the Huron River through stormwater-control strategies and apply 40 percent less chemicals to campus landscapes from the 2006 baseline.
Status: Reduced chemical application by 41 percent.
Grounds Services and other units continued their efforts to minimize the use of fertilizer and landscape chemicals.
Goal: Invest in programs to educate the campus community, track behavior and report progress over time toward a campuswide ethic of sustainability.
Status: Sustainability engagement programs and student groups remained active throughout the pandemic and renewed their efforts upon returning to an on-campus experience. For example:
- The Planet Blue Ambassador program, which includes 7,600 certified Ambassadors, began the work of expanding the program to the Flint and Dearborn campuses.
- The U-M Sustainable Food Program and the Campus Farm launched an on-campus farm stand, serving nearly 800 unique customers in fall 2021.
- The Student Sustainability Coalition drafted a common agenda for student sustainability efforts at U-M and hosted listening sessions to collect feedback on the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality final report.
- The zero-waste stadium program, which works to reduce waste and build a culture of sustainability by composting and recycling at football games, refined its approach and diverted nearly 61 tons of waste from the landfill.
This fiscal year was an evaluation period for the 2025 sustainable food goal. A team associated with U-M’s central carbon neutrality efforts is convening to develop a road map for U-M’s approach to sustainable food purchases.
Updated best practices and the carbon neutrality commitment are guiding a shift toward measuring food sustainability on the basis of carbon footprint. While this work progresses, the systems in place to attain the current goal will continue.
2021 commitments toward climate action
The goals outlined above for the Ann Arbor campus are one facet in U-M’s continuing pursuit of carbon neutrality and sustainability universitywide.
In May 2021, the university announced its commitment to carbon neutrality, setting goals to achieve net-zero emissions from purchased power (Scope 2) by 2025, eliminate direct, on-campus greenhouse gas emissions (Scope 1) by 2040, and establish goals by 2025 for a wide range of indirect emission sources (Scope 3).
U-M commitments are informed by guidance from the United Nations Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Relative to 2010 greenhouse gas emissions levels, the university is on pace to reduce Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 50 percent by 2025, which exceeds the IPCC’s guidance to reduce emissions by 45 percent by 2030. U-M’s commitment to eliminate 100 percent of Scope 1 and 2 emissions by 2040 is 10 years ahead of the IPCC’s global net-zero target.
In addition, U-M unveiled sustainable investing strategies in March 2021, becoming the first public American university to commit to achieving a net-zero endowment. U-M also committed to discontinuing direct investments in publicly-traded companies that are the largest contributors to greenhouse gases, shift its natural resources investment focus toward renewable energy, and discontinue investments in funds primarily focused on oil reserves, oil extraction or thermal coal extraction.
I can’t help but be disappointed in this program. Not my area of expertise but if we have already reduced our greenhouse gas emissions by 24 percent with the 2025 goal being to reduce 25 percent, isn’t that evidence that our goals are not nearly ambitious enough? This shouldn’t be so easy. It should be very challenging.
That’s great that we are planning geothermal heating and cooling systems for the Leinweber Computer Science and Information Building. Meanwhile, Oberlin College is converting their entire campus to geothermal right now. Granted, they are a small college but apparently their ambitions far exceed ours. We can do so much better.
The zero-waste stadium program is great but meanwhile we run a colossal energy waste with the electronic billboard outside that more than offsets any gain. Please, show some commitment and pull the plug on that.
University administrations are expected to be afraid of failure and we seem to have set goals that are achievable, but if ever there was a program where we should risk everything, it is this one. Our failure may be in not trying hard enough to save this planet.