The University of Michigan released its annual fact sheet tracking U-M’s performance toward its 2025 sustainability goals for the Ann Arbor campus, describing progress in most areas while noting the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic.

During 2020:

  • The Office of Campus Sustainability and Student Life completed the installation of compost bins in all residence halls for resident use. Along with other composting infrastructure, this enabled M Dining to use compostable packaging for all meals served to-go due to COVID in the 2020-21 academic year.
  • The dramatic reduction in campus activity from March to June led to significant declines in greenhouse gas emissions and waste from expected trajectories.
  • For the second year in a row, U-M exceeded its Huron River protection goal by reducing the use of synthetic fertilizers and pesticides by 54 percent relative to a fiscal year 2006 baseline.

These initiatives and impacts, among others, are outlined in the Office of Campus Sustainability’s Fiscal Year 2020 sustainability goal update. The update summarizes how the Ann Arbor campus, including Michigan Medicine, is progressing toward its 2025 targets, and where work remains 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 around sustainability topics.

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 13 percent.

Although the decrease in U-M’s greenhouse gas emissions is in part due to the pandemic, a shift toward cleaner fuels by DTE is producing a lasting impact on the trajectory of U-M’s greenhouse gas emissions (3 percent in FY ’20). Ongoing U-M efforts, such as a wind power purchase agreement, a high-efficiency turbine under construction at the Central Power Plant, and energy conservation efforts, will produce lasting decreases as well. 

“We’re on track to meet the 2025 greenhouse gas reduction goal early,” OCS Director Andrew Berki said. “The ultimate recommendations of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, which go to President (Mark) Schlissel in February, should provide a major new target.”

Goal: Decrease vehicle carbon output on passenger trips by 30 percent from 2006 baseline.

Status: Reduced vehicle carbon output by 4 percent.

Progress on this goal has been hampered by pandemic safety needs. Fuel efficiency, measured per passenger trip, declined because the number of passengers per bus was capped to enable social distancing.

Goal: Shrink the amount of waste sent to landfills by 40 percent from 2006 baseline.

Status: Reduced waste levels by 17 percent.

Waste reduction received a boost this year from the pandemic and from a variety of initiatives. Compost service was added to nearly 50 buildings, bringing the total to 150 buildings. OCS continued to transition staff kitchens to zero waste, bringing total kitchens with compost to 650. In addition, OCS supported more than 1,200 staff and student zero waste events — a 100 percent increase over the prior year despite ending such programs approximately three months early due to the pandemic.

The U-M Health System also launched new waste-reduction initiatives, partnering with a new recycling vendor that enabled the system to expand into single-stream recycling on the medical campus. UMHS also began collecting post-consumer compost (leftover food from patient trays), recycling sterilization wrap used in operating rooms at C.S. Mott Children’s and Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital, and recycling construction and demolition waste.

Goal: Protect the Huron River through stormwater-control strategies and apply 40 percent less chemicals to campus landscapes from 2006 baseline.

Status: Reduced chemical application by 54 percent. Although U-M has often exceeded this goal in recent years, the degree of reduction this year is thought to be partially COVID-driven.

Goal: Purchase 20 percent of U-M food from local and sustainable sources.

Status: Purchased 19 percent of U-M food from local and sustainable sources.

Sustainable food purchases increased from 14 percent in FY ’19 to an estimated 19 percent in FY ’20. Although progress has been made toward purchasing more local and sustainable food in recent years, this degree of improvement is anticipated to be an outlier in the short term due to the impact of the pandemic on data analysis processes.

Goal: Invest in programs to educate the community, track behavior, and report progress over time toward a campuswide ethic of sustainability.

Status: Community engagement efforts continued despite the pandemic. Interest in sustainability, especially among students, remained high. Basic sustainability training was added to new student orientation. The Student Sustainability Coalition reorganized and hired 10 student staff members for the 2020-21 academic year, enabling the coalition to more robustly support a sustainable campus culture.

“The shift to virtual has gone surprisingly well for sustainability engagement and leadership programs we operate,” said Alex Bryan, sustainability programs manager for student life. “This is in large part because students are excited to use a sustainability framework to address inequities that affect people, our community, and our planet. There is a continued sense of optimism that we can address all of these issues at the same time under the banner of sustainability.”

As U-M progresses toward its 2025 goals, sustainability work continues to evolve, particularly in light of forthcoming final recommendations from the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, charged with recommending scalable, transferrable and financially responsible strategies for U-M to achieve net-zero emissions.

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