As the University of Michigan works toward carbon neutrality, plans are moving forward for renewable purchased electricity, widespread geo-exchange heating and cooling systems, and innovative financing mechanisms.
These initiatives, among others, are detailed in the inaugural Climate Action at the University of Michigan report, which covers carbon neutrality and sustainability efforts taken during the 2022 fiscal year.
“The University of Michigan must take a leading role in advancing a sustainable and just future, and I am pleased today to share that we’ve made considerable strides toward universitywide carbon neutrality,” President Mary Sue Coleman said in an email announcing the report.
“Carbon neutrality is at the heart of what we do; in planning and powering our buildings, deploying our buses, pursuing leading research, and making investments to fund such work. I look forward to building on our progress and learning from like-minded partners and communities as we pursue a more sustainable world. Together, we can take meaningful climate action.”
The report includes high-level numbers, descriptions of various U-M sustainability initiatives during the last year, and a preview of priorities ahead.
Priorities and progress
At the conclusion of the 2022 fiscal year, U-M noted a 4% year-over-year reduction in total greenhouse gas emissions — including a 13% year-over-year drop in Scope 2 emissions, which come from purchased electricity. These reductions occurred even as U-M’s return-to-campus efforts prompted a substantial increase in campus activity from the previous year.
Since 2010, the university has reduced its total greenhouse gas emissions by 25%. U-M is on pace to reduce Scope 1 emissions — those from direct sources — and Scope 2 emissions by 50% by 2025, exceeding Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change guidance to reduce emissions by 45% by 2030.
U-M’s carbon neutrality commitments include:
- Reducing greenhouse gas emissions from purchased electricity to net zero by 2025.
- Eliminating direct campus emissions by 2040.
- Establishing goals for a wide range of indirect emission sources (Scope 3) by 2025.
- Fostering a universitywide culture of sustainability, with justice as a core principle.
Accomplishments during the past year in support of climate action include:
- Fifty energy conservation projects were identified for financing via a shared revolving fund. Projects are estimated to reduce emissions by more than 5,600 metric tons annually, and energy savings will allow the revolving fund to sustain and support additional projects over time.
- Geo-exchange heating and cooling plans were unveiled, as initial projects in a phased approach toward decarbonizing heating and cooling infrastructure across the university.
- $300 million in “green bonds” were issued for sustainable capital projects.
- A request for proposals was issued to procure 100%-renewable purchased electricity by 2025.
- An initial progress tracking dashboard was published for interested community members to track carbon neutrality progress.
In the year ahead, key priorities include finalizing a renewable-power purchase agreement, initiating on-campus solar energy projects and partnering with like-minded institutions, consortia and community stakeholders.
Additional sustainability developments
The university will continue to share climate action priorities, news and milestones for public awareness and feedback on the Planet Blue website.
Earlier this year, the Ann Arbor campus achieved its goal — set in 2011 — of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25%, three years ahead of a 2025 target.
In addition, President-Elect Santa J. Ono carries a demonstrated commitment to sustainability in higher education. At the University of British Columbia, Ono leads the University Climate Change Coalition, of which U-M is an active member. The organization includes leading North American research universities collaborating to accelerate local and regional climate action.