University launches Commission on Carbon Neutrality


The University of Michigan has taken an important step toward its goal of carbon neutrality with the selection of the core team that will recommend how to get there, as well as develop scalable and transferable strategies that can be used by other institutions and larger communities to achieve the same goal.

The U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, and its advisory panels, will bring together the U-M community and regional partners to develop recommendations for reducing U-M’s carbon emissions to levels that are environmentally sustainable, achieved in a fiscally responsible manner, and in the context of its mission of education, research, service and patient care.

The scope of the charge to the advisory committee to the president spans the Ann Arbor, Flint and Dearborn campuses, and includes, but is not limited to, carbon emissions and sequestration; energy sourcing; technology development and policy change; facilities, operations and mobility; and behavioral change.

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“Human-influenced global climate change is the defining scientific, social and environmental problem of our age, and the University of Michigan is poised to be a significant part of the solution,” President Mark Schlissel said in a message to the university community.

“The commission is designed to marshal the intellectual resources and commitment of the U of M community to contribute to a more sustainable and just world. Commission members will engage broadly within the U-M community and with regional experts and partners.”

President Mark Schlissel announces the formation of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality, and discusses the ways the university will work to find long-term, comprehensive measures to mitigate human-influenced climate change.

The commission’s membership includes faculty, students, administrators and local partners.

Jennifer Haverkamp, director of the Graham Sustainability Institute, and Stephen Forrest, professor of electrical engineering and computer science, and former vice president for research, will serve as co-chairs of the commission.

“As one of the world’s leading public research universities, we are eager to deploy our vast capabilities in research and education in collaboration with regional partners’ expertise to address this critical global challenge,” Haverkamp said.

“The commission’s work will aim to provide a roadmap that can be scaled and implemented in institutions and communities much larger than our own. Our hope is to have this far-reaching impact on an issue of such central importance to our way of life now, and into the future,” Forrest adds.

Other members of the commission include:

• Henry Baier, associate vice president for facilities and operations.

• Andrew Berki, director, Office of Campus Sustainability.

• T. Anthony Denton, senior vice president and chief operating officer, U-M Health System, Michigan Medicine.

• Brandon Hofmeister, senior vice president of governmental, regulatory and public affairs, Consumers Energy.

• James Paul Holloway, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of nuclear engineering and radiological sciences, College of Engineering; and vice provost for global engagement and interdisciplinary academic affairs, Office of the Provost.

• Gregory Keoleian, director, Center for Sustainable Systems, Peter M. Wege Professor of Sustainable Systems, School for Environment and Sustainability; and professor of civil and environmental engineering, CoE.

• Larissa Larsen, associate professor of urban and regional planning, A. Alfred Taubman College of Architecture and Urban Planning.

• Jonathan Overpeck, Samuel A. Graham Dean and Professor, William B. Stapp Collegiate Professor, SEAS; professor of climate and space sciences and engineering, CoE; and professor of earth and environmental sciences, LSA.

• Barry Rabe, J. Ira and Nicki Harris Family Professor of Public Policy, Arthur F. Thurnau Professor, professor of public policy, Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy; professor of environmental policy, and Program in the Environment, SEAS, and professor of political science, LSA.

• Camilo Serna, vice president corporate strategy, DTE Energy.

• Anna Stefanopoulou, William Clay Ford Professor of Manufacturing, professor of mechanical engineering, electrical engineering and computer science, CoE; and director of the U-M Energy Institute.

• Missy Stults, sustainability and innovations manager for the city of Ann Arbor.

• Lisa Wozniak, executive director of the Michigan League of Conservation Voters.

• Two U-M students, forthcoming.

“I greatly look forward to working with the university to identify climate solutions that drive not only the university, but the city, the region and even others around the world toward viable carbon neutrality and enhanced resilience,” says Stults.

“Collaboration will be key to achieving significant carbon reductions, thus DTE commends U-M for bringing a group of external partners to identify strategies to achieve carbon neutrality. I look forward to working with U-M and multiple other partners in developing progressive and actionable recommendations,” adds Serna.

The commission also will include two students who will be selected in the coming weeks. Invitations requesting nominations for students were sent from the president to student groups that have been heavily engaged on the topic of climate change.

Because broad input is critical to the development of the recommendations, the commission will create several advisory panels to provide various perspectives and expertise, and to serve as a forum for connecting with key stakeholder groups.

The panels include the Student Advisory Panel, the Faculty Expert Advisory Panel, the University Advisory Panel and the External Advisory Panel. The panels will be organized by the commission co-chairs as the commission gets underway.

U-M has a longstanding commitment to sustainability at the highest levels in education, research, operations and engagement.

Several centers and institutes have served as key partners in U-M sustainability and will be drawn on by the commission to inform their work. These include the Erb Institute, U-M Energy Institute, Graham Sustainability Institute, Institute for Social Research, and core academic units such as the School for Environment and Sustainability and College of Engineering.

The commission will begin its work quickly to define carbon neutrality in the context of U-M, as well as set a timeline and recommend strategies to achieve that goal. The recommendations will include ways in which all members of the university community can participate and share the responsibility for U-M’s success.

One of the commission’s initial tasks will be to clearly define and prioritize the dimensions of U-M’s challenge of achieving carbon neutrality. This will include consideration of geographical, technological, financial, behavioral and policy — at the U-M, city, state and federal levels — dimensions, as well as opportunities for replicability and scalability.

In addition, the commission will begin engaging with a wide range of stakeholders to gain their knowledge and perspectives, including through the panels of advisers.

The broader community also will have multiple opportunities to provide input on the development of the recommendations through open forums and public comment mechanisms.

“Throughout what we know will be a long-term effort, engaging the U-M community and our external partners will be central to the process, and to our success. We are committed to regularly sharing updates and gathering input from all stakeholders, including before finalizing our recommendations to the president,” Haverkamp said.

The commission is expected to share an initial interim report in the fall 2019, a second interim report in spring 2020 and final recommendations to the president in fall 2020.

While this important work gets underway, the university remains committed to reaching its current campus goal of reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 25 percent by 2025, and even exceed it ahead of schedule.



  1. Ember McCoy
    on February 4, 2019 at 1:00 pm

    I’m really happy to see the forward movement the the University is making to catch up to other institutions on climate action. I especially look forward to seeing concrete goals and clear measures of accountability and transparency set up by the Commission — I think these are incredibly necessary to ensure the commission is effective.

    While many of the appointments on the Commission excite me, I am confused and disappointed, however, to see representatives from DTE / Consumers Energy on the Commission. Not only did members of the Greenhouse Gas Committee note that DTE made it very difficult to achieve significant carbon reductions in the past, their presence seems like an alarming conflict of interest and I would think that they would be better suited for an Advisory Panel role.

    The President also frequently referred to justice the video, but Environmental Justice academic experts at UM and surrounding community environmental justice experts are notably absent from the Commission. This absence of EJ experts in the face of utility representatives is especially alarming.

    Aside from these reservations, I look forward to what’s to come and am confident that if the administration allocates the appropriate resources, transparency, and accountability, UM can re-establish itself as a leader in carbon reductions in an equitable manner.

  2. Hillary Streit
    on February 4, 2019 at 2:47 pm

    While I am very glad that the University is taking steps towards carbon neutrality, I am concerned by the presence of some of the members of the council because of their ties to natural gas. Specifically, Camilo Serna and Brandon Hofmeister. They are both corporate business people who stand to make money from the University investing in natural gas instead of renewables. Their presence will actively make accomplishing carbon neutrality more difficult. Nobody from DTE or Consumer Energy should be on this panel.

  3. Alice Elliott
    on February 4, 2019 at 7:09 pm

    I am a U of M alumnus, and I see no reason to include two executives from corporate energy conglomerates on this commission. It would be one thing to include them on one of the advisory panels that are listed, which presumably have no voting power. But to include them on one of the most important commissions in the history of the U?

    The most recent IPCC report states that we have 12 years to mitigate the worst impacts of climate change– and that’s optimistic. Now is *not* the time to be listening to corporate executives who stand to make a profit off of slowing UM’s carbon neutrality efforts. I am appalled at the University’s decision.

  4. Thomas Cook
    on February 5, 2019 at 8:57 am

    Folks, where do you think our energy comes from, unicorn farts? Why wouldn’t we have DTE and Consumers involved? Sadly, the only one missing from this panel seems to be King Canute…

  5. Terrance Alexander
    on February 5, 2019 at 9:36 am

    Running a high tech research and medical campus like U-M is an extremely resource intensive operation that relies heavily on energy supplies from DTE and Consumers. Without their involvement in the process, whatever this commission comes up with will still fall far short of reaching a carbon neutral goal. Bringing them to the table, and gaining their support and ideas in the programs, and hopefully showing sustainability is a profitable venture for them, is the only way to move forward. And hopefully what comes from this work will then translate across the rest of their operations statewide. Just my two cents.

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