A Brief History of Carbon Accounting and Emissions Reductions at the University of Michigan

Tasked with identifying opportunities for U-M to achieve net-zero carbon emissions, the U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality brings together students, staff, and faculty from across the university to develop and recommend bold, transferable, and sustainable solutions to bring U-M closer to carbon neutrality. The carbon commission’s work builds on almost 20 years of carbon accounting and emissions reduction projects at U-M.

The timeline below showcases some of the work that students, faculty, administrators and staff members have undertaken, paving the way for the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality and its continuing net-zero push.


Beginning of Sustainability Assessment and Reporting Project at U-M

Sustainability reporting at the University of Michigan began with a 2001-2002 master’s project advised by the late Jonathan Bulkley and Gregory Keoleian (then co-directors of the Center for Sustainable Systems). The project involved input from over thirty units on the Ann Arbor campus and proposed a framework to measure campus sustainability across fifty indicators (twenty-five environmental, twenty social, and five economic).


President Coleman assembles the U-M Environmental Task Force

In 2003, President Mary Sue Coleman assembled the U-M Environmental Task Force, which compiled an Environmental Task Force Advisory Report in April 2004. The report recommended that U-M focus on eight key environmental performance indicators and forty-six specific operational performance metrics to report out annually, including: primary energy consumption, renewable energy contribution, water use, impervious surface area, greenhouse gas emissions, solid waste, percent of solid waste recycled, and building utilization.

“This is truly a grass roots effort emanating from a School of Natural Resources and Environment student master’s project on U-M sustainability in 2001...” – Rosina Bierbaum, Dean of the U-M School of Natural Resources and Environment (2003)


Provost and Center for Sustainable Systems develop the U-M Environmental Data Repository (EDR)

The 2003 Environmental Task Force Advisory Report called for an environmental assessment and reporting system to aid U-M in evaluating its environmental performance. In 2005, researchers from the Center for Sustainable Systems, with support from the Office of the Provost, developed Excel-based software to automatically gather and input data across 46 operational metrics from Ann Arbor campus units. The software, known as the U-M Environmental Data Repository (EDR), facilitated data collection and analysis for the eight environmental performance indicators recommended by the 2003 Environmental Task Force Advisory Report.


President Coleman launches the integrated assessment of the Ann Arbor campus.

In October 2009, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman elevated the university’s commitment to sustainability in teaching, research, operations, and engagement through the creation of the Sustainability Executive Council. One of the council’s first actions was to task a new Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment (CSIA) with conducting a comprehensive assessment that would lead to new goals and action plans to advance sustainability across the Ann Arbor campus. The U-M Graham Sustainability Institute, established in 2006, and the U-M Office of Campus Sustainability, established in 2009, supported this work.


In September 2011, U-M President Mary Sue Coleman, informed by the 2010 Campus Sustainability Integrated Assessment, established the University’s five 2025 sustainability goals.

Earthfest 2020 Scavenger Hunt Trivia Question: What is the term U-M uses to describe all of the sustainability work across campus?

Answer: Planet Blue, head to the Earthfest site to learn more about the week of events, and submit your answer to the scavenger hunt!


U-M President Mark Schlissel establishes Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee

In 2015, U-M President Mark Schlissel established the Greenhouse Gas Reduction Committee, charged with evaluating and making recommendations on reducing greenhouse gas emissions. Currently, U-M aims to reduce Ann Arbor scope 1 and 2 emissions (direct and purchased-power emissions, respectively) from FY2006 by 25 percent by 2025.

February 2019

U-M President Mark Schlissel announces U-M President's Commission on Carbon Neutrality (PCCN)

On February 4, 2019, U-M President Mark Schlissel announced the formation of a commission responsible for developing recommendations toward achieving carbon neutrality for U-M (Ann Arbor, Dearborn and Flint campuses, as well as Michigan Medicine), and developing 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 (PCCN) brings together the U-M community and regional partners to explore how U-M can reduce its carbon emissions to levels that are environmentally sustainable. Informed by different commissioned analyses, the Commission is developing recommendations to achieve this goal in a fiscally responsible manner and in pursuit of U-M’s mission of education, research, service and patient care.

PCCN Areas of Analysis

A wide range of teams completed analyses for the Commission including: internal analysis teams led by U-M faculty and staffed by U-M students, two external consulting firms, and three sub-groups composed of commissioners, U-M students, faculty and staff.

Bio sequestration Analysis Team

The bio sequestration internal analysis team was charged with evaluating and recommending optimal approaches for potential biological sequestration projects on- and off-campus. The scope of the group's work had three overarching goals, 1) assessment of current U-M landholdings; 2) categorization of land use on the U-M properties; 3) evaluation of land-use changes, where possible, that would maximize bio sequestration at multiple scales, to increase carbon sequestration.

Building Standards Analysis Team

The building standards analysis team was charged with evaluating current and emerging best practices regarding the adoption, implementation, and long-term efficacy of building code policies to improve sustainable building performance outcomes with an emphasis on achieving carbon emissions reductions. Analysis focused on improvements to new building design construction and approaches to major renovations that have the potential to contribute significantly to carbon emissions reductions for the most affordable cost. Additionally, secondary dimensions, whose contributions to emissions are often overlooked, were considered, including: occupant behavior, water conservation measures, stormwater management practices, and alignments between site design and sequestration.

Campus Culture and Communication Analysis Team

The campus culture and communication analysis team was charged with evaluating existing communicative structures and exploring new strategies to raise awareness, spur personal investment, and drive behavioral change relating to carbon neutrality.

Carbon Accounting Modeling Project

During the fall 2019 semester, the carbon accounting sub-group verified appropriate emissions accounting methods on current scientific knowledge of global warming potentials, performed a 20- and 100-year impact analysis, and studied the impacts of supply chain losses.

The group is working to develop a carbon accounting model, to be the engine of an overall planning and decision-making framework to guide PCCN discussions throughout the fall 2020 semester. The group presented this framework and the accompanying algorithm to the commission in spring 2020. The group is also constructing the model to evaluate scenarios of demand reduction and energy supply decarbonization strategies, and to illustrate the resulting carbon reduction trajectories for U-M. This modeling effort will continue through Summer 2020 and will include a more comprehensive description of U-M emission baseline emissions and the carbon emissions reduction potential of analysis team strategies.

Commuting Analysis Team

The commuting analysis team was charged with developing an approach to measure the carbon impact of the commute to the three U-M campuses; studying approaches used by peer institutions to reduce the carbon intensity of the commute; adapting promising approaches used elsewhere to the specific conditions of the U-M campuses and their surrounding areas; and developing prioritized recommendations for reducing the commute's carbon footprint, including metrics and indicators for tracking progress.

Internal Energy Consumption Policies Analysis Team

The internal energy consumption policies team was charged with evaluating potential budgetary and financial mechanisms to decrease energy usage and decrease carbon intensity across the University. The scope of its work considered internal carbon pricing and a revolving energy fund for sustainable infrastructure improvements as potential measures.

External Collaboration Analysis Team

The external collaboration team was charged with evaluating opportunities for collaborations where high-impact solutions could be scaled and replicated. Examples include local and regional partnerships, collaborative education initiatives, and cross-sector mitigation and resilience policies.

University Food Analysis Team

The food analysis team was charged with evaluating and recommending approaches to decrease the greenhouse gas emissions footprint associated with food consumption at U-M. Considerations included sourcing, certifications, volume reduction and disposal. The work focused attention on the role that dining services play in shaping the U-M food system and included mapping U-M’s dining services supply chains, existing data and current practices relevant to greenhouse gas emissions reductions across U-M dining services.

University-Sponsored Travel Analysis Team

The university-sponsored travel team's work was guided by six goals: 1) to compile existing published literature on travel footprints, footprints of academic meetings, university and other travel policies; 2) to determine quantitatively the amount of University travel and its associated carbon footprint; 3) to understand why University personnel travel; 4) to propose ways to educate the University community of the environmental impact of travel and relevant alternatives; 5) To propose a system of offsets for travelers to use; and 6) to propose changes for travel-related data management systems.

Mobility Electrification Analysis Group

The mobility electrification group investigated, analyzed and developed recommendations for transitioning the campus transit fleet to electric buses, and encourage electric vehicle use by U-M commuters through expansion of the on-campus electric vehicle charging infrastructure as well as educational and promotional efforts.

Get Involved

The commission's public comment form is always open. Send in your ideas or thoughts on how U-M can move towards carbon neutrality.


Check out the PCCN's Frequently Asked Questions page, or email pccn-admin@umich.edu with any questions you may have!


Created with an image by Ruffa Jane Reyes - "Parking Lot"