Courtesy of Martha Lewand

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Members of the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality participated in a virtual panel Wednesday regarding their recently released final report. After two years of research, the report concluded 50 recommendations that should be taken into consideration for the University of Michigan to reach net zero carbon emissions by 2040. 

The panel featured PCCN members Jennifer Haverkamp, Graham Institute director and Law School and Public Policy professor; Stephen Forrest, College of Engineering professor and former U-M vice president for research; and doctoral pre-candidate Austin Glass. Business senior Jaclynn Spryshak and Business senior Kaelen Krumich, co-presidents of the Net Impact Undergrad organization on campus, moderated the panel. 

Forrest began by discussing PCCN’s purpose and objectives for the recommendations, which include sustainability, equality and environmental justice, community participation and involvement and responsible financial management. He said these elements entailed in the PCCN’s report are significant for achieving carbon neutrality outside the University. 

“We have to come up with a method and a plan that can overlay onto other communities, universities, institutions and companies,” Forrest said. “So that (the recommendations) can basically make sure that large-scale change can be done beyond just the university.”

Forrest continued to discuss the three scopes of greenhouse gas emissions outlined in the report. Scope One includes emissions directly produced by sources from the University, such as the power plant and transportation buses. Scope Two encompasses emissions from offsite energy production — like purchases of electricity — utilized by the University. 

Scope Three includes all other external emissions associated with the University’s actions, such as commuting to and from campus. The commission also clarified that all of their recommendations should be applied to both the University’s Dearborn and Flint campuses. 

PCCN recommended 2040 as the date for net zero Scope 3 emissions as well as net zero Scope One and Two emissions without the controversial use of carbon offsets across all three campuses. They recommended that the university achieve carbon neutrality for Scope One and Scope Two emissions with the use of offsets by 2025 and that the university establish carbon neutrality goal dates for Scope Three emissions by this time as well.

After the presentation, the moderators asked questions pre-submitted by students. When asked about how the report’s recommendations will encourage more environmentally cautious behavior among students, Glass said if staff and faculty abide by and promote these recommendations, students will recognize the significance of these recommendations, imitate these actions and take responsibility into their own hands. 

“I think the University leadership creates a culture in which students can feel empowered to take these actions in their own lives and understand that these things are important,” Glass said. “If adopted, these recommendations that drive behavior change on behalf of folks in positions of authority and folks in positions to role model good behavior for students, … ways that students can take individual responsibility in their everyday lives, in their interactions with the University, and then those things can translate to individual behaviors. ”

Haverkamp added how these recommendations cannot be achieved and student behavior cannot be changed without the enforcement and encouragement of the entire U-M community. 

“The behavioral changes are required certainly not just by students, but by the entire campus community, the faculty, the staff, all need to be making these changes and modeling this behavior,” Haverkamp said.

The next topic discussed was the importance of environmental justice and its relation to the PCCN report. Glass described how environmental justice, which he defined as the fair treatment of all individuals in regards to environmental law and policy, was essential to crafting the most inclusive and effective recommendations. 

“We’re making choices that impact people in the region who don’t necessarily have decision-making authority or direct access to convey the ways in which the choices that the University is making (affects them),” Glass said. “Environmental justice is crucial to consider in any decision that’s made around sustainable action.”

Glass further described how environmental justice played a key role throughout the creation of the report. 

“The way that we talked about it in the report is making sure that you’re actually opening your ears and opening minds to understanding that the choices that you make have impacts on people who aren’t necessarily in the room, and… that don’t traditionally have access to the room where those decisions are made,” Glass said. 

Early in the process the PCCN faced criticism for what was seen as a lack of focus on environmental justice in the reports’ formation.

Haverkamp dove deeper into how the report addresses the ways in which the University will collaborate with the city of Ann Arbor to address issues of environmental justice when examining carbon neutrality.  

“The University represents about a third of the total emissions that the city of Ann Arbor considers within its footprint,” Haverkamp said. “We have various places in our report that talk about, for instance, changes we’re recommending for commuting, that they (Ann Arbor) take into account. We have recommendations that talk about looking for the need and the interest in lower-cost housing so that people can live closer to campus. I think that would be something that I know the city is also looking at: more affordable housing for people in the city of Ann Arbor. And I know that there are just a lot of conversations that need to happen.”


Daily Staff Reporter Martha Lewand can be reached at mlewand@umich.edu.