PCCN discusses findings, recommendations from internal analysis teams for lowering carbon emissions

Thursday, October 29, 2020 - 8:05pm

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Courtesy of Christian Juliano

The President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality held a panel discussion over Zoom Thursday afternoon. Formed in 2019, University of President Mark Schlissel created PCCN to help the University move toward net carbon neutrality. Thursday’s panel explored the work of four teams of the commission and highlighted significant recommendations made by each representative.

The commission looks into ways the University can reduce its carbon footprint, while also focusing on the University’s external behavior relating to climate change. It contains students, faculty and other climate experts to make recommendations.

The group’s work is largely outlined and divided up into numerous teams that tackle carbon solutions within different areas.. These include food, building standards, commuting, campus culture and communications.

The panel was headlined by student or former student representatives from each team, as well as the Co-Chair of the PCCN Jennifer Haverkamp, a law professor. 

One of the panel’s more substantial findings was the emissions attributed to commutes to campus, whether it be by faculty or students.

The panel recommended that the University invest in affordable housing for faculty that’s closer to campus to limit their commutes. James Wooldrige, the commuting team representative, said this would reduce the volume of faculty commuting by single passenger vehicles,  lowering University-related emissions.

 “There is a commuting map in our report that demonstrates just how far a lot of the faculty and staff live because there is not affordable housing for (faculty) in the area,” said James Wolldridge.

In terms of food, the panelists from the Internal Analysis Teams suggested that the University’s dining plans move away from meat-focused meals, according to Public Health graduate student Nathalie Lambrecht.

“I think that was our boldest recommendation, moving towards plant-forward diets. More specifically, reducing beef, because beef has the largest impact of all animal source foods,” Lambrecht said. 

Accordingly, the food division team called for a 75% reduction in beef consumption by 2030, in addition to a 25% reduction in food related emissions, also by 2030.

The building standards division of the IATs emphasized lowering carbon emissions from buildings on University land. The commission hopes to find a way to reduce the footprint of their embodied carbon: carbon that is attributable to the materials used on the infrastructure of buildings on campus.

“When we’re talking about scopes one and two in buildings and what we were tasked with is addressing space and heating and cooling,” said Taubman graduate student Mac Carroll, a representative of the Building Standards Internal Analysis subcommittee. “There is a whole other aspect to what makes up the walls, what makes up the windows, which is still significant.” 

Haverkamp alluded to the fact that though University buildings promote progressive carbon practices, the building materials used themselves often have a large carbon footprint. 

“Just because you buy and drive a Tesla doesn’t mean you have zero carbon footprint,” Haverkamp said. “The production of that vehicle generated a lot of greenhouse gas emissions.”

Building Standards’ work outlined the need for a transition to “energy efficient building design.”

The members of the IATs overwhelmingly pushed for the institutionalization of carbon reduction. They aim to find a way to normalize clean climate practices and figure out how the University can prioritize this. Megan Czerwinski, representative of the Campus Culture and Communication Analysis team, said she wants to make aiming for carbon neutrality a common practice at the University.  

“We wanted to develop the campus into a living, learning laboratory for carbon neutrality,” Czerwinski said. “It’s making sure that our efforts are visible enough, and touching every single student, staff, faculty, visitor and alumni that engages with our campus.” 

Czerwinski said a concrete way to reach this goal is to create an interdisciplinary educational requirement for all levels of education at the University that emphasizes how to reduce one’s carbon footprint. The panel also discussed the idea of creating a position within the U-M administration that monitors and oversees carbon policy, somewhat equivalent to the vice provost or other high-level administrators. Their plan  emphasized cognizant voting practices by students through the election of regents that will prioritize moving toward carbon neutrality.

The PCCN’s plan concludes with presenting their final reports and recommendations to President Schlissel in February 2021. The process of finalizing their recommendations will continue until then, based contingently upon the questions and concerns raised at today’s panel. 

Wooldridge acknowledged it will be a long process to achieve carbon neutrality, but one that is important to begin. 

“These kinds of things take a while,” said Wolldridge. “But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t start them right away.”

Daily News Contributor Christian Juliano can be reached at julianoc@umich.edu

Correction: This article has been updated to reflect that the Internal Analysis Teams were making recommendations on moving toward carbon neutrality. The PCCN will make its recommendations in February 2021. 


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