In February, University of Michigan President Mark Schlissel announced the members of the U-M President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality. One of the integral members named to the commission is Melissa “Missy” Stults, the City of Ann Arbor’s Sustainability and Innovations Manager. I spoke with Missy about her professional journey, her role in the city, and the essential connection between the sustainability work happening in the city and the university.
Life as The Sustainability and Innovations Manager
The word ‘Innovations’ was not originally a part of Missy’s job title, but she made sure it was included when she accepted the role in July. “It is not enough to think that we have all the solutions right now,” she said, “The idea was to create space for us to nurture innovation and creative thinking.” Missy wants to create a sustainability incubator in the city, where anyone with a great idea can get the support they need to see it go to market. In creating the incubator, Missy wants to help Ann Arbor be more receptive to innovation and new ideas that will lead to a more sustainable city: “How we power our society is not sustainable, and we have huge inequalities in our society that are not sustainable. Capitalism is a hard system to work within, and we have got to figure out how we’re going to play in that system, or we’ve got to change that system.”
Missy is part of a number of networks with city sustainability directors and climate professionals, and she was recently appointed as President of the Board of the American Society of Adaptation Professionals. “We just don’t have a lot of time left [to solve the climate crisis]. We don’t want to recreate the wheel if there are good practices elsewhere. Ann Arbor is brilliant, but we don’t have all the ideas. We want to hear what others are doing, and take their models and contextualize them to Ann Arbor,” said Missy.
The Town-Gown Partnership and The President’s Commission of Carbon Neutrality
Missy firmly believes that the connection between the sustainability efforts of the city and the university are absolutely essential. She hopes the city and the university will double down and become partners in lockstep to solve the climate crises: “I want to think about the city and the university as truly world class entities, that are really partners in this work.” She adds, “We talk about leaders and best, but it’s time to be leaders and best, and [both the city of Ann Arbor and U-M] have a moral call to work in this space.”
Missy has been impressed by how she’s been received by the U-M community, especially with her appointment to the President’s Commission on Carbon Neutrality. However, she finds it funny that people congratulate her on being named to the commission: “This is not going to be easy. We are going to need to think really hard and fast, make a lot of cultural changes and make a whole bunch of people uncomfortable before we are serious about carbon neutrality.” Missy views her role on the commission as the connection between U-M’s efforts and the city’s efforts. “I want this to be a true town-gown partnership. I will push all of us, including the city. For me, this is about carbon neutrality period.” she added, “Our city council has set some goals around greenhouse gas emission reductions; there’s a 90% by 2050 target, but we all know that it is not enough. We have to run at carbon neutral by 2030. We just don’t have the luxury of time anymore.”
How to Make a Difference
For people who want to get more involved in city-wide sustainability, Missy said she is always looking for interns, people to do class projects with her, and even to volunteer to be a member of the city’s environmental commission. There is also a city grant program called Sustaining Ann Arbor Together for anyone – students included – who has a project that builds and enhances sustainability within the community. “People can apply for up to $10,000 to do a project,” she said “We just gave money to Ann Arbor STEAM to develop a K-8 solar curriculum within the school system and the students are trying to fundraise to put solar panels on the school after they learn about them, it’s super awesome!”
Missy’s final message: “The world needs more sustainability champions. If anyone wants to talk or strategize about where they go and how they can get involved, I am always happy to talk. The field is small, and it is all hands on deck, so I am excited to have people care about this topic! Also, I would encourage more and more people to run for office. There will always be decision makers, and as the old saying goes, ‘if you are not at the table, you are on the menu.’ So if you really want to make decisions, raise your hand and run. We need more smart people in office!”