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CGLI Planning a Great Lakes Sustainability Collaborative

The Great Lakes region is home to more than 100 million people and comprises the world’s third largest economy (behind the US and China). The region built its reputation as a world leader in manufacturing on the abundance of water, access to raw materials, and efficient navigable transportation system. Assets available to regional industry now include not only an abundant supply of fresh water, but also access to reliable sources of energy, dozens of the world’s leading research universities, a skilled and educated workforce, and highly integrated supply chains.

In addition to a robust economy, the Great Lakes support a unique and complex natural ecosystem. The lakes contain roughly one-fifth of the world’s fresh surface water supply, more than 95% of the fresh surface water in North America, and provide drinking water for more than 40 million people. Moreover, the Great Lakes watershed is huge and complex. The lakes themselves cover over 94,000 square miles, but the drainage area to the lakes is almost three times larger (more than 295,000 square miles). The watershed features more than 10,000 miles of coastline and more than 3,500 species of plants and animals, including more than 200 globally rare species and 46 species not found elsewhere.

The natural characteristics and complex network of human activities in the Great Lakes region offer a unique context for exploring and promoting the relationships between environmental quality, economic vitality, and community values. Sustainability was one of eight priorities identified in the Great Lakes Regional Collaboration Strategy, a stakeholder effort that attracted over 1500 individuals from all Great Lakes stakeholder interests and culminated in 2005 with a suite of consensus recommendations to restore and protect the Great Lakes. Among other things, the Strategy recommended “a regional approach to sustainability development as it leads to competitive advantage,” and “outreach that brands the Great Lakes as an exceptional, healthy, and competitive place to live, work, invest, and play.”

Ten years later, the Strategy’s commitment to the seven priorities designed to protect and restore the Great Lakes ecosystem (and the US federal government’s $1.6 billion investment in the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative) has generated substantial change and improvement in the environment. Water quality has improved, coastal areas are cleaner and more accessible, habitat is being restored, and cities and towns that were severely impacted by legacy contamination are more vibrant. The work continues, but the regional ecosystem has shown marked improvement.

Industry has an opportunity to complement these changes by exercising leadership in pursuing regional sustainability. The shifting economic landscape in the region includes new, high-profile economic concepts (such as the “Blue Economy”). Water risk and scarcity have become dominant themes throughout North America and the world and have increased the region’s awareness of its obligation to manage abundant water supplies responsibly. Governments and NGOs recognize the importance of the regional economy but struggle to integrate economic considerations into emerging environmental and social programs. And while the vast majority of large companies now incorporate sustainability considerations into business strategies, few evaluate sustainability initiatives in terms of regional risks and opportunities.

The purpose of CGLI’s Great Lakes Sustainability Collaborative will be to identify the relevant economics, structures, and processes that define sustainability in the Great Lakes region; to work together to elevate the importance of sustainability in this globally-important region; and to demonstrate natural resource stewardship in global markets. The Collaborative will complement sustainable business councils and forums within the region by focusing on the sustainability of the region as a whole and by engaging large companies who are recognized sustainability leaders as founding members.

The agenda and activities for the Collaborative will be established by members. Proposed activities may include:

  • Assessing the similarities and differences between principles of global sustainability and regional sustainability; developing (or distilling) principles of sustainability for the Great Lakes region
  • Identifying future trends affecting sustainability in the Great Lakes region
  • Developing the business case for how leadership in sustainable development can deliver tangible corporate results and regional economic improvement
  • Interacting with Great Lakes policymakers to identify public policy needs for promoting sustainability and recognizing corporate environmental excellence
  • Exchanging knowledge on innovative business practices with other sustainability practitioners
  • Seeking opportunities to drive regional sustainable development through collaboration with SMEs and other sustainability-focused organizations
  • Evaluating, assessing, and exchanging information about accountability, transparency, and reporting initiatives as applied to sustainability in the Great Lakes region
  • Generating newsletters, reports, and journal articles that document, encourage, and recognize the sustainability initiatives of Collaborative members
  • A workshop, summit, or annual meeting to promote and discuss the activities of the Collaborative and the sustainability initiatives of its members with the broader Great Lakes community

Please contact us if you are interested in this new opportunity.