By Dean Amhaus, President & CEO
Anyone who pays attention to water knows the vital importance of the Great Lakes. It’s one of the world’s largest freshwater systems, holding 21 percent of the world’s surface freshwater and 84 percent of North America’s freshwater.
This water is critical to life but also to commerce. Milwaukee’s access to Lake Michigan and the businesses that for generations “tapped” into the region’s water resources are what led it to become a world water hub, eventually spurring the creation of The Water Council. Many cities in the Upper Midwest also sit alongside the Great Lakes or one of their tributaries, as these channels provided a crucial transportation network that is still in use today.
Yet businesses in the Great Lakes region have not had a forum of their own to discuss water issues, encourage water stewardship and promote this valuable resource in our collective backyard – until now. That’s what we are creating, in collaboration with the Council of the Great Lakes Region, in Great Lakes WISE (Water Innovation & Stewardship Exchange), which held its first roundtable last week in Chicago.
We envision this group as a business-led forum for deepening peer-to-peer conversations around water stewardship best practices, effective water sustainability policies, and collective action projects that address regional water challenges and opportunities across key sectors in the Great Lakes.
Our roundtable, held March 28 at the Sloan Showroom in Chicago, included a broad array of business interests, with representatives from A. O. Smith Corporation, Sloan, Meijer, Corteva Agriscience, Rockwell Automation, the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee, Fresh Coast Climate Solutions, Watts Water Technologies, BlueTriton Brands, The Joyce Foundation, Culligan International, Reyes Coca-Cola and KPMG.
Since this is a brand-new endeavor, participants were still scoping out the parameters of the initiative. But I was impressed by the enthusiasm shown by every attendee for creating a forum to explore how they can better mitigate their company’s water risks and at the same time have a positive impact on the Great Lakes water system. Corporations are looking to exchange ideas about water challenges, best practices and lessons learned. They also are figuring out what good water stewardship looks like in the Great Lakes region, where water problems are typically – but not exclusively – related to water quality. Finally, participants want to make sure the initiative highlights the many positives of the Great Lakes in addition to challenges.
We left with a consensus to move forward in developing a vision and mission for the group. I’m excited to see what comes next and the impact Great Lakes WISE will have on the business and sustainability communities. Please contact me if you’d like to learn more.