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Which body of water holds 21% of the world’s fresh surface water, and provides drinking water to 35 million people? Which water course transports...

Sustain Our Great Lakes

Which body of water holds 21% of the world’s fresh surface water, and provides drinking water to 35 million people? Which water course transports raw materials to steel plants producing some 20 million tonnes of steel every year? Traversing the borders of the US and Canada, the Great Lakes provide stream, wetland and coastal habitats to a vast range of flora and fauna. Its strategic importance to a wide range of stakeholders is clear, and explains why ArcelorMittal sought to establish a public-private partnership to conserve its extraordinary value.

Sustain Our Great Lakes (SOGL) is a multi-stakeholder partnership established in 2007, with a mission to sustain, restore and protect the fish, wildlife and the habitat of the Great Lakes basin by leveraging funding, building conservation capacity, and focusing partners and resources toward key ecological issues. Partners are ArcelorMittal, the NGO National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) and a number of public agencies: the US Environmental Protection Agency, the US Fish and Wildlife Service, the USDA Forest Service, the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, and the USDA Natural Resources Conservation Service.

The programme achieves this mission, in part, by awarding competitive grants for on-the-ground habitat restoration and enhancement. Funding priority is given to projects that restore aquatic connectivity, stream and riparian habitat, wetland habitat, and coastal habitat.

Sustain Our Great Lakes has distributed a total of $49 million in grants to date, and leveraged a similar amount from grantees in matched funding, resulting in a total of over $99 million in conservation investment since its inception. ArcelorMittal is the partnership’s sole corporate donor, and has distributed $5.2 million in grants. In addition to financial support, we donate expertise, resources and personal time to advance environmental awareness and conservation. Through these efforts, we join forces with the communities in which its employees live and its business and clients operate. We also sit on the SOGL advisory board, working with other programme partners to set goals and strategy and make grant allocations.

Sustain Our Great Lakes has made significant progress in improving the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem: restoring 1,574 stream miles of aquatic connectivity, 34,134 acres of wetland, coastal and upland habitat, 197 miles of stream and riverbank habitat and removing 199 fish passage barriers. Sediments have been reduced, and water quality improved. As a result, the lakes have seen an increase in the populations of lake sturgeon, brook trout, northern pike, Atlantic salmon and other species.

There have also been some important economic and social benefits: between 270 and 600 jobs were created between 2006 and 2011; the $20.7 million of programme investments during the same period generated an estimated $45 million of extra local economic activity; and the area has become more attractive as a leisure and fishing destination.

The project has also brought important benefits to ArcelorMittal. It has enabled us to engage with our stakeholders in a way that creates lasting value for them, and enhanced our social licence to operate. With federal agencies, we have increased our credibility through partnership and positive working relationships. In congress we have received visibility and recognition as a corporate leader in the region and praise for matching public funds with corporate investment. Our involvement with SOGL was a positive factor in obtaining a permit to build a bridge at our ArcelorMittal Indiana Harbor facility.

Since 2013 we have also been involved in the Chi-Cal Rivers Fund. This is another public-private partnership working to restore the waterways in Chicago and the Calumet region. Our partners include The Chicago Community Trust, Gaylord and Dorothy Donnelley Foundation, Crown Family Philanthropies, Illinois Department of Natural Resources, The Joyce Foundation, National Fish and Wildlife Foundation, Metropolitan Water Reclamation District of Greater Chicago and the Wrigley Company Foundation.

The Chicago and Calumet watersheds are highly engineered and provide benefits to both human and wildlife populations in the regional area. The human benefits include flood relief, water treatment channels, commercial shipping and recreation, whilst providing habitats for many important bird species. However, these waterways have suffered over time and are subject to flooding, water quality issues, degraded natural habitats, and a lack of safe public access.

We have donated $750,000 in total and as with the SOGL we are present for all grant-making decisions. Since 2013, the project the restoration has been a success. It has added more than four million gallons of storm water capacity, enhanced 692 acres of riverbank, wetland and upland habitat, improved 8,600 feet of in-stream and riverbank habitat and added or improved nearly 17 acres of new public park space.

For more information about SOGL, please visit www.sustainourgreatlakes.org. For more information about the Chi-Cal Rivers fund visit: http://www.nfwf.org.

This case study was updated in March 2015.

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