current endowment value

$68.9 million

awarded to
project teams


of the surface water supply in north america








great lakes


member states


years of great lakes protection



returned to member states




of world's fresh water

“We are the Governors of one of the most vibrant areas in the world—the Great Lakes region. The health of our region is in large measure, dependent on the health of the lakes.”

Letter of Intent Relating to the Great Lakes Protection Fund
signed by eight governors, February 3, 1988

“Today we take a new and unprecedented step which will permanently strengthen our states’ commitment to preserving the natural and economic vitality of the lakes.”

Letter of Intent Relating to the Great Lakes Protection Fund
signed by eight governors, February 3, 1988

Water defines our region—it is the foundation of our economy and anchors our quality of life. The stewardship of this globally significant resource will help grow a strong basin economy and secure healthy communities. The unique traits of the region’s high performance economy—manufacturing, farming, natural resources and waterfront cities—always will be tied to the health of the lakes and their tributary waters.

The Governors of the Great Lakes states created the Fund in 1989 to help them protect and restore their shared natural resource. The Fund was created to be a source of continuous innovation to improve the health of the region’s waters. The Fund is the first private, permanent endowment created to benefit a specific ecosystem.

For 25 years, the Fund has successfully accomplished its three main jobs:

  1. Investing the states’ $81 million permanent endowment, which remains intact and unspent. The endowment has grown to $130 million in assets today.
  1. Returning earnings, now over $45 million, directly to the member states to use for their individual Great Lakes funding priorities.
  2. Deploying over $68 million to 254 regional project teams that design and test actions to benefit the entire ecosystem.

The Fund is a private corporation that supports teams that are innovative and entrepreneurial, that create tangible benefits for the Great Lakes ecosystem, and that build a competitive regional economy based on abundant and healthy water resources.

The Fund does not provide general operating support and does not support lobbying, enforcement of standards or litigation; and does not support activities which are the responsibility of government or private parties.

The Fund invests in partnerships that include the right mix of institutions, individuals, expertise and perspectives to ensure that the work is scientifically sound, institutionally relevant, and system-wide in scope.


Regional Institutions Involved


of fortune 500 companies are based in the great lakes region

$81 million

state contributions


Last Known Nonindigeneous Species Introduced via Ballast Water


Miles of Shoreline

40 million

People rely on the great lakes for drinking water


of the U.S. GDP Came from the Great Lakes
States in 2012

The Fund’s central strategy is to design and test new approaches that link creation of economic wealth with the creation of ecological improvements.

Achieving ecosystem health in the Great Lakes basin is not a simple task and is not the responsibility of one sector, one state or one type of expert. Workable solutions must build upon innovative combinations of business competitiveness, governmental capacities, consumer lifestyle choices and scientific research.

The Fund provides seed capital to collaborative teams that are testing catalytic innovations—new ways of doing new things—that change how people and institutions interact with the Lakes for the better. Teams try things and learn by doing.

The Fund is large enough to finance early demonstration efforts and place them on a path to scale. Successful efforts attract ongoing support from the public or private sectors.

The Fund’s projects have introduced new industries, encouraged new actions, and shaped new value chains.

The Fund is impatient for results, but patient for growth to scale, which takes time and often occurs in big jumps rather than small incrementals. Every new project that builds on the lessons learned from previous grants maximizes the ecological return and allows the next steps to be easier, more beneficial, and less expensive.

Successfully piloted lessons become new choices available to not only governments, but also the economic actors and citizens whose day-to-day decisions impact the health of the basin ecosystem.

The Fund is also on the lookout for individuals who can lead and participate on supported project teams, as well as give the Fund strategic and tactical advice. Project teams have presented themselves in response to targeted requests for proposals, through unsolicited preproposals, and have also emerged from the ongoing networking and search for effective strategies that the Fund staff and Board does as a matter of course.

The role and value of water is always evolving. Water continues to be this region’s most important resource, particularly as other regions encounter increasing stress on their water supplies. The Great Lakes region will rely on water as a competitive advantage to attract new residents, new industries, and to fortify a new and likely very different economy than that of the last century.

Our challenge is to create ecological wealth and to leave the Great Lakes ecosystem healthier than it was left to us.

The Fund’s mission is to identify, demonstrate, and promote regional action to enhance the health of the Great Lakes ecosystem.

The Fund accepts sizable risks in the quest for outsized ecological reward. We welcome your ideas, questions, suggestions, solutions and not-yet-fully-formed enquiries.