Achieving the “Triple Bottom Line” in Michigan coastal communities - Introduction

Great Lakes coastal communities in Michigan face unique challenges that require understanding how the economy, environment, and the cultural and civic aspects of society are connected to one another.

Wise use of coastal areas becomes increasingly important as they become more lived in and visited.  While over half of the U.S. population lives in coastal counties, almost 90 percent of the over 9.8 million residents of Michigan live in counties that border a Great Lake. The coastal communities across Michigan very greatly; from the small communities that rely on seasonal coastal tourism, to agricultural communities located near rivers that drain into the Great Lakes, to the heavily urbanized industrial areas. Every community faces different challenges to ensuring that their economic success is balanced with maintaining a high quality of life for their residents and protecting their natural areas.

The triple bottom line is one way to think about this balance of economics, environment, and society; another way to remember it is “People, Planet, and Profit.”  The important thing to remember is that all of them are intimately tied to one another, and that decisions impacting one likely have an impact on the others.  While there is not a “one size fits all” solution to issues concerning coastal and waterfront communities, there are several principles that provide a framework for incorporating the triple bottom line into policy decisions and everyday life. This series of articles will cover many of these principles, including:

  • mixed land uses
  • community design
  • housing opportunities
  • walkability
  • sense of place
  • preserving open space and natural areas
  • developing inward not outward
  • mixed transportation types
  •  transparent policy and development decisions, and
  • stakeholder involvement in decision making.

One of the overarching themes of these principles is having public access to the Great Lakes. Public access to the Great Lakes is what fosters a sense of place that distinguishes a community as a “Great Lakes Coastal Community.” The Great Lakes are so influential in defining communities because water symbolizes the sustenance of human life, provides habitat for coastal and aquatic creatures, and then can be used for numerous recreational activities, especially here in Michigan.

Michigan State University Extension and Michigan Sea Grant are actively involved in projects that seek to protect the environment, improve the quality of life, and promote economic activity in Michigan’s coastal areas. This article was adapted from:  Smart Growth for Coastal and Waterfront Communities, a report created by the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, the International City/County Management Association, and Rhode Island Sea Grant.  The document can be accessed at:

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