Press Release

Crystal M.C. Davis Receives 2021 Great Lakes Leadership Award

Praised for Human-Centered Approach to Environmentalism in the Great Lakes

September 21, 2021

September 21, 2021 – The Great Lakes Protection Fund named Crystal M.C. Davis a recipient of a 2021 Great Lakes Leadership Award in recognition of her efforts to protect the health of the Great Lakes basin and the people who live in the region. She is one of six individuals the Fund is recognizing for their trailblazing efforts on behalf of the Great Lakes.

Davis is reorienting environmentalism in the Great Lakes region to focus on the needs of the people who live there. Her approach focuses on fair and equitable access to the benefits that come with restoring the ecological health of the system – like access to clean drinking water and the removal of toxins from the lakes and surrounding waterways. She currently serves As Vice President of Policy & Strategic Engagement for the Alliance for the Great Lakes.

“Crystal is changing the nature of environmentalism in the Great Lakes region. She serves as a tireless advocate for the those who are disproportionately impacted by environmental challenges,” said David Rankin, executive director of Great Lakes Protection Fund, in announcing the award. “With so much of the work in this region focused on policies like the Water Quality Agreement and the Clean Water Act, she was one of the first to say, ‘What about the people who live here? How will their lives be improved by these policies?’ And for that, she’s a trailblazer.”

Davis’ approach is prompting both environmentalists and policymakers to look at water quality issues throughout the Great Lakes basin in a new way. She spearheaded the development of Shut Up and Listen, which guides those who want to listen to community concerns. Last year, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine appointed her to a three-year term on the Ohio Lake Erie Commission. Additionally, she led the effort to develop the first-ever Ohio Environmental Justice Platform, and also led a study about water affordability in Ohio.

“Thank you to the Great Lakes Protection Fund for this honor and for recognizing that we need to bridge the gap between the grass-tops and grassroots movements,” said Davis. “The power to solve complex water challenges lies at the intersection of authentic community engagement and public policy making.”

Other winners of the 2021 Great Lakes Leadership Award are:

  • Allegra Cangelosi pioneered the field of ballast treatment technology, which helps the shipping industry limit the transfer of invasive species into the Great Lakes. Her contributions have helped reduce the introduction of new invasive species into the Great Lakes by more than 90 percent.
  • Rob Collier created the first-ever network of community foundation environmental programs in Great Lakes coastal cities, which launched a national movement of similar efforts. Before retiring as head of the Council of Michigan Foundations, he helped community foundations stretching from Duluth to Niagara connect their work and their priorities to the health of the Great Lakes.
  • Eric Letsinger has led the field of impact finance in the environmental space. Using innovative performance-based funding vehicles like environmental impact bonds and green bonds, he has created a new way for Great Lakes communities to finance green infrastructure and improve water quality.
  • David M. Lodge is known as the “CSI Great Lakes Guy” for developing genetic testing tools to prevent invasive species from reaching the Great Lakes. He also created forensic tests and other tools to stop the spread of existing invaders.
  • Sherri A. Mason, Ph.D., has elevated the awareness of – and action to stop – microplastic pollution in the Great Lakes. Her efforts prompted major companies to change their production process and led the Food and Drug Administration to ban plastic microbeads in face creams and shampoos.

The Great Lakes Protection Fund (the Fund) is the impact investor for the Great Lakes. Over the past three decades, the Fund has turned big ideas turn into big impact by investing $91 million into projects and teams that are pioneering new technologies, practices, and financing strategies to restore and protect the health of the Great Lakes. From improved water quality to sustainably managed forests to fewer invasive species entering the lakes, the Fund launches and accelerates innovations that consistently lead to long-term improvements throughout the region.

This is the third year for the Great Lakes Leadership Award. In 2019, the Fund recognized innovation in water technology that has the potential to vastly improve in the health of the Great Lakes and help secure clean water for the future. The 2020 Great Lakes Leadership Award went to top storytellers in the region.


Valerie Holford for Great Lakes Protection Fund at or 202-365-5336