Environmental Decision Making

Every day we make choices. We decide simple things like what to wear, what to eat, or how much time to allow for homework. Some decisions, however, require us to think critically and consider the potential consequences of our actions. When it comes to making environmental decisions there is often no clear right or wrong. However, many factors must be considered, especially since the environment is held in the public trust. When making environmental decisions, it often means the decision you are making doesn’t just affect you — and it can have very long-lasting effects.

Grade level: 4-8 grades

Performance Expectations:

  • MS-ESS3-4 Earth and Human Activity. Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth’s Systems.
  • HS-ESS3-2 Earth and Human Activity. Evaluate competing design solutions for developing, managing and utilizing energy and mineral resources based on cost-benefit ratios.
  • HS-ESS3-4 Earth and Human Activity. Evaluate or refine a technological solution that reduces impacts of human activities on natural systems.

For alignment, see: Environmental Decision Making NGSS Summary

Lesson Objectives

  • Discuss land use practices that affect Great Lakes wetlands.
  • Make decisions and recognize personal priorities with regard to wetlands.
  • Describe some of the economic factors that often drive land use decisions.


Coastal and inland communities in the Great Lakes region face difficult land use decisions every day. Land use refers to how land within a community is used — whether for houses, businesses, agriculture or natural areas. Local leaders must decide where to build houses and what types of industry to support. Communities must also consider another important factor — the health of the environment. A healthy environment that allows for natural areas, open green space and clean water attracts residents and enhances quality of life.

Protecting wetlands is another way to enhance our natural environment. Wetlands provide important ecological benefits — such as water filtration, habitat and flood control — that need to be considered in land use decisions. Yet wetland benefits are frequently overlooked. Financial gain and economic concerns often override environmental issues. Despite this historic trend, some communities are recognizing that a healthy environment is closely tied to a healthy economy. We could call this principle “eco-nomics,” the healthy marriage of ecological protection and economic growth.

In essence, all land use decisions have short-and long-term consequences that affect the environment. It’s important to weigh the pros and cons of every decision and make the best choices possible.



  • Hydropoly: A Decision-Making Game
    Summary: Through the various land-use choices posed in the board game Hydropoly, students must consider both the economic and environmental consequences of their decisions. This type of decision-making helps prepare young people for situations they’ll encounter throughout their lives.
    Time: 60-minute class period