Identifying and assessing the application of ecosystem services approaches in environmental policies and decision making

Joke Van Wensem, Peter Calow, Annik Dollacker, Lorraine Maltby, Lydia Olander, Magnus Tuvendal, George Van Houtven

    Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

    30 Scopus citations


    The presumption is that ecosystem services (ES) approaches provide a better basis for environmental decision making than do other approaches because they make explicit the connection between human well-being and ecosystem structures and processes. However, the existing literature does not provide a precise description of ES approaches for environmental policy and decision making, nor does it assess whether these applications will make a difference in terms of changing decisions and improving outcomes. We describe 3 criteria that can be used to identify whether and to what extent ES approaches are being applied: 1) connect impacts all the way from ecosystem changes to human well-being, 2) consider all relevant ES affected by the decision, and 3) consider and compare the changes in well-being of different stakeholders. As a demonstration, we then analyze retrospectively whether and how the criteria were met in different decision-making contexts. For this assessment, we have developed an analysis format that describes the type of policy, the relevant scales, the decisions or questions, the decision maker, and the underlying documents. This format includes a general judgment of how far the 3 ES criteria have been applied. It shows that the criteria can be applied to many different decision-making processes, ranging from the supranational to the local scale and to different parts of decision-making processes. In conclusion we suggest these criteria could be used for assessments of the extent to which ES approaches have been and should be applied, what benefits and challenges arise, and whether using ES approaches made a difference in the decision-making process, decisions made, or outcomes of those decisions. Results from such studies could inform future use and development of ES approaches, draw attention to where the greatest benefits and challenges are, and help to target integration of ES approaches into policies, where they can be most effective. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2017;13:41–51.

    Original languageEnglish (US)
    Pages (from-to)41-51
    Number of pages11
    JournalIntegrated environmental assessment and management
    Issue number1
    StatePublished - Jan 1 2017

    Bibliographical note

    Publisher Copyright:
    © 2016 SETAC


    • Criteria
    • Decision-making
    • Ecosystem services
    • Policies


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