Refocusing ecosystem services towards sustainability

Matthias Schroter*, Klara H. Stumpf, Jacqueline Loos, Alexander P.E. van Oudenhoven, Anne Böhnke-Henrichs, David J. Abson

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review

45 Citations (Scopus)


Ecosystem services and sustainability have become prominent concepts in international policy and research agendas. However, a common conceptual ground between these concepts is currently underdeveloped. In particular, a vision is missing on how to align ecosystem services with overarching sustainability goals. Originally, the ecosystem service concept focused on sustaining human well-being through biodiversity conservation. Nevertheless, studies within the field also consider appropriation beyond carrying capacities, and natural resource management that involves environmentally damaging inputs as ecosystem service provision. This brings the ecosystem service concept into conflict with the core goal of sustainability, i.e. achieving justice within ecological limits over the long term. Here, we link the ecosystem service concept to sustainability outcomes operationalized in terms of justice. Our framing positions sustainability as an overarching goal which can be achieved through seven key strategies: equitable (1) intergenerational and (2) intragenerational distribution, (3) interspecies distribution, (4) fair procedures, recognition and participation, (5) sufficiency, (6) efficiency, and (7) persistence. Applying these strategies has the potential to re-focus the ecosystem service concept towards the normative goal of sustainability. We identify research needs for each strategy and further discuss questions regarding operationalization of the strategies.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)35-43
JournalEcosystem Services
Publication statusPublished - 2017


  • Distributive justice
  • Intergenerational justice
  • Intragenerational justice
  • Procedural justice
  • Sustainable development

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