Ethical considerations in on-ground applications of the ecosystem services concept

Gary W. Luck, Kai M.A. Chan, Uta Eser, Erik Gómez-Baggethun, Bettina Matzdorf, Bryan Norton, Marion B. Potschin

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

110 Citations (Scopus)


The ecosystem services (ES) concept is one of the main avenues for conveying society's dependence on natural ecosystems. On-ground applications of the concept are now widespread and diverse and include its use as a communication tool, for policy guidance and priority setting, and for designing economic instruments for conservation. Each application raises ethical considerations beyond traditional controversies related to the monetary valuation of nature. We review ethical considerations across major on-ground applications and group them into the following categories: anthropocentric framing, economic metaphor, monetary valuation, commodification, sociocultural impact, changes in motivations, and equity implications. Different applications of the ES concept raise different suites of ethical issues, and we propose methods to address the issues most relevant to each application. We conclude that the ES concept should be considered as only one among various alternative approaches to valuing nature and that reliance on economic metaphors can exclude other motivations for protecting ecosystems. © 2012 by American Institute of Biological Sciences. All rights reserved.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)1020-1029
Issue number12
Publication statusPublished - 1 Dec 2012


  • commodification
  • conservation policy
  • ecosystem management
  • environmental ethics
  • equity


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