, Volume 42, Issue 6, pp 675–684 | Cite as

The Challenges of Incorporating Cultural Ecosystem Services into Environmental Assessment

  • Debra SatzEmail author
  • Rachelle K. Gould
  • Kai M. A. Chan
  • Anne Guerry
  • Bryan Norton
  • Terre Satterfield
  • Benjamin S. Halpern
  • Jordan Levine
  • Ulalia Woodside
  • Neil Hannahs
  • Xavier Basurto
  • Sarah Klain


The ecosystem services concept is used to make explicit the diverse benefits ecosystems provide to people, with the goal of improving assessment and, ultimately, decision-making. Alongside material benefits such as natural resources (e.g., clean water, timber), this concept includes—through the ‘cultural’ category of ecosystem services—diverse non-material benefits that people obtain through interactions with ecosystems (e.g., spiritual inspiration, cultural identity, recreation). Despite the longstanding focus of ecosystem services research on measurement, most cultural ecosystem services have defined measurement and inclusion alongside other more ‘material’ services. This gap in measurement of cultural ecosystem services is a product of several perceived problems, some of which are not real problems and some of which can be mitigated or even solved without undue difficulty. Because of the fractured nature of the literature, these problems continue to plague the discussion of cultural services. In this paper we discuss several such problems, which although they have been addressed singly, have not been brought together in a single discussion. There is a need for a single, accessible treatment of the importance and feasibility of integrating cultural ecosystem services alongside others.


Culture Environmental assessment Ecosystem services Decision-making Interdisciplinary social science Value pluralism 



We are grateful to the National Center for Ecological Analysis and Synthesis (NCEAS), which supported the meetings of our Working Group on Cultural Ecosystem Services. We are also indebted for the reflection on this essay’s contents contributed by members of the NCEAS Working Group who are not authors on this paper: P. Balavanera, A. Bostrom, R. Chuenpagdee, G. Daily, M. Ruckelshaus, R. Russell, and G. Bratman. Finally, we thank two helpful anonymous reviewers for this journal.


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Copyright information

© Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences 2013

Authors and Affiliations

  • Debra Satz
    • 1
    Email author
  • Rachelle K. Gould
    • 2
  • Kai M. A. Chan
    • 3
  • Anne Guerry
    • 4
  • Bryan Norton
    • 5
  • Terre Satterfield
    • 3
  • Benjamin S. Halpern
    • 6
  • Jordan Levine
    • 3
  • Ulalia Woodside
    • 7
  • Neil Hannahs
    • 7
  • Xavier Basurto
    • 8
  • Sarah Klain
    • 6
  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  2. 2.Emmett Interdisciplinary Program in Environment and ResourcesStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  3. 3.Institute for Resources, Environment and SustainabilityUniversity of British ColumbiaVancouverCanada
  4. 4.Natural Capital Project, Woods Institute for the EnvironmentStanford UniversityStanfordUSA
  5. 5.School of Public Policy, Georgia Institute of TechnologyAtlantaUSA
  6. 6.National Center for Ecological Analysis & SynthesisSanta BarbaraUSA
  7. 7.Kamehameha Schools, Land Assets DivisionHonoluluUSA
  8. 8.Duke Marine Lab, Nicholas School of the EnvironmentDuke UniversityBeaufortUSA

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