Ask not what nature can do for you: A critique of ecosystem services as a communication strategy

Date: 31, May, 2018
Author(s):   Sarah Bekessy, M. C. Runge, Alexander Kusmanoff, David Keith, Brendan Wintle
Publisher: Biological Conservation

Given the urgent need to raise public awareness about biodiversity issues, we review the effectiveness of ‘ecosystem services’ as a frame for promoting biodiversity conservation. Since its inception as a communications tool in the 1970s, the concept of ecosystem services has become pervasive in biodiversity policy. While the goal of securing ecosystem services is absolutely legitimate, we argue that it has had limited success as a vehicle for securing public interest and support for nature, which is crucial to securing long-term social mandates for protection. Emerging evidence suggests that focusing on ecosystem services at the expense of the intrinsic value of nature is unlikely to be effective in bolstering public support for nature conservation. Theory to guide effective communication about nature is urgently needed. In the meantime, communicators can increase their success by reflecting on their objectives and intended audience and revisiting the way nature is framed to ensure maximum resonance.