Natuurlijk Kapitaal Nederland | natuur & economie verbinden

Discourse analysis of ecosystem services

discourse analyse - foto Tineke DijkstraThere is a great deal of confusion about the term ‘ecosystem services’. In joint projects it can help to focus on ‘combining functions’, a concept that is recognizable to many.


Different people have different ideas about what ecosystem services are and which of them are important. This means that it is not always easy to discuss the services provided by nature. To be able to work together successfully in the context of ecosystem services it is important that people understand one another.


The researchers carried out a discourse analysis to gain insight into the various interpretations of the term ecosystem services and how the differences in these interpretations could be bridged. The discourse analysis revealed how the parties themselves interpret this and the associated concepts. For the study 23 interviews were conducted with various people from government, civic organisations and the commercial sector.


The study showed that the term ecosystem services is always about making use of the interdependence between the economy, nature and society. At the same time there is also a lot of confusion, for example about the important of the relationships and how to make optimum use of them. In general, there appear to be three different approaches to practical applications for ecosystem services.

The focus in the supply chain approach is on standards and the certification of commercial products, e.g. for ‘sustainable sourcing’ along the whole length of the chain.

Unilever: “The sustainability standards for agriculture include a chapter on biodiversity. … We offer our suppliers a software tool for self-assessment. Questions about crop yield, nitrogen balance, pesticide use, use of irrigation water, living conditions and the acreage managed under a ‘biodiversity conservation plan’.”

The financial structures approach is concerned with finding new sources of funding for nature conservation.

Nationaal Groenfonds: “The method of funding has changed. We simply have to take money away from other activities in order to maintain nature and pay for it. […] There needs to be a business case. Managers are looking for extra sources of income. We are trying to get a good deal.”

Under the area approach the parties act on the basis of the area and look for places where there may be a synergy between various functions in an area such as agriculture, housing, nature, soil and water.

Land manager ASR: “We have a project on De Groote Schere estate that we run together with the regional water board, the municipality and the provincial authority.We want to secure the future of the estate. […] One of the ways that we are doing this is with a green-blue ecosystem service.We have made a connection between water and nature by setting aside an area of 80 ha. for water storage. […] This benefits the water management, recreation and the landscape.”

Terms which were used and recognized in all three approaches are ‘combining functions’ and ‘finding avenues for cooperation’. In joint projects related to ecosystem services it is important to recognize the different approaches taken by the parties involved and at the same time focus on finding combinations of functions and opportunities for working together. This means that ecosystem services can be realized and applied in the Netherlands in various different ways.
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