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Cambridge Institute for Sustainability Leadership (CISL)

February 2021: New policies or investment decisions aiming to protect natural resources and ecosystems could be more effective and find higher acceptance if they consider people’s diverse benefits from ecosystems. A more holistic approach to policy designs could equip policies better to meet societal needs, increase equity and protect vital resources.


Effective nature-based policies and investment decisions to protect ecosystems should embed people’s needs during their design process. Embedding diverse needs reflects on how different groups benefit from ecosystems and could improve public acceptance of new policies or investment decisions. For example, not every person will receive the same benefits from forests. Forests provide a range of benefits which include, water filtration for downstream communities, supplies of timber, provision of space for people to connect with nature, deep cultural meaning and/or carbon storage. Considering people’s diverse benefits could guide decision makers as global calls invest in nature and protect vital ecosystems to improve climate resilience are becoming more prominent.

Implications and opportunities

In a move away from generalist approaches to policy designs, researchers suggest that actionable policies that incorporate people’s diverse benefits could lead to higher levels of acceptance and a more inclusive design. The holistic approach could be extended from policies to include sustainable development plans and management decisions to achieve designs that take a people-centric view and include considerations on equity. For example, reflecting on who benefits from ecosystems could guide decisions on what should be prioritised in conservation strategies. It links to increased communication efforts to demonstrate how conservation solutions benefit local communities. Such efforts could enable people to see their needs supported in conservation efforts and build collaborative capacities for future policy designs.


The referenced study provides conceptual guidelines to embed peoples’ divergent benefits into policy design. However, assessing people’s benefits from ecosystems requires adaptation at the local level and should be seen in the context of local customs, traditions, ecosystems, and existing policies.


Mandle, L.,, (2020). Increasing decision relevance of ecostsysten service science, Nature Sustainability. DOI: 10.1038/s41893-020-00625-y

Stanford University (2020). To protect nature’s benefits, focus on people. Retrieved from