Exploring intrinsic, instrumental and relational values for sustainable management of social-ecological systems

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The values (i.e., importance) that people place on ecosystems have been identified as a crucial dimension of sustainable management of social-ecological systems. Recently, the call for integrating plural values of ecosystems beyond intrinsic and instrumental values has prompted the notion of “relational values.” With the aim of contributing to environmental management, we assess the environmental motivations (i.e., egoistic, biospheric, altruistic) and values that people attribute to the ecosystems of the mid-upper stream of the Otún River watershed, central Andes, Colombia. We analyzed 589 questionnaires that were collected in urban and rural areas of the Otún River watershed using the nonparametric Mann-Whitney U test and logistic regressions. We found salient biospheric motivations and the attribution of plural values (i.e., intrinsic, relational, and instrumental) to the ecosystems of the mid-upper stream of the Otún River watershed. Particularly, relational values were the most frequently mentioned value domain. Further, our results showed that environmental motivations and socioeconomic factors are associated with the expression of different value domains. We found negative associations between egoistic motivations and intrinsic values and between rural respondents and instrumental values. We found positive associations between altruistic motivations and relational values and between rural respondents and both intrinsic and relational values. In light of our results, we argue that intrinsic, instrumental, and relational values coexist in people’s narratives about the importance of ecosystems. Plural valuation approaches could be enhanced by differentiating relational from instrumental values and by expressing them in nonmonetary terms. We argue that multiple values of ecosystems expressed by rural and urban societies should be included in environmental management to tackle social conflicts and consider the diverse needs and interests of different social actors.
Original languageEnglish
Article number43
JournalEcology and Society
Issue number4
Number of pages15
Publication statusPublished - 21.12.2017

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
Paola Arias-Arévalo received funding from the Colombian Administrative Department of Science, Technology and Innovation-Colciencias (Convocatoria 529-2011) and from the Program of International Studies Commission of the Universidad del Valle, Colombia. Erik Gómez-Baggethun received partial funding from the talent development program of the Norwegian University of Life Sciences. Thanks are due to Julián Zúñiga-Barragán and the members of the research incubator on “Environmental economics and natural resources” of the Universidad Tecnológica de Pereira, Colombia, i.e., Jhon Jairo Arias, Luisa Fernanda Arango Londoño, Ana Maria Buitrago Ramirez, Derleycy García Mejía and Jhoan Sebastian Marin Agudelo, for the invaluable fieldwork support. We are also grateful to Tom Do and Kathleen Curtin for English language revisions, and to three anonymous referees for discussions and helpful comments on earlier versions of the manuscript. Many thanks to the people of the Otún River watershed who kindly and disinterestedly responded to the questionnaire used in this research.

Publisher Copyright:
© 2017 by the author(s).

    Research areas

  • ecosystem services valuation, environmental ethics, environmental management, environmental motivations, environmental values, transcendental values, value pluralism, watersheds
  • Sustainability Science
  • Ecosystems Research