People usually support and participate in activities that have some value to them. Therefore, when implementing plans for the sustainable use and conservation of socio-ecological systems (SES), it is essential to respect and include the values of people.
Integrating relational values into ecological systems
A study from Japan now shows how integrating relational values into SES management plans can help win people’s support. It also illustrates how developing these values can encourage pro-SES behaviour to achieve a more sustainable state of SES.
In today’s world of excess, the human-nature dynamic has become quite distorted and exploitative. Therefore, sustainable and conscious coexistence within our natural ecosystems has become the need of the hour. This is where sustainable socio-ecological systems (SES) come in.
SES are complex adaptive systems that encompass the complex interactions between people and their environment. Effective ESS management requires a balance between improving human well-being and maintaining ecosystem integrity.
However, the success of an ISS management plan relies on the understanding, support and participation of ISS people. To ensure this support and involvement, it is essential that management decisions align with people’s wishes and the values they place on their natural environment.
Intrinsic values of nature
Previous studies have mainly focused on the instrumental and intrinsic values of nature. Instrumental value relates to the necessity of something to achieve a particular end, while intrinsic value is when the thing is desirable in itself. However, few studies have looked at the meaning of relational nature values. They are values that derive from the connectedness between people and nature and encompass a sense of place, identity and well-being that can motivate environmental stewardship.
Overcoming this lack of research, a new Japanese study, published in Frontiers in Marine Science on December 8, 2022, has become the first to quantitatively reveal the critical role of relational values in people’s willingness to participate in and support ESS management. “Relational values are preferences associated with positive relationships between man and nature that are valued by people.
“Our research shows that by managing SES that respect these relationships, SES can become a more desirable state,” says Professor Takuro Uehara, a professor at Ritsumeikan University, Japan, and lead researcher of the study.
Improving environmental education
The study found that while relational values are correlated and overlap to some extent with instrumental and intrinsic values, they are also non-substitutable and important in themselves for the successful management of SSEs. The study shows that the integration of relational values – either as a single class of values or as part of aggregated values – is crucial in gaining public support for SES management.
It also demonstrates that promoting such relational values can promote pro-SSE behaviour among people. This can be achieved by improving environmental education, encouraging the consumption of locally sourced foods, and increasing opportunities for nature-based leisure activities for the community. These findings resonated across all three SES, despite their social, demographic, cultural, and environmental differences.
Overall, this study argues for the integration of relational values into SES management plans in order to achieve a desirable state of SES that is both human-centred and ecosystem-centred.
“Relational values are typically location-based, and our study shows that these values can contribute uniquely and significantly to understanding pro-SES behaviour, which could have important implications for the management of individual SES. creating systemic change towards sustainability, relational values can be an important leverage point since people are generally more willing to engage in activities that support what they value,” comments Professor Uehara.
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