Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats: A SWOT analysis of the ecosystem services framework

The ecosystem services concept is a cornerstone of contemporary sustainability thought. Challenges with this concept and its applications are well documented, but have not been systematically assessed alongside strengths and weaknesses. Such an assessment could improve embedding of the concept into environmental decisions and management.

Conducting a SWOT analysis

The Young Ecosystem Services Specialists (YESS) completed a Strengths–Weaknesses–Opportunities–Threats (SWOT) analysis of ecosystem services through YESS member surveys. Strengths include the approach being interdisciplinary, and a useful communication tool. Weaknesses include an incomplete scientific basis, frameworks being inconsistently applied, and accounting for nature's intrinsic value. Opportunities include alignment with existing policies and established methodologies, and increasing environmental awareness. Threats include resistance to change, and difficulty with interdisciplinary collaboration.

Consideration of SWOT themes suggested five strategic areas for developing and implementing ecosystem services.

Future of ecosystem services concept

The concept could improve decision-making related to natural resource use, and interpretation of the complexities of human-nature interactions. It is contradictory – valued as a simple means of communicating the importance of conservation, whilst also considered an oversimplification characterised by ambiguous language. Nonetheless, given sufficient funding and political will, the ecosystem services framework could facilitate interdisciplinary research, ensuring decision-making that supports sustainable development.


J.W. Bull (University of Copenhagen, Department of Food and Resource Economics & Center for Macroecology, Evolution and Climate), N. Jobstvogt (), A. Böhnke-Henrichs (WUR, Environmental Systems Analysis Group), A. Mascarenhas (Universidade Nova de Lisboa, Center for Environmental and Sustainability Research / Humboldt-Universität, Lab of Landscape Ecology, Geography Institute), N. Sitas (Council for Scientific and Industrial Research, Natural Resources and the Environment), C. Baulcomb (Scotland's Rural College, Land Economy, Environment & Society Research Group), C.K. Lambini (University of Bayreuth, Bayreuth Center for Ecology and Environmental Research and Bayreuth Graduate School of Mathematical and Natural Sciences), M. Rawlins (University of the West Indies), H. Baral (University of Melbourne, University of Melbourne), J. Zähringer (University of Bern, Centre for Development and Environment (CDE)), E. Carter-Silk (Plymouth Marine Laboratory), M.V. Balzan (Malta College of Arts, Science and Technology), J.O. Kenter (The Scottish Association for Marine Science (SAMS), Laurence Mee Centre for Society and the Sea), T. Häyhä (Stockholm Resilience Centre), K. Petz (PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency), R. Koss (Dalton Koss HQ)


Publication title
Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats: A SWOT analysis of the ecosystem services framework
Publication date
22 December 2015
Publication type
Ecosystem Services
Product number