Ecosystem services are the benefits provided by ecosystems that contribute to making human life both possible and worth living. Examples of ecosystem services include products such as food and water, regulation of floods, soil erosion and disease outbreaks and non-material benefits, such as recreational and spiritual benefits in natural areas.

Ecosystem services are ‘the benefits that people, including businesses, derive from ecosystems’. This is the definition used by International Finance Corporation’s (IFC) Performance Standard 6 (PS6) in “Biodiversity Conservation and Sustainable Management of Living Natural Resources”. IFC organises ecosystem services into four types: provisioning; regulating; cultural; and supporting services. The most frequently discussed ecosystem services are those provisioning services also commonly referred to as ‘natural resources’, e.g. water, food, fibres and fuel.

ES and impact assessments

Assessing and compensating for impacts on ecosystem services requires both social and environmental expertise and stakeholder consultation. Such a trans-disciplinary approach is rare in impact assessments, which tend to partition ‘social’ and ‘environmental’ impact assessments. This can mean duplication of efforts, or worse still, missing highly valued ecosystem services. It can result in negative impact on stakeholders, meaning both Affected Communities (meaning the group of stakeholders using an ecosystem service that is affected by the project and reliant on that ecosystem service for their wellbeing), and the industry project itself, which rely on ecosystem services like freshwater to function effectively.