Other Measures of Social and Economic Value

The purpose of the GEMS project was to develop metrics for monitoring the social and economic outcomes from coastal restoration projects in the Gulf of Mexico. For the metrics (and the monitoring program) to be feasible, the data and methods used must be accessible to practitioners and funders in the region. Given this, the chosen metrics focus on economic and social data that are already collected or could easily be collected for outcomes that are a) significantly changed by the projects and b) important to local practitioners and decision makers. The “values” included range from traditional economic market values (such as number of jobs created), to benefit relevant indicators (length of shoreline with reduced erosion near public infrastructure), to distributional equity (whether all communities have equal access to the benefits).  

People identify many different types of values for nature1. Intrinsic values are independent of human experience, and refer to the inherent value of nature, like a species’ right to exist. Instrumental values refer to how nature contributes to human wellbeing, like water retention that reduces flood risk. Lastly, relational values reflect human relationships with nature, like an attachment to a certain landscape or a social or moral responsibility toward nature.

Economists use a wide variety of methods to attempt to capture the instrumental and relational values of nature, which can also be called social welfare value or non-market goods and services. While these ecosystem service valuation methods could generate monetary values related to many of the outcomes identified by the GEMS project, these methods tend to require additional resources and expertise, so are generally not feasible for broad application at this time and are not included in our metrics. If these analyses have already been done for a particular place2, they could augment the metrics we have included.

The presence of a certain habitat (e.g., oyster reef, salt marsh), species (e.g., oysters, dolphins) or the knowledge that nature is healthy and biodiverse can have value to people, even if they are not using it or seeing it. This is called existence value. People value nature’s existence for different reasons, including the desire for habitats and species to be available for the next generation to enjoy, preserve a livelihood option (e.g., commercial fishing) or family/cultural traditions (e.g., collecting and eating oysters over the winter holidays), or even just knowing that important and special places and species persist.  Sometimes the existence value people hold for a special place or species is larger than any of the instrumental or relational values. However, we do not include existence value in our outcomes or metrics because establishing this value requires use of expensive surveys and significant expertise.


1. References for other values of nature:

2. e.g., https://www.bluevalue.org/