IDEAS home Printed from
   My bibliography  Save this article

Conceptions of Value in Environmental Decision-Making


  • John O'Neill
  • Clive L. Spash


Environmental problems have an ethical dimension. They are not just about the efficient use of resources. Justice in the distribution of environmental goods and burdens, fairness in the processes of environmental decision-making, the moral claims of future generations and non-humans, these and other ethical values inform the responses of citizens to environmental problems. How can these concerns enter into good policy-making processes? Two expert-based approaches are commonly advocated for incorporating ethical values into environmental decision-making. One is an 'economic capture' approach, according to which existing economic methods can be successfully extended to include ethical concerns. For example, stated preference methods, especially contingent valuation, have been developed to try and capture ethical responses as 'non-use values' of the environment, in particular 'existence values'. The other is a 'moral expert' approach which confines economic methods to the analysis of welfare gains, and assumes committees of ethical experts will complement economic expertise. Both approaches face problems in terms of addressing many widely held ethical values about the environment. Furthermore, both face problems concerning the democratic legitimacy of their procedures. How can policy-making be made responsive to different ethical values? What role is there for new deliberative and participatory methods? How far do existing decision-making institutions have the capacities to incorporate different modes of articulating environmental values? This policy brief examines the limitations of current attempts to capture ethical values within existing economic instruments and considers how these limitations might be overcome. Section 1 examines the assumptions that standard economic theory makes about individuals when they express values and make choices about the environment. The current models of agents that inform policy-making are seen to be ill-suited to incorporating the ethical responses of agents and this reveals some of the policy failures that may result. Section 2 shows how the physical and social properties of many environmental goods prevent their being treated as commodities. Section 3 considers the problems surrounding conceptions of fairness and legitimacy in processes for environmental valuation. Section 4 raises questions concerning the capacities of policy-making institutions to take cognisance of the results of different methods for articulating environmental values.

Suggested Citation

  • John O'Neill & Clive L. Spash, 2000. "Conceptions of Value in Environmental Decision-Making," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 9(4), pages 521-536, November.
  • Handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev9:ev925

    Download full text from publisher

    File URL:
    Download Restriction: downloads of articles require payment or registration of paid subscription

    As the access to this document is restricted, you may want to search for a different version of it.

    References listed on IDEAS

    1. Herman E. Daly, 1972. "In Defense of a Steady-State Economy," American Journal of Agricultural Economics, Agricultural and Applied Economics Association, vol. 54(5), pages 945-954.
    2. repec:eee:ecolec:v:138:y:2017:i:c:p:74-81 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Viviana Asara & Emanuele Profumi & Giorgos Kallis, 2013. "Degrowth, Democracy and Autonomy," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 22(2), pages 217-239, April.
    4. Elizabeth Shove, 2010. "Beyond the ABC: Climate Change Policy and Theories of Social Change," Environment and Planning A, , vol. 42(6), pages 1273-1285, June.
    5. Ulrich Brand, 2016. "How to Get Out of the Multiple Crisis? Contours of a Critical Theory of Social-Ecological Transformation," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 25(5), pages 503-525, October.
    6. Clive L. Spash, 2015. "The Future Post-Growth Society," Development and Change, International Institute of Social Studies, vol. 46(2), pages 366-380, March.
    7. Maddison, Angus, 2007. "Contours of the World Economy 1-2030 AD: Essays in Macro-Economic History," OUP Catalogue, Oxford University Press, number 9780199227204.
    8. Elizabeth Shove, 2010. "Beyond the ABC: climate change policy and theories of social change," Environment and Planning A, Pion Ltd, London, vol. 42(6), pages 1273-1285, June.
    9. repec:env:journl:ev25:editev253 is not listed on IDEAS
    10. Scott Cameron Lougheed & Myra J. Hird & Kerry R. Rowe, 2016. "Governing Household Waste Management: An Empirical Analysis and Critique," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 25(3), pages 287-308, June.
    11. Peter Ferguson, 2016. "Liberalism and Economic Growth: A Theoretical Exploration," Environmental Values, White Horse Press, vol. 25(5), pages 593-619, October.
    Full references (including those not matched with items on IDEAS)



    Citations are extracted by the CitEc Project, subscribe to its RSS feed for this item.

    Cited by:

    1. Clive L. Spash, 2012. "Towards the integration of social, economic and ecological knowledge," SRE-Disc sre-disc-2012_04, Institute for Multilevel Governance and Development, Department of Socioeconomics, Vienna University of Economics and Business.
    2. repec:eee:ecolec:v:141:y:2017:i:c:p:213-221 is not listed on IDEAS
    3. Vargas, Andrés & Lo, Alex Y. & Rohde, Nicholas & Howes, Michael, 2016. "Background inequality and differential participation in deliberative valuation: Lessons from small-group discussions on forest conservation in Colombia," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 129(C), pages 104-111.
    4. Siciliano, Giuseppina & Urban, Frauke, 2017. "Equity-based Natural Resource Allocation for Infrastructure Development: Evidence From Large Hydropower Dams in Africa and Asia," Ecological Economics, Elsevier, vol. 134(C), pages 130-139.
    5. repec:eee:enepol:v:110:y:2017:i:c:p:490-499 is not listed on IDEAS

    More about this item


    contingent valuation; justice; fairness; efficiency; ethical values; policy-making;

    JEL classification:

    • Q51 - Agricultural and Natural Resource Economics; Environmental and Ecological Economics - - Environmental Economics - - - Valuation of Environmental Effects
    • D46 - Microeconomics - - Market Structure, Pricing, and Design - - - Value Theory
    • P48 - Economic Systems - - Other Economic Systems - - - Political Economy; Legal Institutions; Property Rights; Natural Resources; Energy; Environment; Regional Studies


    Access and download statistics


    All material on this site has been provided by the respective publishers and authors. You can help correct errors and omissions. When requesting a correction, please mention this item's handle: RePEc:env:journl:ev9:ev925. See general information about how to correct material in RePEc.

    For technical questions regarding this item, or to correct its authors, title, abstract, bibliographic or download information, contact: (Andrew Johnson). General contact details of provider: .

    If you have authored this item and are not yet registered with RePEc, we encourage you to do it here. This allows to link your profile to this item. It also allows you to accept potential citations to this item that we are uncertain about.

    We have no references for this item. You can help adding them by using this form .

    If you know of missing items citing this one, you can help us creating those links by adding the relevant references in the same way as above, for each refering item. If you are a registered author of this item, you may also want to check the "citations" tab in your RePEc Author Service profile, as there may be some citations waiting for confirmation.

    Please note that corrections may take a couple of weeks to filter through the various RePEc services.

    IDEAS is a RePEc service hosted by the Research Division of the Federal Reserve Bank of St. Louis . RePEc uses bibliographic data supplied by the respective publishers.