Special Issue "Nature-Based Solutions for Strong Sustainability: The Quest of Ecological Neutrality"

A special issue of Sustainability (ISSN 2071-1050). This special issue belongs to the section "Social Ecology and Sustainability".

Deadline for manuscript submissions: 31 December 2020.

Special Issue Editors

Prof. Harold Levrel
Guest Editor
CIRED, AgroParisTech, CIRAD, CNRS, EHESS, Ecole des Ponts ParisTech, Université de Paris-Saclay
Interests: Biodiversity conservation, Economic incentives, Ecological offsettings, Ecological economics, Economic and Environment accountings
Dr. Pierre Scemama
Guest Editor
Ifremer, Univ Brest, CNRS, UMR 6308, AMURE, Unité d'Economie Maritime, IUEM, 29280, Plouzane, France
Interests: ecological economics; biodiversity conservation; marine protected areas; institutional and organizational economics
Dr. Anne-Charlotte Vaissière
Guest Editor
Écologie Systématique Évolution, CNRS (French National Center for Scientific Research), AgroParisTech, Université Paris-Sud, Université Paris-Saclay
Interests: biodiversity conservation; biodiversity offsetting; mitigation banking; evaluation of costs; ecological economics; institutional and organizational economics

Special Issue Information

Dear Colleagues,

During the past 20 years, new environmental policies have used the concept of neutrality as a core objective. Indeed, “no net loss of biodiversity”, “no net land take” and “carbon neutrality” became the new buzzwords for policy-makers wishing to reconcile economic growth and environmental preservation. The rationale of this approach is to condition economic development in territories to the implementation of offsetting strategies. In this way, new nature-based economic tools have blossomed, such as offsetting mechanisms (e.g., biodiversity, carbon, nutrient, etc.), the payment for ecosystem services, or the inclusion of natural capital in accounting (at national or corporate scales). All these new instruments have as the main goal to drive the restoration and enhancement of ecosystems and to provide ecological gains which can help to counterbalance environmental losses due to our development trajectories, in order to go beyond the simple creation of incentives for natural capital conservation. In economics, this position means that our societies are moving from weak sustainability normative criteria where trade-offs between nature conservation and non-natural elements considered to be equivalent are acceptable; toward strong sustainability criteria where trade-offs are limited to those between components of nature.

The use of these new tools for new efficient public policies leads to many challenges. Indeed, it is necessary to create new institutions, organizations, and instruments to develop new environmental–economic transactions between private and public entities. Among the principal questions to answer, we can mention:

  • How to define ecological equivalency for demonstrating ecological neutrality? This question covers the choice of ecological standards (Ecosystem services? Species? Genes?), but also the procedures and tools and their embeddedness into complex institutional matrices.
  • How to create new ecological limits for these transactions from a spatial scale (service areas) and a temporal scale (ecological gains and losses at different time-scales)?
  • How will the new evaluation tools contribute to developing environmental–economic accounting both in firms’ and national accounting systems to make the ecological debits and credits of these organizations visible?
  • How is it possible to create new contracts for the transactions regarding environmental offsetting programs between different types of organizations, but also with nature itself?
  • How can some stakeholders be the representatives of various components of nature in order to defend their interests?
  • What are the legal innovations required (e.g., conservation easement, environmental trustees, etc.)?
  • What are the best organizational modes for strong sustainability (the roles of markets, hierarchies, and hybrid forms)?
  • How can ecological engineering and restoration ecology help agronomic or civil engineering to restore ecosystems?
  • How is it possible to adopt incentives to pool different investments in the restoration of natural ecosystems?
  • What are the challenges in terms of enforcement and control, and how can the uncertainty coming from the ecological dynamics and the stakeholders' strategies, and the tensions between the ecological goals and the economic constraints be managed?
  • What are the risks in terms of the commodification of nature?

This list of questions reflects the complexity raised by the deployment of these new environmental policies. This Special Issue questions these challenges and could contribute to discuss the pros and cons of these new approaches regarding the regulation of social-ecological interactions and the quest for a new ecological neutrality in our society.

Prof. Harold Levrel
Dr. Pierre Scemama
Dr. Anne-Charlotte Vaissière

Guest Editors

Manuscript Submission Information

Manuscripts should be submitted online at www.mdpi.com by registering and logging in to this website. Once you are registered, click here to go to the submission form. Manuscripts can be submitted until the deadline. All papers will be peer-reviewed. Accepted papers will be published continuously in the journal (as soon as accepted) and will be listed together on the special issue website. Research articles, review articles as well as short communications are invited. For planned papers, a title and short abstract (about 100 words) can be sent to the Editorial Office for announcement on this website.

Submitted manuscripts should not have been published previously, nor be under consideration for publication elsewhere (except conference proceedings papers). All manuscripts are thoroughly refereed through a single-blind peer-review process. A guide for authors and other relevant information for submission of manuscripts is available on the Instructions for Authors page. Sustainability is an international peer-reviewed open access semimonthly journal published by MDPI.

Please visit the Instructions for Authors page before submitting a manuscript. The Article Processing Charge (APC) for publication in this open access journal is 1800 CHF (Swiss Francs). Submitted papers should be well formatted and use good English. Authors may use MDPI's English editing service prior to publication or during author revisions.


  • ecological neutrality
  • environmental offsetting
  • nature-based solutions
  • strong sustainability
  • economic incentives

Published Papers

This special issue is now open for submission.
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