How can nature conservation be better integrated across society?
Nature conservation must become a central pillar in the transformation towards a sustainable society and a green economy (1). To achieve this, it must be integrated into society as a whole, including all sectors of the economy.
In a recent study for the Swiss Federal Office for the Environment (FOEN) we have explored ways to mainstream nature conservation across society as part of a sustainable societal transformation in Switzerland ( Here we summarize some of the take-home messages.

Relationships with nature not species numbers motivate people
There is broad consensus in our society that “nature” is something very positive: relaxation and recreation, well-being, beautiful landscapes, rich plant life, encounters with animals, and a sense of being at home (Heimat).
The concept of relational values of nature (Naturbeziehungen) is better able than the concept of biodiversity to engage with diverse stakeholders and to transport these shared values, and it can also help to build a bridge with landscape planning. Our relationships with nature and landscapes have different dimensions: sensual, identificatory, aesthetic, symbolic, political, social, economic, and ecological.

Nature conservation is an inter- and transdisciplinary endeavour.
Nature conservation must harness tools and expertise well beyond biology to become more effective:

  • Strengthen competencies and perspectives from the social sciences and humanities among nature conservationists.
  • Apply methods that facilitate participatory processes and enable new forms of democratic deliberation such as citizen panels.
  • Build on tools and concepts from sustainability and transformation science to enable change (e.g. design thinking, theory-of-change approach, social innovations, social entrepreneurship).
  • Develop shared visions and narratives that convey positive imaginations of future, biodiverse landscapes.
  • Use storytelling (2) for the moderation of stakeholder workshops (e.g. the methodology «storytelling based on objects» developed through our project, or digital storytelling(3)).

Increasing the base for nature conservation
There is great untapped potential for new partnerships to strengthen nature conservation, for instance:

  • Biodiversity, ecosystem services and nature-based solutions must be better anchored as priority issues in a green economy and associated research and development (4). Nature-based start-ups and young entrepreneurs should be promoted.
  • The field of health has great potential for establishing ecosystem services more broadly in society, and for forming new alliances.
  • Nature conservation concerns all population groups and should therefore take into account the full diversity of society. This includes traditional activities such as yodelling as well as the perspectives of LGBTQ people, migrants and computer programmers.
  • Nature conservation in its current institutionalised form often does not sufficiently reach the rural population. Yet relations with nature play an important and everyday role in rural areas in jobs such as farming or forestry and in leisure activities such as hunting, fishing or mountaineering.
  • Nature conservation is politically broadly supported by an urban population but often only weakly integrated into their fields of action: social affairs, culture, communication, architecture, health, climate change, sustainability, social innovations, the sciences and education.
  • Nature can support many social and cultural activities, and social and cultural actors can broaden the basis for nature conservation; e.g. social work, multicultural integration or cultural events.
  • Nature conservation policy often focuses on well-institutionalised actors who are represented in politics by a lobby. As a result, many other actors are forgotten, for example social movements, the young generation or socially less integrated groups such as Sans Papiers, expatriates or volunteers.
  • The institutions and places of the different religions, and not only Christianity, should be better engaged as actors for nature conservation, for example in religious festivals, education and rituals or in the environmental design of religious places such as parish gardens or cemeteries.
  • There is currently a window of opportunity for the broader establishment of biodiversity promotion in gardens and other green spaces by strengthening cooperation with the green industry and landscape architecture.
  • A new bioeconomy is emerging – natural materials such as fungi, wood, insects, clay, biowaste are seen as future energy and food sources, substitutes for plastic and building materials. Equally, new developments in the life sciences, and in associated subcultures such as bio-hacking, as well as changing values on human-nature relations, will shape nature conservation. An emerging circular bioeconomy can become a driver of ecological regeneration if well planned.
  • An important instrument for the engagement with new actors is storytelling. Narrative forms thus become important instruments for nature conservation. Biodiversity and ecology could play a more prominent role in all possible forms of storytelling: literature, poetry slams, theatre, carnival and other kinds of events and rituals, city tours, foxtrails, geocaching, nature and theme trails, land art, art interventions in public spaces, games, escape rooms, role plays, film, and computer games.
  • Nature conservation is in need of new ideas and out-of-the-box thinking. Why not invite children, a blind person, an artist, a speleologist or a construction worker to the next strategy workshop or guided nature walk? Diversity produces surprising ideas and better conversation.

Image Source:

© Photo by Erik Karits on Unsplash

Christoph Küffer & Jasmin Joshi

ILF Institut für Landschaft und Freiraum,
OST Eastern Switzerland University of Applied Sciences,
Rapperswil, Switzerland