Poorer without It? The Neglected Role of the Natural Environment in Poverty and Wellbeing

Judith Schleicher, Marije Schaafsma, Neil D. Burgess, Chris Sandbrook, Fiona Danks, Chris Cowie, Bhaskar Vira

Research output: Contribution to JournalArticleAcademicpeer-review


The relationship between sustainable development's prime goal, human wellbeing, and the natural environment has been narrowly conceived. This paper focuses on the possibility and the implications of treating the natural environment as a ‘constituent’, or internal element, of the concepts of wellbeing and poverty, as opposed to a ‘determinant’, or instrumental, external factor. Our review of philosophical accounts and conceptual frameworks of wellbeing and poverty suggests that treating the environment as a constituent element is philosophically sound, conceptually robust and empirically grounded. We argue that failing to consider these missing environmental aspects can result in an incomplete capturing of the multiple dimensions of wellbeing and poverty, and their underlying drivers. This broader framing of the environment–wellbeing relationship has the potential to inform a new generation of individual level wellbeing and poverty indicators, creating measures of multidimensional poverty that reflect the broadened scope ambitiously articulated in the Sustainable Development Goals.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)83-98
Number of pages16
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2018


FundersFunder number
Economic and Social Research CouncilES/P003583/1
Natural Environment Research CouncilNE/M00760X/1


    • ecosystem services
    • human wellbeing
    • multidimensional poverty
    • natural environment
    • nature
    • sustainable development


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