Community capitals and (social) sustainability: Use and misuse of asset-based approaches in environmental management

Federica Panzarella, Catrinel Turcanu, Bieke Abelshausen, Valérie Cappuyns

Research outputpeer-review


Sustainability has increasingly gained momentum as an underlying framework to orient decisions and actions in environmental management. However, while acting in view of sustainability goals is a noble intention, both the conceptualization and the implementation of sustainability remain a subject of debate. This is partly due to the widespread lack of consideration for its social dimension and the interactions this has with the environmental and economic dimensions. To this end, the Community Capitals Framework and other asset-based approaches are often used to deal with these problematic aspects of sustainability in environmental management. Through a systematic review of scientific peer-reviewed articles, this paper investigates the conceptual and practical application of such approaches. Results from our analysis show that different declinations of community capitals exist within environmental management. In all the forms they assume in the 42 frameworks identified, theiremployment seems effective in promoting the inclusion of social, economic and environmental dimensions when conducting sustainability assessments. However, we identified two main difficulties that challenge the application of asset-based approaches in practice. First, in most cases, capital assessment is not carried out in the planning phase of an environmental intervention in order to identify community resources; capitals are employed instead to measure the impact of an ecological change ex-post, thus being discordant with their theoretical foundations. Second, the existence of a vast array of terms to refer to community assets creates disorientation among exponents of different stakeholder groups and hinders a practical and effective application of this concept. On the basis of our results, we claim the importance of conducting community resources assessment and stakeholder consultation at different times and through practice oriented approaches and crosssilos communication efforts in order to develop a shared understanding of the problem and facilitate sustainable, adaptive and participatory approaches to environmental management
Original languageEnglish
Article number117122
Number of pages13
JournalJournal of environmental management
StatePublished - 1 Mar 2023

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