Comprehensive data support for environmental management based on socio-cultural methodology
Comprehensive data support for environmental management based on socio-cultural methodology

Cadaster Institute’s work on developing a socio-cultural methodology for environmental management involves broadening the requirements for identifying and measuring trends in the self-development of the system of humans, nature, and the society, including those of which we were previously unaware. Without this, it is impossible to ensure the effectiveness of institutional regulation in the area of sustainable natural resource use and environmental protection. Issues around measurements are regarded as a key element in the process for agreeing a socio-cultural methodology for environmental management.

As far back as the 15th century, Nicholas of Cusa, (who one could say was the pioneer for developing an early scientific understanding of the world), suggested that Man is able to get to know Nature through its senses, imagination, intellect and reason. “Understanding from the moment when Nature allows its transition to speculation is merely to comprehend the universal, the incorruptible and the continuous” [1]. In the “Book of the Fool” (idiotae – Lat) [2] Nicholas explains the rationale for the need to develop accurate measurement methods, mainly mathematical. He quite rightly believed that knowledge of true essence was impossible as it exists in more or less precise conceptions. He defended the idea of conscious (scientific) ignorance – even the most profound knowledge doesn’t totally eradicate ignorance.

Today, ecological indicators characterise the level of harmful environmental effects which arise during production and consumption processes. The choice of ecological indicators tends to reflect requirements which, when met, ensure that sensible interaction between human activities, the natural environment and the regulatory state of the environment is supported, as well as identifying risks that can have direct and indirect adverse environmental impacts.

Along with traditionally configured environmental indicators, changes that reflect socio-cultural dimensions are becoming increasingly relevant; (1) The capacity and use of natural goods and ecosystem services; (2) The formulation and development of environmental institutions and dynamics of the environmental institutional area; (3) Ecological risk-reflection as the principal factor in ecological and resource-saving activities; (4) Goal setting processes in the environmental sector, the prevention and reduction in the tension of conflicts related to the use of natural resources and ecosystem services.

As a result of the ways in which modern statistics and other information resources are organised, many of these groups of indicators now fall within the scope of an unregistered economy. Cadaster Institute sees it as its special mission to develop methodological approaches and practical ways for producing the sort of indicators, which, with the addition of traditional data resources, will provide information support to environmental management based on socio-cultural methodology. This involves a target-driven synthesis of eco-economic indicators established as part of the System of Environmental and Economic Accounting (SEEA), together with special socio-cultural indices to compare different countries and peoples using etnometric instruments, as well as environmental, sustainable development and “green” economy indicators which are integrated within the Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS). Special attention is also being given to methods for processing bodies of data, together with their imaging and modelling, using SEIS to provide information and analytical support for environmental management within a specific socio-cultural context.

From its very early days, Cadaster Institute has been engaged in research into the application and development of SEEA methodology within the Russian Federation and is regarded as one of the leading authorities in this field. We are proud to say that the high standard of our research in this area was set from the very start by the globally renowned scientist, Professor A. Markandya, (one of the authors of the early version of the UN’s System for Environmental and Economic Accounting (1992) and who was also involved in promoting an understanding of the “green” economy [3]) who spoke with us during the early stages of the project. We have also received important support from S.N. Bobilev, A.A. Dumnov, A. Hunt, and R.A. Perelet.

Numerous completed research projects have addressed theoretical and applied topics using an inter-disciplinary approach involving highly qualified experts in the field of humanities and natural sciences. This has enabled much progress to be made in adapting a satellite system of SEEA (to one of National Accounting (SNA)) to Russian conditions. The results of our research are being used in the work of federal executive agencies (Federal State Statistics Service, Russian Environment Ministry etc.), as well as State management authorities and local Government, the Directorate of Specially Protected Natural Areas (SPNA) and other interested stakeholders.

In our view, the fundamental importance of SEEA [4] methodological approaches for implementing socio-cultural principles in environmental management is determined by SEEA’s core values as a multi-purpose blueprint for understanding the interaction between economics and the natural environment through the creation of a system of appropriate statistical indicators. The first attempts to include information on natural resource consumption as part of an economic analysis were undertaken as early as the 1930s when, thanks to the development of theories advanced by A. Marshall, G.M. Keynes, K. Clark, J. Stone et al, an account was created that brought all business activity indicators together. Later, by the end of the 1960s, research results enabled new qualitative approaches to be established aimed at creating functioning statistical information systems by combining accounts according to different types of capital (economic, natural, human) which, for the first time, highlighted the need to include natural assets within a national accounting system, taking their key role in providing life’s necessities within a functioning economy into account.

An added qualitative impetus for research was provided by a decision taken at the UN Environment and Development Conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992 where, as part of discussions on an “Agenda for the 21st century”, a document was adopted on “Creating a system of integrated environmental and economic accounting”. This idea has been further developed and is now acknowledged as an internationally recognised standard known as the “System of Environmental and Economic Accounting” (SEEA). Its implementation makes it possible to identify tasks for the “green” economy to provide the necessary information to enable decisions on the most important objectives for regional management to be agreed. These relate to:

  • An analysis of financial flows between the environment and the economy and an assessment of the levels and depletion rates of environmental resources;
  • Determining the impact of the processes involved in the application (including pollutants) of environmental resources and nature conservation measures on the use of individual resources (sustainable or unsustainable), and on the net value of their assets that allows existing environmental policies to be amended in a way that is consistent with a region’s sustainable development objectives;
  • Including the preparation of environmental and general socio-economic development strategies as part of the process; identifying the role of ecological assets in the design and implementation of cash flows within a region’s economy greatly facilitates the search and basis for potential sources of funding for specific decision-making areas;
  • Coordinating general socio-economic policy as part of regional development that contributes to the preparation of an ecologically adjusted GDP indicator (taking the flow of environmental assets into account).

Individual SEEA approaches are currently used in more than 150 countries where work is being done to improve accounting and valuation systems for natural assets. Many states have detailed eco-economic accounting systems, e.g. Australia, Canada, China, Columbia, Italy, Mexico, Norway, Finland, South Africa and Sweden. International initiatives relating to eco-economic accounting are being actively pursued, e.g. Wealth Accounting and the Valuation of Ecosystem Services (WAVES); Green Economy initiative (OECD) and the EU Strategy for Environmental Accounting (European Commission [5]).

Results from research undertaken by Cadaster Institute over many years have shown that the use of SEEA methodology employed in a study of various levels (national, regional, and local) that have reserves and flows of natural resource use and ecosystem services in real and cost-based indicators has yielded significant scientific data that can be applied in research on institutional environmental change as this envisages the application of methods for identifying subjective preferences of individual users of natural goods and ecosystem services.

We believe that in order to improve the methodology for analysing institutional interactions and transformations, further work is required on the following: a value-based motivation, a more precise subjective value that includes categories such as a deferred alternative value, a value of existence and a value of inheritance. Such a determination very much reflects the basic characteristics of a “responsible person” and is accepted as a model within a socio-cultural approach to environmental management. Having said all that, one of the most important aspects of Cadaster Institute’s research is the development of an SEEA methodology that takes account of the humanist aspect. This extends the range of an evaluation that is consistent with the true value of natural assets for natural resource users, taking socio-culturally based non-economic values into consideration and, in so doing, providing important information that can be used in effective management decision-making. In other words, a systematic implementation of humanised monetary evaluations of natural goods and ecosystem services, which not only reflect market realities, but also take account of a region’s socio-cultural features, will provide information on the most important features of the state and dynamics of the geo-economic environment. Consequently, their inclusion in an ecological, social and economic analysis using SEEA mechanisms as additional indicators to assess the state of a region can be extremely helpful. This is borne out by the results of several research projects carried out by Cadaster Institute: (1) An evaluation of natural resources and ecosystem services at the micro-level undertaken on behalf of local Government agencies and the Directorate for Specially Protected Natural Areas (SPNA) and (2) Work on issues involved in determining priorities for implementing strategic planning for regional environmental development and activity areas.

In addition, in considering a socio-cultural methodology for environmental management, it is particularly important that the implementation of SEEA approaches for assessing natural capital and its constituent parts for specific areas helps in identifying social threats of depletion of the natural resource base, and is key when looking for ways of replacing lost income and preventing conflicts in the use of natural resources. The depletion of natural resources which have been intensively and extensively used in the past (mainly uncultivated biological areas, hunting, fishing, afforestation, mineral and energy extraction and depletion or pollution of water resources) can result in a sharp rise in unemployment, increased social unrest and the exacerbation of environmental problems. Resolving this issue is crucial in securing sustainable development and is reflected in the rules of the World Trade Organisation (WTO). According to Article XX (g), the General Agreement on Tariffs and Trade (GATT) does not prevent its members from adopting measures relating to the “conservation of exhaustible natural resources” so long as they observe certain conditions. Such actions should not be a “covert restriction on international trade” nor a “discriminatory” measure. Instead, they must be undertaken in conjunction with restrictions on domestic production or consumption.

Attempts have been made in recent years to integrate a measurement of flows of ecosystem services into the SEEA whose concept (which was included in the “Millennium Ecosystem Assessment” report [6]), has radically changed the nature of the environmental agenda, in particular on issues around biodiversity loss. Results from assessments of ecosystem services make it possible to implement a number of conceptual ideas which are fundamentally important in defining the role of Specially Protected Natural Areas (SPNA) in regional development, together with practical mechanisms for ensuring their protection, i.e., (1) Every natural object generates flows of goods and ecosystem services which determine its value, including economic; (2) It is better wherever possible to use monetary as well as physical indicators in putting a value on flows of ecosystem services. From this, we can see that the flow of ecosystem services forms the basis for an economic valuation of SPNAs. The reflection of real flows of ecosystem services provided by SPNAs makes it possible to derive a proper evaluation in terms of natural richness, thereby providing information that can be used in decision-making on the potential disposition of part of the income received for biodiversity conservation.

In general, experience gained from Cadaster Institute’s research on adapting and humanising SEEA methodological approaches to Russian Federation conditions has shown that the derivation and use of indicators for evaluating natural capital and its constituent parts significantly increase the opportunities for analysing natural resources as part of a country’s and its regions national wealth, and is an important factor in their socio-economic and environmental development. It also provides valuable data for assessing and raising performance levels in managing natural capital, and in evaluating budget efficiency in natural resource management. There is also an opportunity to analyse the dynamics of natural resource supply for an area and evaluate its resource provision according to current use volume and, having done so, make decisions on the optimum level of natural resource use. Given the importance of this work, we are putting careful thought into how we can best collect baseline data for carrying out evaluation research, and so make best use of a range of information sources.

There are two eco-economic matrices that form part of the SEEA methodology, the so-called “white” matrix (which integrates statistical monitoring data and departmental accounting) and “grey” (which include indicators that reflect facts and phenomena associated with the unregistered economy). This suggests an enhanced role for expert assessments and sources of primary information, demands special effort in being able to understand and interpret the data, and generally increases the socio-cultural element in results derived from these assessments.

We believe that the use of indicators within an information system for environmental management that reflect the state and dynamics of natural capital could be extremely useful since future development in Russia will only increase the pressure on natural resources, resulting in the emergence and spread of ecological and social hardship at regional level caused by the depletion (both quantitative and qualitative) of important natural resources and ensuing biodiversity loss.

Cadaster Institute has in recent years initiated important research on socio-cultural changes in environmental management and their integration within cutting-edge environmental information systems. Up until recently, the influence of culture on the development of countries and peoples has been exerted by the use of purely qualitative methods. However, recent decades have seen a notable breakthrough in the area of quantitative measurements for assessing the impact of socio-cultural factors on people’s behaviour. Etnometric tools have now emerged which make it possible to accurately measure the effect of these elements on the development of institutional systems, including within the environmental sector. All this opens up new possibilities for research on regional institutional systems, including an assessment of their condition and growth dynamics, as well as a better understanding of historical contexts and cultural principles. Potential applied studies involve; (1) Clarifying socio-cultural factors on which the performance of individual environmental institutions in specific societies depends; (2) Clarifying the influence of culture on environmental sustainability by means of quantitative methods within a factor analysis that is enhanced through the use of comparable indicators; (3) Determining a range of appropriate decision-making options for natural resource use, and the scope for establishing environmental restrictions and controls on the development of socio-cultural systems that are shaped by value-based attitudes prevailing in a given society.

Research has shown that a theoretical study of the nature of socio-cultural and institutional development in the environmental sector (measured according to six cultural indices devised by G. Hofstede, with an additional index on the “stability of property rights”) can provide a greater understanding of a region’s environmental framework, assess the influence of culture in resolving environmental problems, clarify and broaden our appreciation of institutional constraints and developmental trends in environmental institutional systems and, in so doing, make it possible to agree a range of sensible decision options for resource managers [7].

We firmly believe that etnometric tools should be the most important element of a socio-cultural methodology for environmental management as this enables accurate measurements to be made of the influence of socio-cultural factors on the development of institutional systems in the environmental sector, as well as identifying the impact of culture on ecological sustainability. Most importantly, the use of socio-cultural indices provides an a priori evaluation of a particular culture as a factor that defines the developmental trend which limits the range of decision-making options in relation to institutional or organisational change in the environmental sector.

The dependence of environmental institutional changes on cultural indices is, of course, general in nature, so the use of a common value scale in making judgements on public behaviour requires a great deal of thought. In each case, it is best to deal with the specifics of a given situation, seeing cultural measurements merely as indicators which help in assessing the cultural environment as a means of facilitating decision-making. It is also important to bear in mind that socio-cultural indices cannot predict people’s behaviour as each person has his or her own peculiar characteristics. Attention also needs to be given to significant regional disparities in socio-cultural conditions across Russia, as well as the increase in behavioural differences of large city populations.

In the main, the choice of cultural indices, together with their qualitative and quantitative features, varies over time with changes taking place very slowly. However, there are now signs that the rate of change is staring to accelerate. In considering a country’s long-term environmental interests, it is important that any changes are in keeping with trends in increased resilience and are permanent in nature, providing a better quality of life with the least loss of natural richness. Consequently, etnometric research into ecological sustainability and improving the level of environmental activity that involves a regular, essentially monitoring, measurement of socio-cultural indices should be included in the methodology for a programme-based objective for environmental management at all State regulatory levels.

Cadaster Institute is making real use of Shared Environmental Information System (SEIS) databases as part of their research on the resolution of serious environmental and sustainable natural resource use problems. SEIS was created to update and simplify methods for the collection, exchange and use of data and information (including statistical and departmental material, and data derived from scientific research undertaken by other interested bodies et al) that are necessary for the planning and implementation of environmental management activity using developmental tools and virtual links between various information databases. [8]

There are five main areas of SEIS activity that are designed to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of environment assessments, i.e. (1) Assembling information according to various themes and geographic levels; (2) The dissemination of comparable methods for measuring progress on the transition to a “green” economy, and the evaluation of results received from many sub-regions that use specific natural resources; (3) The introduction of various technologies aimed at creating an information infrastructure that supports processes for the collection, use and analysis of data; (4) The organisation of relevant areas of knowledge, including assessments and their ease of access; (5) Improved consistency in approaches for disseminating the results from assessments and other related knowledge [9].

There are seven principles at the heart of SEIS according to which information should be:

  • Managed as close as possible to its source;
  • Collected once and shared with others for multiple purposes;
  • Available to easily fulfil reporting requirements;
  • Readily accessible to all end-users;
  • Accessible to enable comparisons to be made at the relevant geographic scale, and to enable citizen participation;
  • Fully available to the general public at national level and in their own national language;
  • Supported through common, free and open software standards. [10]

We are paying increasing attention to the content and dissemination of a list of ecological indicators in our scientific and analytical research, namely those relating to sustainable development and the “green” economy, as well as adapting internationally agreed approaches to the needs of individual countries. This makes it possible to identify previously unestablished processes that inform regional development. In order to further increase research potential, leading experts from Cadaster Institute have for more than five years been an active member on the UN’s Economic Commission for Europe’s (ECE) Working Group on Environmental Indicators. Cadaster Institute was instrumental in the preparation of a baseline document entitled “Assessment of Assessments of Europe’s Environment” (2011) produced by UN ECE for a meeting of Environment Ministers from European countries, the Caucasus and Central Asia which discussed issues relating to water resources, aquatic ecosystems and the “green” economy.

A consistent and concerted use of SEIS approaches in theoretical and applied research enables environmental indicators to be viewed in a fresh light, identifies new ways in which they can be used, in particular in the implementation of a regional ecological analysis of the state of the environment and of natural resource use as a causal sequence of recorded facts and phenomena which characterise the state that provides the actions and measures aimed at reducing adverse ecological impacts.

Cadaster Institute uses advanced data collection, analysis, and visualisation tools for use in modelling processes relating to the system of humans, nature, and the society. We provide reliable information and analytical support for environmental management in a particular socio-cultural context.

Eco-economic indicators that are applied according to standard, supplemented by humanist assessment methods and socio-cultural indices indicators that reflect natural resource use, as well as new indicators for sustainable development, the environment and the “green” economy, together with the transitory dynamic acting as the most important geographic features, make it possible to identify and analyse the dynamic of the geographic environment and in so doing discover new information and processes. This greatly enhances the opportunities for a cartographic mapping of environmental activities using GIS technology. With this in mind, we are attempting to realise A.A. Lituoi’s original idea of thematic cartographic mapping which allows us on a new qualitative level to get a sense of the role and feasibility of realising Lituoi’s “language map” in the creation of behavioural activity maps and legends that can be used in sustainable natural resource use and environmental protection.

This application makes it possible to add dynamics and better imaging by using an ecological atlas (or to be more precise, environmental changes) and reports on the state of the natural environment, thereby making them an effective environmental management tool. The interest being shown for using cartographic methods and GIS technology in this case is only natural as recent decades have been notable for a greater role of maps in society, a widening in their use and increased importance as a means of accumulating and transferring information and knowledge, training, and resolving complex problems through scientific and practical support. This era was also marked by a fresh understanding of the role of cartography in society which has been accompanied by major advances that have taken place in this area over time, i.e., the phenomenon of the language map and regulations governing its creation and function [11]. A growing body of research suggests redefining epistemological frameworks of cartographic science and active development of new general scientific approaches and principles by philosophers.

Cadaster Institute’s work on data support for environmental management and sustainable development will help in improving the quality of ecological development strategies for countries and regions that takes socio-cultural features into account. Environmental management decisions are now being based on a new innovative approaches to data analysis that reflect: (1) Condition, impact and measures for addressing priority environmental issues in a long-term dynamic; (2) Spatial distribution of the environmental burden, ecological change and action to reduce environmental vulnerability and (3) Environmental indicators for the largest polluting enterprises according to agreed international GRI standards. Such a broad approach to information support for environmental management can significantly increase the quality of material used in public environmental accounting, in particular regional reports on the state and protection of the natural environment, as well as corporate reports and documents on the spatial imaging of environmental data.

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Pearce D., Markandya A., Barbieret E. Blueprint for a Green Economy. Earthscan Publications Limited, 120 Pentonville Road, London N1 9JN, UK. 1989.
The System of Environmental Economic Accounting 2012 - Central Framework. SEEA Central Framework. United Nations. New York, 2014.
Millennium Ecosystem Assessment (2005). Ecosystems and human wellbeing: synthesis. Washington DC: Island Press.
Fomenko G.A. A socio-cultural measurement of the development of environmental institutions. Yaroslavl: Cadaster Institute, 2014 (96 pp).
Assessment of Assessments of Europe’s Environment. EAOC, Copenhagen 2011
Liutoi A.A. Problems of cartographic theory. Conceptions of science as a means of their integration//AN USSR, Geographic Series,1985. No.4 (pp 116-132). Liutoi A.A. Language map: essence, system, functions. Moscow: Academy of Sciences of the USSR, 1998 (292 pp).