Evidence-based (or evidence-informed) environmental management is the process of dealing with anthropogenic pressures in natural systems using knowledge of what works best in a given system. What distinguishes this from other forms of environmental management is that the interventions are selected and implemented in ways informed by the best available evidence on the topic. Typically, this refers to research evidence in the scientific literature, but grey literature (theses, organisational reports, other literature) is also a potentially very important source of information.
Systematic reviews and systematic maps (collectively known as ‘evidence synthesis’ methods) are the two ‘gold standard’ forms of evidence synthesis used in evidence-based environmental management. These methods aim to search for, collate, synthesise, and report an evidence base using state-of-the-art methods that seek to maximise transparency, comprehensiveness and repeatability, whilst minimising susceptibility to bias. Systematic reviews were first established in the field of healthcare but have spread into a variety of other disciplines, including social welfare, international development, veterinary science and conservation.
Systematic maps are ideal for identifying subtopics where there is little or no evidence (knowledge gaps) and subjects where there are enough studies to allow a full synthesis (e.g. a meta-analysis) to be conducted (knowledge clusters). Systematic reviews seek to explain whether and how an intervention or factor affects a specific outcome, testing or forming hypotheses.
In BONUS RETURN, we use a combined systematic mapping and systematic reviewing approach to first identify and describe a shortlist of eco-technologies for reusing carbon and nutrients in the Baltic, and then perform a full systematic review on a subset of these technologies to examine how well they work. A second systematic review will focus on economic models and policy tools used to support these eco-technologies. We are focusing on eco-technologies that have been used in municipal wastewater systems and agricultural systems, since stakeholders have informed us that these are the key sources of carbon and nutrients in their systems. The shortlist of eco-technologies identified in the mapping exercise will feed into other work packages in the BONUS RETURN project.
In order to manage the evidence synthesis process, the BONUS RETURN team needed to better understand how the term eco-technologies has been used and how people define it. To this end, we have performed a systematic review of the academic literature to examine ‘eco-technology’ definitions, using a qualitative research method known as ‘thematic synthesis’. This review highlighted a wide diversity of uses, that very few clear definitions exist in the literature and that none accurately captures all aspects of the definitions that were discussed across the literature as a whole. As such, the BONUS RETURN team have combined aspects from the definitions found to create a new, gold-standard definition as follows:
Eco-technologies are human interventions in social-ecological systems in the form of practices and/or biological, physical, and chemical processes designed to minimise harm to the environment and provide services of value to society.
In addition, for the purposes of this project, the BONUS RETURN team is considering only eco-technologies that allow reuse or recycling of carbon and nutrients. The thematic synthesis itself will be made available once it has been peer-reviewed and published. The systematic map and systematic reviews will also be made available once completed and reviewed.