Concept & Methodology

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Overall Concept

To effectively address the drivers of planetary change, societal transformations at all levels and across various sectors are needed concurrently and synergistically. In fact, the first Global Assessment by the Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services (IPBES) and the recent special report on Global Warming of 1.5°C of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) both argue that a sustainable world cannot be achieved without transformative systemic change of our societies. The transition towards a just and sustainable future involves addressing simultaneously complex, multi-faceted processes, involving long time frames and multiple actors, cumulatively resulting from positive and negative feedback mechanisms at the Nexus of: a) Climate – biodiversity – society, and b) Multiple indirect drivers: complex, global value chains of consumer goods and behaviour patterns. Such complexity means that no single approach, technology, intervention or policy instrument is capable of achieving transformative change, often resulting in large numbers of policy instruments being implemented over time to address multiple objectives.


Numerous approaches have been developed to help address these issues, including the concepts of natural capital and ecosystem services, quantification of

environmental footprints and planetary boundaries, and integrated ecosystem management. However, the complex data on material flows and footprint, and the globalised framing of their dynamics, inhibits their use and application.


In this respect, BIOTRAILS’s main mission is to generate knowledge and develop tools that will inspire and accelerate biodiversity-relevant transformative change in our society, using Participatory Systems Dynamics Modelling (PSDM) to take into account the complex interrelations between the indirect drivers of change in four value chains of traded products (cocoa produced in Peru; fisheries and aquaculture products supplied by the Mediterranean basin; gold mined in Ghana, and forest-based cultural products created by indigenous communities in the Brazilian Amazon), and in an integrated manner alongside the climate and social justice agendas. Based on this knowledge and tools, BIOTRAILS brings together stakeholders across different stages of product/material global value chains to collaboratively design pathways that can lead to a sustainable future, proposing interventions in policy, urban consumption patterns and corporate policies. 

BIOTRAILS Methodology

BIOTRAILS assumes a Socio-Ecological System (SES) approach, which includes human and biophysical subsystems in mutual interaction. According to this approach, the dynamic evolution of the SES is not affected exclusively by the physical processes related to the natural components, but societal values, behaviours, decisions, actions and interactions play a key role. Figure 1 depicts the concept of this feedback process as possible pathways from present to future. The non-synchronised processes involve a weak feedback mechanism, leading to a limited level of sustainability or even ending up with a collapse of the system. In the BIOTRAILS transformative processes approach, positive and negative feedbacks inform and influence each other in a synchronised manner, strengthening the system in itself.

Figure 1: Conceptual schematic of transformative change


BIOTRAILS uses a set of methods and tools that contribute to better understanding the impacts of the indirect drivers of biodiversity loss and climate change. These methods feed into a System Dynamics Model (SDM), which lies at the core of the BIOTRAILS concept, together with the Learning and Action Alliances (LAAs). The SDM combines the results of the other modelling approaches – i.e. Environmentally Extended Multiregional Input−Output, Lifecycle analysis and behavioural model – and it is used in BIOTRAILS as a modelling approach for mapping the complex cause-effects connections among direct pressures – i.e. consumption of resources and pollutant emissions – and indirect drivers – related to societal needs and behaviours, production and consumption of goods and services – and the biodiversity loss and changes. BIOTRAILS uses an equitable and inclusive engagement process for developing the model, involving through the BIOTRAILS LAAs a broad range of stakeholders such as policy-makers, the private sector (e.g., board members of corporations, mid-level managers working on sustainable supply and trade of their products), citizen groups, indigenous communities, consumer unions, Non-Governmental Organisations (NGOs), decision-makers, and funding agencies. The BIOTRAILS LAAs will collect the richness of the stakeholders’ knowledge and account for the diversity of the stakeholders’ perception of the main goals to be achieved in the Nexus management.