The Patterns of a Conservation Economy
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This test plot utilizes plants to purify a contaminated brownfield site.
Image by Phytokinetics.

Soil Services

Soil fertility is being threatened by erosion, loss of nutrients, overgrazing, deforestation, and contamination on a global scale. This places food supplies and biodiversity at unacceptable risk.

Soil provides a number of critical Ecosystem Services. It provides the physical support system for plants and retains and delivers nutrients to them. Soil can hold and release water flexibly, providing flood control and water purification benefits. Soil is the medium through which nutrients like nitrogen, phosphorous, and potassium are continually exchanged, and is a critical participant in biogeochemical cycles. Soil, aided by the complex ecosystem of bacteria, nematodes, insects, beetles, and other organisms that inhabits its pores, is able to continuously maintain its fertility.

Soil is the foundation for all terrestrial ecosystems, and its health is essential for a stable food system. Unfortunately, soil is a renewable but not a resilient resource. It takes several centuries to generate a single inch of topsoil. It is estimated that 17 percent of the earth's vegetated land surface has undergone human-induced soil degradation since 1945. Many bioregions have already suffered a catastrophic loss in soil cover and fertility.

Sustainable Agriculture practices like organic farming, composting, crop rotation, minimum tillage, and natural pest control can maintain soil cover and fertility in healthy areas and even restore lightly degraded areas. Sustainable Forestry maintains soil health in forested areas. Where greater degradation has occurred, intensive ecosystem restoration efforts may be necessary. Given that the cost and complexity of soil recovery increases rapidly with the level of damage, it is essential to maintain the quality of Soil Services.

Like other ecosystem services, soil services are undervalued in the marketplace. This creates unintentional subsidies for soil degradation or destruction. Ecological Land-Use minimizes the loss of productive soil cover from construction, infrastructure, and industry by encouraging dense, clustered development to occur on lands inappropriate for agriculture or forestry.

Sustainable Materials Cycles and the transition to Product as Service prevent the accumulation of synthetic chemicals in the biosphere. This benefits the health of soil by preventing contamination.

Maintain soil cover and fertility through agricultural and forestry practices that prevent erosion and loss of nutrients. When necessary, restore soil health. Emphasize ecological land-use strategies to minimize the size and impact of development. Use sustainable materials cycles to avoid chemical contamination of soils.

Examples of this pattern in action:

Phytokinetics provides comprehensive soil and groundwater phytoremediation services, including: Consulting. Site-specific recommendations for phytoremediation depending on soil, water, and contaminant analyses, climatic data, remedial objectives, and other site-specific factors. Treatability Assessment. Greenhouse and laboratory experiments to determine phytotoxicity, ecotoxocological effects, plant tolerance to contaminants and/or the ability to meet remedial objectives. Project Design and Installation. Selection and installation of appropriate plant species and necessary system components, including irrigation systems and monitoring devices. Monitoring and Data Analysis. Assessment of plant health and system effectiveness by monitoring and analyzing climatic data, plant water use, and contaminants (and their byproducts) in soil and water.

Organizations whose work incorporate this pattern:

Pacific Northwest Chapter, International Erosion Control Association

Soil and Water Conservation District Program


Jenny, Hans. The Soil Resource. Springer-Verlag. New York, NY. 1980.

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Pattern Index

A Conservation Economy

Social Capital

Fundamental Needs

Subsistence Rights

Shelter For All


Access To Knowledge


Social Equity


Cultural Diversity

Cultural Preservation

Sense Of Place

Beauty And Play

Just Transitions

Civic Society

Natural Capital

Ecological Land-Use

Connected Wildlands

Core Reserves

Wildlife Corridors

Buffer Zones

Productive Rural Areas

Sustainable Agriculture

Sustainable Forestry

Sustainable Fisheries


Compact Towns And Cities

Human-Scale Neighborhoods

Green Building

Transit Access

Ecological Infrastructure

Urban Growth Boundaries

Ecosystem Services

Watershed Services

Soil Services

Climate Services


Economic Capital

Household Economies

Green Business

Long-Term Profitability

Community Benefit

Green Procurement

Renewable Energy

Sustainable Materials Cycles

Resource Efficiency

Waste As Resource

Product As Service

Local Economies

Value-Added Production

Rural-Urban Linkages

Local Assets

Bioregional Economies

Fair Trade

True Cost Pricing

Product Labeling