U.S. Environmental Protection Agency


Date of this Version



Published in Ecological Modelling 130 (2000) 131–143.


The authors present a framework that illustrates how a resource quality index can be used to examine policy relevant questions regarding environmental condition, the management of a resource as a production output, and sustainability. The framework demonstrates that heterogeneous endowments of a resource can change over time in different ways. By evaluating these changes using substitution, reversibility and uncertainty criteria, we can suggest four general guidelines for managing an environmental resource in a single production process. This framework was applied in a case study to three soil types (stable, neutral and susceptible) used in agricultural production in the Midwestern United States. By evaluating the economic and environmental impacts of managing soil quality under different sustainability and profit objectives, we uncovered policy relevant information including: which soils need to be preserved; when public intervention is needed to attain sustainability; and what perceptions of sustainability may be worth pursuing at all. The accuracy of these insights is highly dependent upon the reliability of the assessment of resource quality. An index was useful in this resource assessment because it could adapt to many of the complexities of environmental condition. We offer three lessons in refining resource indicators so that they may be used in the framework to better achieve optimal resource management and a greater understanding of what sustainability really means.