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What Are the Different Environmental Planning Approaches?

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What are the different environmental planning approaches? See which one works.

Planning for the future is something that separates humans from what are perceived as lower animals. Planning ensures that risks are reduced or uncertainty minimized in whatever venture is undertaken for some desired end or objective.

Specifically in the field of the environmental science, there are different environmental planning approaches applied by environmental organizations or professionals. Alcantara et al. (2000) enumerated and described the different environmental planning approaches as follows (with critique by the author):

1. Comprehensive Planning

Comprehensive planning is considered as a pioneering method advocated and applied in environmental planning. It builds on the idea that a harmonious relationship must be forged between man and his environment to prevent irreversible damage. This ensures the achievement of sustainable development in society.

There are three steps undertaken to achieve the above goal of sustainable development. These are 1) an objective and comprehensive analysis of the environmental and socioeconomic situation in the planning area, 2) formulation of alternative solutions to problems identified in the analysis, and 3) selection of the best solution guided by an objective criteria founded on scientific findings.

This environmental planning approach follows the conventional steps in decision making, i.e., identifying the problem, formulating a set of solutions to the problem, and selecting the best solution based on pre-set criteria for judgment. Rational decisions can come out of it.

2. Incremental Planning

As the word connotes, the incremental environmental planning approach is applied if environmental problems have already become so disturbing, magnified or reach crises proportions. It is not holistic, rather piecemeal, planning approach. It is reactive, rather than proactive. It relies heavily on the capacity of decision makers instead of information gathered from well-founded scientific evidence.

Incremental planning is inappropriate to environmental impacts which are irreversible. It violates the precautionary principle in dealing with environmental problems.

3. Consensual Planning

Consensual planning derives its roots from participatory planning where the concerns of the different sectors of society are taken into consideration in the planning process. Environmental problems are given solutions by involving those who are affected in finding a common, agreed solution to environmental problems.

Although this is a democratic environmental planning, in reality and in practice, the consensual planning approach takes time. Sometimes, compromises are arrived to ensure that none of the different sectors of society is put in a disadvantaged position. The greater the number of people involved in decision making, the longer the time required to achieve consensus.

4. Adaptive Planning

Adaptive environmental planning builds on people’s experience. Past mistakes are valuable inputs to resolve current environmental problems. It is founded on the idea that prediction of the outcomes of resource use is difficult. Once new information is gathered, this is incorporated in the planning process.

The weakness of adaptive planning is that it does not foresee future problems associated with current technological advances. It may be too late to do something if irreversible damage has been done to the environment.

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5. Advocacy Planning

Advocacy environmental planning entails competition between different groups in influencing decisions concerning environmental issues. Group-backed arguments or positions strive for influence to resolve environmental problems. There is no guarantee, however, that the most influential solution to a given environmental problem is the most appropriate one.

This is a highly political approach to dealing with environmental problems. The most popular or influential group or solution may not necessarily address environmental problems.

6. Contingency Planning

Contingency planning focuses on environmental problems that have adverse environmental consequences such as natural and man-made hazards. Preparations are made to minimize risk due to unexpected, high impact environmental problems or disasters.

Contingency planning is a sensible environmental planning approach as it provides a leeway for ordered action necessary in mitigating or reducing the impact of an environmental hazard.

Many organizations and professionals tasked with the management of natural resources may apply any of these environmental planning approaches to realize their objectives. Selecting the most appropriate one depends on the specific environmental problem at hand. It is possible that a combination of these environmental planning approaches may be applied at certain points in time.

Environmental planning is an essential part of the environmental management process. Gathering adequate information for sound planning and decision making can lead to successful environmental projects or undertakings.


Alcantara, A.J., Espaldon, M.V.O., and L. S. Vasquez, 2000. Environmental Planning and Management. UP Los Baños: UP Open University. 258 pp.

©Patrick A. Regoniel 5 February 2011 What are the Different Environmental Planning Approaches?


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Patrick Regoniel

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