What is the Nexus Approach

Our perspective on the Nexus Approach to Environmental Resources Management

Resource Nexus in Agri Food and Forest Systems
The Nexus Approach to environmental resources management examines the interrelatedness and interdependencies of environmental resources and their transitions and fluxes across spatial scales and between compartments. Instead of just looking at individual components, the functioning, productivity, and management of a complex system are taken into consideration.

The term “Nexus” in Latin describes the act of tying together or something which binds. In connection with environmental resource management, the term nexus was introduced for the first time during the 1980s, notably in a project by the UN University (Food-Energy Nexus programme, Sachs and Silk 1990). Yet the Nexus Approach only gained prominence in international academia and policy circles in the lead-up to the Bonn2011 conference on the “Water, Energy and Food Security Nexus”. The conference argued that such an approach can result in improved water, energy, and food security by integrating “management and governance across sectors and scales”, reducing trade-offs, and building synergies, overall promoting sustainability and a transition to a green economy (Hoff 2011).

UNU-FLORES is a direct response to the nexus initiative, striving for an integrative approach to the management of water, soil, waste, and other resources (closely related to the Water-Energy-Food security nexus, see above). An asset of the institute is its integration into the research environment in Dresden and Saxony as well as its strategic positioning within the thematic areas of the UN University.

The Resource Nexus concept has been increasingly discussed in engineering, natural and social sciences, resulting in the existence of manifold understandings and uses. While a basic understanding of the concept exists and is widely used in research and practice, the concept is hardly operationalised. This hinders the analysis of the conditions (e.g., participation, governance) and effects (e.g., sustainability) of implementing a Nexus Approach to the sustainable management of environmental resources.

Building on the groundwork of its Water-Soil-Waste Nexus in its formative years and in the spirit of scientific advancement, UNU-FLORES is a global think tank at the forefront of conceptualising and operationalising the Resource Nexus and validating its construct. Conceptualisation refers to the definition of concepts, whereas operationalisation further describes the dimensions and degrees along which concepts can be measured. Construct validity further aims at describing the degree to which a measure captures its intended theoretical construct (Cronbach and Meehl 1955).

Embedded within the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, UNU-FLORES’s initiatives on the Resource Nexus pave the way towards:

  • a concise and empirically substantiated understanding of the Resource Nexus among scientists and the wider community of experts
  • integration of Resource Nexus concepts in policy design and implementation
  • a community of practice – cutting across academia, policy, practice, and civil society – on the sustainable management of environmental resources

Going beyond water, soil, and waste, the Resource Nexus includes all relevant environmental resources, including energy and other geo-resources, as well as biodiversity.

Explore UNU-FLORES analytical perspectives on the Nexus Approach.