EnviroAtlas Benefit Category: Food, Fuel, and Materials

Ecosystems provide food, fuel, and materials

  • Food, fuel and materials eco-wheel, showing the natural resources that provide these benefits and drivers of change to their provision. This eco-wheel image shows the natural resources providing food, fuel and materials, the benefits, and drivers of change.Humans depend on provisioning services, such as food, fuel, timber, and other materials which are provided by a combination of functioning ecosystemHelpecosystemAll living things and nonliving things in an area, as well as the interactions between them.s, human innovation, and technology.
  • Ecosystems provide the conditions necessary for commercial food production as well as for subsistence living.
  • The demand for these life-sustaining services increases as the population continues to grow. Between 1960 and 2000, global food production increased by roughly two-and-a half times, wood harvests for pulp and paper production tripled, installed hydropower capacity doubled, and timber production increased by more than half.1
  • Productive soils, a favorable climate, and clean and abundant water resources are all essential for growing crops, raising livestock, and for ecosystems to continue to provide the critical provisioning services that humans need.
  • Biodiversity underpins these services; without variation in plants and organisms, the multitude of available food crops and game species would not exist. Abundant water resources are also central to the production of energy and most of the material goods that people enjoy.
  • Adequate pollinator habitat is also necessary for many types of crops.

Stressors and drivers of change

 Health impacts and benefits

  • Food, fuel, and other materials are critical for food security, energy resources, and a productive economy.
  • There are currently over 321 million people in the United States3 who depend on the nation's natural resources for food supply and availability, among other goods. According to the USDA, 85% of American households were food secure in 2011, meaning that they had access at all times to enough food for an active, healthy life for all household members.4
  • The U.S. also depends largely on ecosystems for providing sources of energy. For 2011, it was estimated that roughly 35% of the nation's energy came from petroleum, 20% from coal, 25% from natural gas, and less than 10% from biomass and wind energy.5 These renewable and non-renewable energy sources, which are all obtained from natural elements, allow for the lighting, heating and cooling of homes, transportation, the production of the material goods that people enjoy, and the worldwide transport of these goods.
  • The U.S. is a leader in goods manufacturing and has the highest gross domestic product worldwide, largely due to the nation's access to a wide range of valuable natural resources.
  • Local food production can have unique benefits by providing high quality food, local jobs, a sense of community through farmers markets, and reduced transportation costs and environmental impacts of transporting food.


  1. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment, 2005. Ecosystems and Human Well-being: Synthesis.Exit Island Press, Washington, DC. p. 5.
  2. Bentz, Barbara. 2010. Western U.S. Bark Beetles and Climate ChangeExit. U.S. Department of Agriculture, Forest Service, Climate Change Resource Center.
  3. US Census Bureau. U.S. and World Population ClocksAccessed June 2015.
  4. Economic Research Service. 2012. ERS Report Summary: Household Food Security in the United States in 2011.
  5. US Dept of Energy. 2012. Annual Energy Review 2011.