Decision-Support tool: the DPSIR framework

The DPSIR framework is one of the four decision-support tools I am learning in my Environmental Management & Ethics course. The other three are cost-benefit analysis; stakeholder analysis and technology assessment. In this post I’ll write what is the DPSIR and present a case study I submitted for the course.

So, the DPSIR framework was created by the European Environmental Agency (EEA) in order to aid policy-makers in understanding complex environmental problems in a quicker way than going through all the data. The acronym DPSIR stands for:

D — Driving forces

P — Pressures

S — State

I — Impacts

R — Responses

We’re going to go through each one of them, but generally the logic chain among these aspects is:

The DPSIR Framework

Driving Forces

The driving forces unit indicates needs. That means, needs that compel a movement towards meeting that need (which will lead to the Pressures unit). Usually at this point, the needs are divided into 3 groups:

  1. Individual or primary needs: shelter, food, water
  2. Secondary needs: mobility, entertainment, culture
  3. Macroeconomic needs: production, consumption


Pressures are the result of meeting a need coming from the driving forces. There are three main types of pressures:

  1. Excessive use of natural resources
  2. Changes in land use
  3. Emissions to air, water, soil

From what I understood so far, pressures are the possible or theoretical effects of meeting a need, and how these effects are being felt in the present. I say this because it’s the Impacts unit that will address the more tangible parts of these effects (I’ve been trying to tell the two apart) and it’s more forward-looking.


This is the current status of a given environment that is being pressured. It relates to water and air quality, vegetation, biodiversity indicators and so on.


These are the changes in the State as a result of meeting a need; what will happen if no responses are taken. Unlike the Pressures unit, Impacts addresses more tangible aspects of an environmental problem. It’s also related to the future (what will happen if…) while Pressures is more related to the present (how is the environment being affected by…).


This unit refers to actions that policy-makers, society and others can take to address an undesired impact. For example, creating taxes for pollutant vehicles, legislation against deforestation and policies for waste disposal.

NOTE: the DPSIR framework has more complex interactions and interlinkages that what I have written in this post. However, we have not gone into them in the course I’m taking. If In the future I study this more in depth, I’ll add the new information to this post and republish it.

Case Study

I chose as an environmental dilemma in the beginning of this course sustainable development and what this means for developing countries. You can read more about this in the post Environmental Ethics Dilemma. This is a rather abstract dilemma so it’ll take a bit of a stretch to apply the DPSIR to it. A more practical and localized dilemma would be a better fit for this framework, I believe. So, here we go:

  • Driving forces
    1. The driving forces for my chosen dilemma can be divided into two needs: 1. the need related to sustainable development, i.e., the need to address ecological limits of the planet, which can be put under both the secondary and macroeconomic needs; and 2. the need for developing countries to grow their own economies, which can be put under both the primary and macroeconomic needs.
  • Pressures
    1. Sustainable development could put pressure on changes in land use and emissions to air, water and soil, since the logic behind it (unending growth) isn’t addressed by the concept. Most pressure though will come from developing countries and their own need to grow, which puts pressure on all its types: excessive use of natural resources, changes in land use and emissions to air, water and soil. Industrial processes, such as the ones development entails, will always put pressures on the environment, no matter if they come from developed or developing nations. The difference is that developed nations have access to technology that can diminish these pressures to some extent. Developing countries, however, mostly do not have access to those resources.
  • State
    1. The status we have now in the world is one where several planetary boundaries have already been overshot, such as climate change and loss of biosphere integrity. We have great problems with pollution to air, water and soil, as well as social justice problems.
  • Impacts
    1. If no responses are taken, we are looking at: 1. an unstable climate, which can create various types of natural (and thus also social) disasters, loss of fertile lands for food production, floods and droughts, to name a few; and 2. social impacts related to unequal income distribution (intra- and inter-nationally): economies that can’t leave the primary state, perpetuating sub-conditions of living for its people; hunger and poor health care, to name a few.
  • Responses
    1. For this dilemma, responses must be taken on an international level, which we have been working on for a couple of decades now, with varying degrees of success. International treatises for carbon emissions, biodiversity and toxic waste management are examples of responses that have been taken. However, international action tends to be a very long process that is rather inefficient for the degree of urgency we are experiencing. I argue, then, that action must come from national policies and non-governmental organizations for the sustainable development problem. For the developing countries situation, international help is imperative. This can be done via humanitarian help, tax reductions for their products, help in providing primary and secondary education, and help with technology (releasing patents, donating equipment, training professionals), to name a few.

I know this case study turned out to get a little bit confusing. I believe this is due to my chosen environmental dilemma being more theoretical and general than practical and objective. I would very much like to try it on a more localized and concrete level. Do you have any ideas about a problem I can apply this framework on? Let me know! 🙂


EEA. DPSIR. Available at:

Kristensen, P. The DPSIR framework. Available at:


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