The assessment of total economic value has become a pragmatic and popular approach in nature valuation, yet criticisms have been raised. One major point of critique is that total economic value bases the monetary value of ecosystems purely on the flow of human benefits of services of ecosystems and consequently ignores questions of sustainable use of natural capital per se. This paper explains why total economic value by itself is in principle an inadequate concept to guide sustainable use of ecosystems and gives an overview of essential ecological theory that needs to be taken into account in addition to total economic value to fully include ecosystem sustainability. The paper concludes with a framework for combining ecological theory with economic valuation. The key elements here are theoretical ecological insights about ecosystem resilience and portfolio theory which offers an economic perspective on investment in biodiversity. Portfolio theory puts total economic value in a framework where investment in biodiversity is expanded to cover functional diversity and mobile link species in order to maintain ecosystem resilience and so fosters sustainable use of ecosystems. (C) 2013 Elsevier B.V. All rights reserved.