Clearly defined protection goals specifying what to protect, where and when, are required for designing scientifically sound risk assessments and effective risk management of chemicals. Environmental protection goals specified in EU legislation are defined in general terms, resulting in uncertainty in how to achieve them. In 2010, the European Food Safety Authority (EFSA) published a framework to identify more specific protection goals based on ecosystem services potentially affected by plant protection products. But how applicable is this framework to chemicals with different emission scenarios and receptor ecosystems? Four case studies used to address this question were: (i) oil refinery waste water exposure in estuarine environments; (ii) oil dispersant exposure in aquatic environments; (iii) down the drain chemicals exposure in a wide range of ecosystems (terrestrial and aquatic); (iv) persistent organic pollutant exposure in remote (pristine) Arctic environments. A four-step process was followed to identify ecosystems and services potentially impacted by chemical emissions and to define specific protection goals. Case studies demonstrated that, in principle, the ecosystem services concept and the EFSA framework can be applied to derive specific protection goals for a broad range of chemical exposure scenarios. By identifying key habitats and ecosystem services of concern, the approach offers the potential for greater spatial and temporal resolution, together with increased environmental relevance, in chemical risk assessments. With modifications including improved clarity on terminology/definitions and further development/refinement of the key concepts, we believe the principles of the EFSA framework could provide a methodical approach to the identification and prioritization of ecosystems, ecosystem services and the service providing units that are most at risk from chemical exposure.