Managing the flows? Furthering a socio-material flow methodology for industrial ecology
Doctoral thesis, 2019

This dissertation defends the thesis that application of the socio-material methodology that I present can assist environmentally more effective decision-making. The methodology provides a recipe for a systematic and accurate understanding of how human actions determine environmental impacts via material (tangible) flows. The methodology combines engineering, interpretative, and critical studies of material flows, interactions between humans and material objects, and nets of human interaction. This approach extends existing industrial ecology methods on quantitative models of actors, and the limited methodological consideration in studies that connect social and material aspects. Within the dissertation, an introductory overview, a literature review, field studies, and a conceptual study support the methodology. The overview shows that earlier studies have illustrated that actors’ different relations to material flows determine these flows. The review covered an analysis of other literature that shows the environmental relevance of complex relations between and conflicts among humans. This literature explicitly shows that mainstream industrial ecology may underestimate sustainability challenges by focusing too much on only material flows. The field studies are based on interviews, observation, and text studies for 17 different material flows and illustrate the efficiency of the methodology, its application to recycling, and that its use can reveal environmentally important human action that relate to the product flows of cement and packaging, among other. The findings include the identification of non-trivial organisational findings, such as the lack of coordination in the bread product chain resulting in the discarding of bread, and, in another study, the presence of ‘free riders’ distorting the governance of packaging recycling. Finally, the conceptual study both outlined concepts and procedures in the methodology, and its basis in a combination of the naturalistic, interpretative, and critical philosophy of science schools. Future research on the methodology could cover the use of the methodology for informing actual decision-making and an application to the suggested sustainability response economic degrowth.

industrial ecology

actor-network-theory (ANT)


action nets


field studies


material flow


life cycle assessment (LCA)

Vasa 6, Vera Sandbergs Allé 8
Opponent: Professor Frank Boons, Sustainable Consumption Institute, The University of Manchester, The United Kingdom


Mathias Lindkvist

Chalmers, Technology Management and Economics, Environmental Systems Analysis

The Usefulness of an Actor’s Perspective in LCA

Towards Life Cycle Sustainability Management,; (2011)p. 73-83

Paper in proceedings

Lindkvist, M., Baumann, H. Considering matters of concern versus matters of fact in industrial ecology

Screening of how the organisation of life cycle nodes influences environmental impacts: A methodology

Journal of Cleaner Production,; Vol. 204(2018)p. 461-470

Journal article

Baumann, H., Lindkvist, M. Describing man-made flows. Outline of a socio-material flow methodology for industrial ecology.

Environmentally more effective organising of recycling – comparative case study for metal packaging in Sweden and the Netherlands

J. Gust. Richert stiftelse, 2013-02-11 -- 2015-12-31.

Ragnar Sellbergs Stiftelse, 2015-01-01 -- 2015-12-31.

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance




Subject Categories

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Environmental Management

Business Administration



Doktorsavhandlingar vid Chalmers tekniska högskola. Ny serie: 4645



Vasa 6, Vera Sandbergs Allé 8

Opponent: Professor Frank Boons, Sustainable Consumption Institute, The University of Manchester, The United Kingdom

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