In search of seeds: Exploring and classifying sustainability-oriented labs in real-world contexts
Licentiate thesis, 2021

In 2015, the necessity of fundamental change was outlined in the universal, transnational agreement, Agenda 2030, under the headline of “transforming our world”. Underlying transformation, integration, and universality, Agenda 2030 calls for guided ethical and moral action in addition to earnest scientific and technological change. Sustainability transitions provide an organizing frame to conceptualize change at the level of systems. It does this within an explicitly normative field of research and practice, committed to understanding and navigating transitions towards sustainability.

Alongside socio-technical niches and experiments, labs in real-world contexts have emerged as appealing entities that situate and localize around complex sustainability challenges. Their diverse form and positive connotations suggest a novel form of experimentation with purposeful and transformative aspirations. Yet, labs in real-world contexts hold different normative commitments, many of which are arguably tangential to sustainability. The purpose of this thesis is to establish a normative understanding of laboratories in real-world contexts through the adoption of sustainability as an organizing concept. Methodologically, my research emerged from and was shaped by one interconnected process, a systematic yet exploratory review.

In this thesis, I generate knowledge claims on a collection of labs that intersect disciplines and areas of application. I derive seven research communities linked to sustainability-oriented labs in real-world contexts, and present labs as a combination of spaces, processes and ways of organizing. I develop an empirically grounded typology of labs according to engagement with sustainability as a generic matter of concern, substantiated in place. This typology illuminates similarities and differences across six different lab types. I then point towards reflexive governance as a helpful extension for further understanding labs in the context of transitions towards sustainability. Moving forward, I plan to adopt learning as a lens for qualitative case-based inquiry, enabling a contextual understanding of lab processes in practice.

reflexive governance

Sustainability transitions

systematic review




Digital Defence - available publicly on Zoom
Opponent: Kes McCormick, Associate Professor, International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University, Sweden


Gavin McCrory

Chalmers, Space, Earth and Environment, Physical Resource Theory

Sustainability-oriented labs in real-world contexts: An exploratory review

Journal of Cleaner Production,; Vol. 277(2020)p. 1-18

Review article

McCrory, G., Holmén, J., Schäpke, N., & Holmberg, J (2021). Taking sustainability seriously: an empirical typology of sustainability-oriented labs.

Challenge Lab

The Chalmers University Foundation, 2016-01-01 -- 2019-12-31.

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Areas of Advance



Subject Categories

Social Sciences Interdisciplinary

Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified



Digital Defence - available publicly on Zoom


Opponent: Kes McCormick, Associate Professor, International Institute for Industrial Environmental Economics, Lund University, Sweden

More information

Latest update

3/4/2021 2