On-Site Sewage Systems from Good to Bad to...? Swedish Experiences with Institutional Change and Technological Dependencies 1900 to 2010
Journal article, 2013

Even though technological advances have occurred during recent decades today’s nutrient loading from Swedish on-site sewage systems (OSSs) is much higher than in the 1940s, despite a decreased rural population and the existence of potentially far better technologies than the existing inadequate installations. The objective of this paper is first, to explain this situation as the result of co-evolution of technology and institutions, which has resulted in a very stable conservation. Second, to properly understand how such stable configurations may change, the paper investigates how a power-distributional theory of incremental institutional change might complement the previous analysis and open up the thinking about how seemingly stable configurations may change endogenously. The analysis reveals how shifts in the distribution of power, i.e., public and private actors’ resources and tools to use in interaction with other actors, have influenced the direction of technological and institutional development. We conclude that the sequencing of events has been important; the series of choices made foremost between the 1950s and 1990s caused both institutional and technical lock-in effects that have been increasingly difficult to break out from. Despite parallel and later incremental developments, improvement in the environmental outcome is not yet seen on the large scale.

path dependency

environmental pressures

technological dependency

incremental institutional change

sewage water


Are Wallin

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis

Mathias Zannakis

University of Gothenburg

Sverker Molander

Chalmers, Energy and Environment, Environmental Systems Analysis


20711050 (eISSN)

Vol. 5 11 4706-4727

Driving Forces

Sustainable development

Subject Categories

Water Engineering

History of Technology

Political Science (excluding Public Administration Studies and Globalization Studies)

Other Social Sciences not elsewhere specified



More information

Latest update