We aim to describe the interaction between social and natural systems, which we see as co-evolutionary, in scientifically sound theoretical and methodological terms.

The two concepts of social metabolism and the colonization of natural systems constitute the core of our socio-ecological theory. These concepts draw from quite differing scientific traditions - biology, sociology, economics, technical sciences, history, geography and cultural anthropology - and offer a coherent perspective on the society-nature relationship.

This perspective guides us conceptually and practically in developing information systems for the environmental consequences of human activity ("pressures upon the environment"). It also orients us in our research on ecological and socio-economic aspects of sustainable development at the local, national and global levels.

Our methodological spectrum includes material and energy flow analysis (MFA and EFA), geographic information systems (GIS) and remote sensing methods, systemic actor-oriented and organizational analyses, and the use of historical sources. We make increasing use of modelling techniques for data simulation, a synthetic presentation of results and as a basis for scenarios. Our culture of stable interdisciplinary cooperation and intensive teamwork make this spectrum possible.

Thematic Areas

  • Social Metabolism
  • Land Use and Colonizations of Ecosystems
  • Long-term socio-ecological research and environmental history
  • Social-Ecological Transformations
  • Integrated Socio-Ecological Modelling

Latest SCI publications

Latest Projects

Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-10-01 - 2026-09-30

ForestNavigator aims at assessing in a comprehensive way the climate mitigation potential of European forests and forest-based sectors through modelling of different policy pathways, consistent with the best standards of LULUCF reporting, and thus to inform public authorities on the most suitable approach to forest policy and forest bioeconomy. With a primarily European scope, ForestNavigator provides zooms into carefully selected EU country case studies to enhance the consistency of the EU and national pathways, but it also zooms out towards the global scale, and selected key EU forest trading partners in particular, allowing to duly represent the external drivers, while at the same time accounting for potential leakage effects. The project will develop and apply a new generation of an integrated policy modelling framework for the EU forests and forest bioeconomy i) representing all relevant mitigation options (afforestation and other forest activities, increasing harvested woody products pool, as well as material and energy substitution) ii) including climate change impacts, incl. biophysical feedbacks, and natural disturbances as an inherent part of the analysis, iii) consistently representing climate and biodiversity relevant policy issues, iv) systematically accounting for effects on forest ecosystem services, and other forest functions, incl. jobs and green growth. To increase the accessibility of the models and the assessments, their understanding and transparency, a novel decision-making platform will be established consisting of i) a web platform (ForestNavigator) and ii) a community of EU policy-makers and relevant national authorities (Forest policy modelling forum). To reach its ambitious objectives, ForestNavigator will i) integrate and continuously update national data, including inventories, new satellite data products and models, ii) start from highly complex forest and climate models and through emulators build them into operational policy modelling tools, iii) integrate biophysical and socio-economic information, iv) integrate temporal scales, v) consider EU forests and forest bioeconomy in the broader context of other land use and economic sectors, vi) cross geographical scales – from the grid through Member States to the EU within the global context, vii) rely on input from decision makers and experts across geographies and topics.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-09-01 - 2026-08-31

CircEUlar will assess potentials of the circular economy (CE) to contribute to GHG reductions, and in particular to a low-carbon transition of the EU. The project will equally address supply-side and demand-side options to move towards circularity. One main thrust of the project will be to improve existing modelling tools in order to evaluate future scenarios of moving towards circularity in the EU, thereby also assessing the embeddedness of the EU within the global economy. The project will address three Focus Areas (FAs), mobility, buildings, and digitalization. A transdisciplinary stakeholder process and dissemination activities are other prominent elements of the project. The project is led by IIASA, other prominent partners include the University of East Anglia, the Technical University of Berlin and the Ludwigs-Maxmilian University Munich. The Institute of Social Ecology (BOKU) will mainly contribute dynamic modelling of material stocks and flows to provide innovative measures of system-wide circularity.
Research project (§ 26 & § 27)
Duration : 2022-10-01 - 2025-09-30

Achieving climate neutrality by 2040 requires major transformations in all parts of society. Demand-side solutions are increasingly acknowledged as potentially powerful levers towards climate-change mitigation, reducing emissions by avoiding, shifting or improving final demand for emissions-intensive goods and services. However, little is known about how political interventions shape final demand, and this knowledge gap hampers effective policy interventions. To close this research gap, FOCAL-points embarks on an inter- and transdisciplinary journey to identify leverage points for effective and viable demand-side climate change mitigation in Austria. The project generates new empirical insights on (1) trends of greenhouse gas emissions induced by private households (household GHG footprints) in the period 1995-2020 and their connection to various socio-economic household characteristics in Austria, and (2) demand-side climate policies and major governmental investment decisions in the same period, focusing on the transport and housing sectors. Initial findings will be fed into a process of knowledge co-production with practitioners in climate policy-making and citizens to explore entry points for transformative change. Applying the “leverage points” conceptual framework we will integrate results to identify best practice cases where policy interventions were effective, as well as blind spots that future political interventions should target to achieve climate neutrality by 2040.

Supervised Theses and Dissertations