Research Activities at IndEcol

The research activities at the Industrial Ecology Programme are focused on research collaboration in a multidisciplinary setting, but with an emphasis to research issues or methodologies that we believe have potentials for advancing the area of Industrial Ecology within our university. We give a high priority to research projects at the PhD and Post-doctoral level, as well as students' research projects at the graduate level.

We have a high degree of external funding, in particular from EU's Framework Programme FP7 and from the Norwegian Research Council. We also seek broad national and international collaboration in most of our projects.

Environmental Assessment of Energy Technologies

Climate change is one of the fundamental challenges facing our society today. The adoption of energy efficient technology and the shift to clean energy sources are indispensable for stabilizing greenhouse gas concentrations in the atmosphere, even though they are probably not sufficient. Substantial investments in new technology are required, and we have to make sure that these investments are directed to the right technologies and that the generation of new problems is avoided.

At IndEcol, we work with life cycle methods and new approaches to technology assessment that address a multitude of environmental impacts and resource requirements. We focus on the study of cutting-edge and emerging technologies. We engage in the further development of assessment methods, such as addressing scenarios and advancing impact assessment methods where required. Our work contributes to IEA task forces, the IPCC and the UNEP Resource Panel.



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Global socio-economic metabolism

Societies, like ecosystems and individuals, depend on energy and materials. We create material structures from resources that we extract from earth and use these structures to provide services to humans, and all of these activities require high-quality energy. At IndEcol, we study the material and energy metabolism of societies to both follow resources and to understand how pollution is produced by entire societies. Our hypothesis is that the development of a sustainable society requires understanding how society produces the physical flows that ultimately require resources and impact the environment.

We approach the study of the social metabolism from two sides: (1) Material flow analysis on the regional, national and global levels, focusing on key metals such as iron & steel and aluminium. Here we have strong industry relationships. (2) Input-output models to study the generation of pollution in global production networks and their link to consumption. Here we are most well-known for our work on global models, including multiregional input-output models and the World Trade Model.



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Sustainable infrastructure

The research activities in the area of Sustainable infrastructure have a focus on environmental and economic assessment of physical structures of the built environment, i.e. buildings and infrastructure for water and sanitation, solid waste management, transportation and energy supply. The aim of this research is partly to contribute to better methods in how to assess sustainability dimensions of buildings and infrastructure, and partly to provide guidance to the owners of such systems in practice. Hence, this research combines advanced analytical methods, user involvement and case-based research, as well as active involvement in international partnerships.

The methods we work with include Material flow analysis (MFA), Energy analysis, Life cycle assessment (LCA), Life cycle costing (LCC), Carbon footprint analysis, Water footprint analysis, and we examine infrastructure systems both by static and dynamic analysis, combining the above listed methods with scenario techniques. 

 Case studies are carried out for cities such as Oslo and Trondheim (water, sanitation, solid waste, zero-carbon urban settlement development), STATKRAFT (waste to energy district heating), the Norwegian Road Authorities (life cycle assessment of road projects), and the National Road Authorities in Scandinavia (life cycle assessment of road bridges). As part of an EU7FP project called TRUST, we develop metabolism models for the sustainability assessment of urban water cycle systems, assisting water utilities to transform to more sustainable urban water services towards 2040. We are also actively involved in the Sustainable Urban Section of the International Society for Industrial Ecology.

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Environmental life cycle management and CSR

According to the European Commission, CSR is defined as "a concept whereby companies integrate social and environmental concerns in their business operations and in their interaction with their stakeholders on a voluntary basis". Research in the field of CSR requires a multidisciplinary approach, and our focus is primarily on environmental management and CSR in global value chains and supply chain management.

The research on environmental management and CSR in global value chains focuses on the understanding of global systems and how to use experience from environmental management tools and their application in global value chains and international industrial networks on CSR. It further focuses on how to communicate CSR performance by means of indicators and use this information for strategic decision making and value chain analysis to contribute to sustainable development. It also intends to provide practical solutions for organizations concerned about social and environmental responsibilities and interested in improving their performance and accountability in these areas.

One of the priorities in supply chain management research is to develop an understanding on how companies should manage the social and environmental aspects of their suppliers' activities and to what extent supply chain risks should be managed in a supply chain.

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Sustainable Product Design

The Sustainable Product Design research group at the Department of Product Design mainly focuses on two themes:

Organisational and managerial aspects of successful implementation of sustainable product innovation. In this theme, knowledge on sustainable design strategies and implementation thereof is combined with insights from areas such as change management, stakeholder analysis and organizational learning to study the role of human factors, stakeholder expectations and organizational culture as a success factor or obstacle. Our main fields of research are the electronics, automotive supplier, and furniture industry.

Design for Sustainable Behaviour; several PhD students research various aspects of how to design products that, simply said, enable users to use products in a sustainable way, or make it harder to use products in an unsustainable way. We aim to integrate insights from interaction design, science and technology studies, stakeholder analysis, and environmental psychology in developing research protocols to collect empirical information on users' behaviour, attitudes, habits, beliefs, as well as situational contexts, and to carry out practical experiments and develop design concepts. We also aim to understand to what extent and under which conditions firms may take such design strategies as a source for innovating their product portfolios. Case studies, both descriptive and explorative, are done with firms including Philips, Jøtul, Electrolux and Glen Dimplex Nordic.

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Sustainable consumption behaviour

This research focus on analysing the human component of making consumer choices that are environmentally relevant. Behaviours in that sense cover a large span of human life; from simple everyday behaviours like "switching off the light" or "turning off the water tap" over consumption decisions in the supermarket (should I buy organic, local, seasonal, or processed food? Should I buy meat?) to smaller or larger investment decisions like purchase of energy saving light bulbs, white ware, a car, a house or deciding to upgrade on your house's insulation or heating system. For all these decisions research on sustainable consumption behaviour aims at identifying the relevant psychological, social, situational and structural factors and their interactions that determine the decisions. Taking the individual consumer as the starting point for the analysis, research in this domain acknowledges that the individual is imbedded in a physical and social environment and interacts with it. Eventually, the aim of research in this area is to understand, predict and then change consumer behaviour based on cross-disciplinary theory with a core in psychology. Furthermore, research in this area is interested in identifying factors that hinder or enhance the diffusion of new sustainable technology or behaviours in a given population.

Methods applied in sustainable consumer research are a combination of qualitative research (individual and group interviews), quantitative research (surveys, experiments), and empirically based computer simulations (agent based modelling).


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Politics of Energy, Environment and Resource-management

Industrial Ecology (IE) is the multidisciplinary and systemic study of how material and energy flows through industrial systems, and of how these flows both affect and are conditioned by social and natural systems.  Within the IE approach, the Social Sciences focus on the interface and interaction between human and natural systems, and in particular how the application of technology is conditioned by social, economic, and political factors. Political Science – a branch of the social sciences studying the attributes, conditions for, and effects of power and authority within and between societies – typically approaches IE through the study of relevant decision-making processes ("politics"), and their policy-outputs (aims and instruments, to the degree actually implemented) – whether the empirical focus is energy-technology, sustainable development, or resource-management.

The Department of Sociology and Political Science, NTNU, contributes IE-relevant research, and supervision of IE post-graduate students within several fields:

  • Politics of energy security and climate change.

Contact person: Associate Professor Gunnar Fermann (main contact to Industrial Ecology Programme) 

  • Political economy of energy-transitions, renewable energy, and long-term sustainable economic growth and development.

Contact person: Post Doc Espen Moe

  • Politics of fishery-management.

Contact person: Professor Jennifer L. Bailey 

  • Political institutions and policy instruments.  

Contact person: Professor Marit Reitan