Therese thesis

Abstract [en]

The bio-based economy has gained increasing attention in societal and academic debates over the past two decades, and is argued to hold solutions to several pressing sustainability challenges. However, it is not yet clear if the high-reaching aspirations of the bio-based economy can be realized. The bio-based economy discourse has been criticized for being promissory, vague, and single-sector focused, thereby overlooking larger systemic impacts, trade-offs, and unintended consequences that may result from pursuing the goals of the bio-based economy. Against this background, this thesis aims to advance an integrated and systemic understanding of the transition to a bio-based economy and what it implies for sustainability. Sweden is used as an empirical case, where specific bio-based economy goals, as well as their interactions and sustainability outcomes, are examined. The focus is primarily on developments in the forestry, agriculture, and energy sectors. The analysis also seeks to identify how goals related to the bio-based economy are interconnected with goals promoted by parallel sustainability initiatives, specifically the 2030 Agenda and the associated Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). Integration is achieved by using systems analysis tools and methods. Further, the weak and strong sustainability paradigms, and the opposing definitions of sustainability they provide, are used to assess the contribution of the bio-based economy to sustainability. 

The integrated analysis provides a detailed and operational conceptualization of transition pathways to a Swedish bio-based economy. The goals of the Swedish bio-based economy are divergent and broad-reaching, emphasizing that there is no general agreement on what the transition to a bio-based economy entails. The results point to multiple barriers that need to be addressed to realize the goals of the Swedish bio-based economy. Goal conflicts constitute one such barrier. These are found internal to as well as across the bio-based economy and the parallel 2030 Agenda. Additional hindrances include policy resistance, negative cross-sectoral spillovers, and patterns of path dependency. However, the results also highlight several opportunities for supporting the transition process in a Swedish context. These opportunities include the identification of goals and interventions with synergetic potential, which offer a basis for developing efficient implementation strategies with high systemic impact. There is also large potential to support cross-sectoral collaboration and learning, based on shared interests and challenges. Finally, the results emphasize the importance of better understanding and addressing perceptions about risk, conflict, legitimacy, and trust in the transition process.

In terms of the overarching question of what the bio-based economy implies for sustainability, the results find that the bio-based economy has been contributing to developments that align primarily with weak sustainability. From the perspective of the strong sustainability paradigm, the prospects of the bio-based economy are less promising, potentially leading to outcomes that could worsen ongoing environmental and social issues. For the future, fundamental changes to the way the bio-based economy is conceptualized and implemented are needed for it to contribute to sustainability according to the notion of strong sustainability.

Public defence

2020-09-25, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, and digitally via Zoom:, Stockholm, 13:00 (English) 


Börjesson, Pål, Prof.


Belyazid, Salim, Dr.