Dynamics of societal stocks and flows

PhD thesis by Dominik Noll


The reproduction of the biophysical compartments of society, namely humans, livestock and artefacts, is the key driver for the exchange of material and energy between society and nature (Fischer-Kowalski and Erb, 2016). The quantity and quality of these flows cause pressure on natural ecosystems either on the input side of the socioeconomic system through resource extraction or on the output side through waste and emissions (Haberl et al., 2004). The ongoing thesis analyses patterns of reproduction of these biophysical compartments of society, also referred to as societal stocks, on the island level. Point of departure is the question of how important environmental pressures like, e.g. waste generation and overgrazing, are reflected in the way these societal stocks are reproduced. This can only be understood by looking at the historical development of stocks and flows and observing how they are interlinked to emerging environmental pressures.


Buildings and Infrastructure

On Samothraki,  the infrastructure has expanded two-fold over the last 50 years leading to a three-fold increase of the generation of construction and demolition waste (CDW). With no official management system for CDW in place, waste was so far either used for backfilling or simply dumped somewhere on the island or into the sea. A dynamic bottom-up stock modelling approach (Tanikawa et al., 2015; Stephan and Athanassiadis, 2017) is applied in order to estimate annual material flows connected to construction, demolition and maintenance of the local infrastructure. These estimations will help the local municipality in developing a strategy for a more circular economy of the local construction sector.



The sharp increase of small ruminants (sheep and goats) since the 1960s lead to far spread overgrazing and soil erosion (Biel and Tan, 2014). Ongoing efforts for the establishment of more sustainable farming practices involve focus group interviews, scientific monitoring, farmer’s surveys and the application of a decision support app. One major driver, certainly not the only one, behind the increase of small ruminant numbers since the 1990s were EU Common Agricultural Policy (CAP) subsidy payments that where based on the number of animals farmers had (Fetzel et al., 2018). By reconstructing biophysical flows associated with the local livestock sector over the last decades, it will be possible to assess untapped potentials of the sector and identify drivers for environmental pressures related to livestock. The modelling of the current farm economy then will help to better understand potential development paths for the local livestock sector that could lead to a continuous reduction of these environmental pressures.



Demography and consumption patterns are the central driving forces for biophysical flows associated with human activities. While buildings and infrastructure were assessed as described above, all other artefacts and food are included into this assessment. By looking at household consumption patterns in a historical context, it will be possible to derive dynamic estimations for material and energy consumption. These estimations then complete the island wide material flow analysis (MFA) that contributes to a better understanding of island specific opportunities and constraints for sustainable development.


Cited Publications

Biel, B., Tan, K., 2014. Flora of Samothraki. Goulandris Natural History Museum.

Fetzel, T., Petridis, P., Noll, D., Singh, S.J., Fischer-Kowalski, M., 2018. Reaching a socio-ecological tipping point: Overgrazing on the Greek island of Samothraki and the role of European agricultural policies. Land Use Policy 76, 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2018.04.042

Fischer-Kowalski, M., Erb, K.-H., 2016. Core Concepts and Heuristics, in: Social Ecology, Human-Environment Interactions. Springer, Cham, pp. 29–61.

Haberl, H., Fischer-Kowalski, M., Krausmann, F., Weisz, H., Winiwarter, V., 2004. Progress towards sustainability? What the conceptual framework of material and energy flow accounting (MEFA) can offer. Land Use Policy, Land use and sustainability Indicators 21, 199–213. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.landusepol.2003.10.013

Stephan, A., Athanassiadis, A., 2017. Quantifying and mapping embodied environmental requirements of urban building stocks. Building and Environment 114, 187–202. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.buildenv.2016.11.043

Tanikawa, H., Fishman, T., Okuoka, K., Sugimoto, K., 2015. The Weight of Society Over Time and Space: A Comprehensive Account of the Construction Material Stock of Japan, 1945–2010. Journal of Industrial Ecology 19, 778–791. https://doi.org/10.1111/jiec.12284