Limits to green growth and its induced conflicts of biomass use

Socio-Economic Metabolism

Dear colleagues,

we are organizing a session on “Limits to green growth and its induced conflicts of biomass use” at the STS conference in Graz (Austria) next year (detailed text is below). 

The call for abstract is now open until January 22, 2024.

Call for Abstracts – STS Conf Graz (

We would greatly appreciate your submission.

For any further question, please to not hesitate to contact us.

Kind regards,

Your organizers of STS Conference Graz 2024.

STS Conference Graz 2024


C.2 Limits to green growth and its induced conflicts of biomass use

Raphael Asada1, Annechien D. Hoeben2, Alex Giurca3, Tobias Stern4

1: University of Graz; 2: University of Graz; 3: European Forest Institute; 4: University of Graz, Austria

Green growth is understood as a transformation of production- and consumption systems that results in a reduction of environmental stress and a simultaneous increase in economic activity (Jackson and Victor, 2019; Victor and Sers, 2019). Hence, it relates to interactions within and between socio-technical and ecological systems (Ahlborg et al., 2019; van der Jagt et al., 2020). Generally, economic activity is dependent on material exchange with sources and sinks of the natural environment, which have absolute limits (Rockström et al., 2009; Steffen et al., 2015). Whether it is possible to transform our socio-technical systems in such a way that they allow economies to grow within these physical limits, remains a subject to be discussed.

In this context, the concept of the bioeconomy has received increasing attention from researchers, policy makers and practitioners (Schmidt et al., 2012; Ronzon et al., 2017; European Commission, 2018; OECD, 2018). Broadly speaking, proponents of this concept aim at establishing a sustainable economy that is primarily built on technological progress of biomass utilization (Bugge et al., 2016). Although the term bioeconomy lacks a uniform definition, it serves as a boundary concept that allows for bridging and coordinating heterogenous groups of actors (Fischer and Hajer, 1999; Cairns and Stirling, 2014; Stevenson, 2019).

A review by Holmgren et al. (2020) examined that research tends to replicate rather a techno-optimistic bioeconomy imaginary articulated by policy makers prioritizing economic growth and competitiveness. These imaginaries are markedly different from the initial bioeconomy concept introduced by Georgescu-Roegen (1971). While his initial vision emphasized the biological origin of all economic processes and thereby the limits to economic growth, the current visions highlight the growth potentials that are associated with the economization and commercialization of nature (Vivien et al., 2019; Vogelpohl and Töller, 2021). However, any additional use of biomass as well as any shift from one utilization path to another inherently induces competing goals (Boehlje and Bröring, 2011) and conflicting interests. A prominent example being the food-fuel debate (Rathmann et al., 2010) followed by conservation versus material use, or material use versus use for energy production.

Several studies have highlighted the diverging, and partly conflicting, visions that are associated with bioeconomy (e.g., Levidow et al., 2012; Meyer, 2017).

Following along the lines of these transformation pathways, the bioeconomy is often brought forward as part of the solution to mitigate and adapt to climate change. A recent review by Sharma & Malaviva (2023) confirmed positive interactions between the circular bioeconomy and all 17 SDG targets. However, possible trade-offs between pathways and limits of green growth are not discussed.

Even though ‘modern’ bioeconomy visions are generally associated with economic growth expectations, this session aims at paying attention to the inherent limits of bioeconomies to green growth and the induced socio-technical conflicts. Contributions should somehow contribute to the overall question: Can the limits to bio-based green growth and its associated conflicts lead to a radical transformation of socio-technical systems?

This session proposal invites for presentations leaving space for intense discussions.