The Vienna School of Social Ecology – an Enrichment or Too Interdisciplinary a Challenge for Environmental Sociology?
The Vienna School of social ecology has evolved over the past 25 years. It revolves around two core concepts: social metabolism and colonization of nature. Social metabolism describes a systemic process by which social systems maintain themselves by energetic and material exchange, thereby using natural resources and generating wastes and emissions. There is an elaborate metric for this (MEFA material and energy flow accounting) that became also standard statistics used by Eurostat. Colonization – deliberate social interventions from the part of society into natural systems – is a concept that helps to link human labour processes to environmental impacts. One of the metrics for this is HANPP (human appropriation of net primary production), and it supports the analysis of land use and land use change. Another feature of the Vienna School is its dealings with long-term processes and developing a theory of socio-metabolic regimes and regime transitions that may also help to understand a potential sustainability transition. Finally, these concepts and methods are applied in many policy contexts, such as globally contributing to UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, to European resource policy programs and to participatory processes in small island development.