Sustainable Built Environment Research

Within sustainable built environment, we conduct cutting-edge research linked to sustainable development, especially system analysis studies of bioenergy, building construction, energy efficiency, forestry and the interaction between these fields, and implementation of innovative solutions.

Our research

The overall goal of the research group Sustainable Built Environment Research (SBER) is to understand how a sustainable built environment based on resource-efficient systems with low environmental impact can be designed and implemented. Since 2010, our researchers have published about 110 peer-reviewed journal articles, book chapters and conference papers. The research is led by Leif Gustavsson, Professor of Building Technology.

Life cycle and system perspectives

The built environment accounts for a large share of the global total primary energy use and will play a major role in reducing primary energy use and greenhouse gas emissions. The construction of new resource-efficient buildings and infrastructure is important in the longer term, while efficiency improvements to existing buildings and infrastructure is important in the short run as the rate of turnover of existing buildings and systems is low.

Life cycle and system perspectives are needed to develop resource efficient buildings. All the life cycle phases of a building – production, operation, retrofitting and end-of-life – should be considered and optimized as a whole, including the energy and material chains from natural resources to final services. Most existing studies on energy implications of buildings are based on final energy use, while the primary energy use will more accurately reflect the use of energy resources. For the same energy services, different energy supply systems can result in significantly different primary energy use.

Renewable resources

Increased use of renewable resources such as wood-based building materials and fuels produced from sustainably forestry, instead of non-renewable materials and fuels can result in less greenhouse gas emissions. Forest resources, therefore, can play an important role in a long-term strategy to mitigate climate change. In the wood product chain, significant quantities of biomass residues are produced that can be used to replace fossil fuels such as coal. Finally, at the end of its service life the wood product itself could be used to replace fossil fuels.

Time and geographical perspectives are important in a wood-based strategy for mitigating climate change, since different forest management practices yield benefits at different time and geographical scales, and because the benefits of substituting non-wood products and fossil fuels with biomass are typically cumulative. We develop methodologies and tools to quantify and minimise greenhouse gas emissions and primary energy use over the life cycle of wood products, and link these benefits to different forest management practices for different time scales and geographical regions.

Energy efficiency and energy supply

Measures are increasingly being implemented to reduce building envelope heat losses, and buildings have become more airtight. Swedish policy aims to reduce final energy use in buildings by 50% by 2050, and for new buildings to be constructed with very low energy demands. This requires substantial changes to how the built environment is developed and supplied with energy.

District heating systems, which supply about half of the space heating in Sweden, use primary energy very efficiently when the district heat is co-produced with other products such as electricity. The co-production of district heat is expected to increase. The interaction of district heating systems and energy efficiency measures can be complex, depending on the scale and period of the intervention and the energy use profile of buildings. Our research shows the importance of analyzing both the demand and supply sides as well as their interaction in order to minimize the primary energy use of district heated buildings.

Primary energy- and carbon-efficient systems

Modern techniques to construct multi-storey wood-framed buildings with low life cycle primary energy use and greenhouse gas emissions have been developed. An example is the four award-winning 8-storey wood-framed apartment buildings (Figure 1) constructed in Växjö.

SBER, Limnologen
Figure 1. An award-winning, 8-storey wood-framed building in Växjö, Sweden.
Photo: Martin Johansson.

Our analysis of the life cycle primary energy use and carbon dioxide (CO2) emission of one of the buildings shows that using recovered woody biomass residues to replace fossil coal more than offsets the emissions from production phase fossil fuel use and process emissions associated with the concrete used in the building.

Building passive houses, which are designed for very low operating energy use, is increasingly suggested. Figure 2 shows the primary energy use and CO2 emissions to produce, space heat and ventilate, and finally to demolish a conventional and a passive house with different frame materials in Växjö. The passive house uses more materials thus increasing the production energy use, but the reduced space heating and ventilation energy use is much more significant. The wood frame construction reduces the production primary energy use and carbon emission, compared to the concrete frame construction.

Primary energy use
Figure 2. Primary energy use for heating and ventilation of a house with biomass-based district heat mainly from combined heat and power production, (2) primary energy use to produce the house, (3) primary energy benefits which arise at end-of-life, and (4) energy content in the wood residue which is created when the house is built. The house is assumed to be built with a concrete or wood frame in accordance with the Swedish building code (BBR 2012) or passive-house criteria. The assumed life of the house is 50 years and the primary energy use is calculated as annual values per square meter of heated building area. (Adapted from: Dodoo, A., Gustavsson, L., & Sathre, R. 2012)

Diffusion of innovations

Diffusion of innovations, especially those in the construction sector, may take several decades to reach a significant level. This is mainly because the established innovation systems consisting of interwoven networks of actors, existing practices, beliefs, and regulations resist emerging innovations which are less known, perceived as risky, and promoted by few actors. Nevertheless, some innovations successfully diffuse over time with institutional support, growth of actor-networks, and technological improvements. Understanding the dynamics of the process of technological change is important to design policies aimed at stimulating and accelerating the diffusion of renewable-based innovations and energy efficiency measures. We apply the "systems of innovation" approach and the theory of "diffusion of innovation" to analyse the role of actors, institutions and the innovation concerned. Such analyses are complemented and enriched by information we gather from stakeholders using social survey tools.


Current projects



We regularly arrange seminars within the area of sustainable built environment. Please contact Professor Leif Gustavsson for more information.

Upcoming seminars


Earlier seminars


Low temperature district heating – What does it mean for the internal hot water and space heating systems in buildings?, professor Svend Svendsen, Technical University of Denmark (DTU), 2015-11-17

Kostnadseffektiva bioenergiframtider, Professor Erik Ahlgren, Chalmers University of Technology, 2015-10-20


IEA Bioenergy 2015

Climate Change Effects of Biomass and Bioenergy Systems

May 26–27, 2015, Linnaeus University, Växjö

In recent decades, there has been growing interest in the role of forests and forest products in climate change mitigation including bioenergy. The climate effects of bioenergy are intensively discussed internationally.

In 2015, Sweden hosted the IEA Bioenergy Task 38 conference on Climate Change Effects of Biomass and Bioenergy Systems, bringing several international experts into the program. The aim of the conference was to give cutting-edge knowledge about climate effects of integrated use of wood products and bioenergy, as well as methods to analyse the effects.

The conference included study trips to: a modern combined heat and power plant starting to operate in 2015; a block of eight-storey wood-frame buildings which were the winner of the 2010 Swedish large prize for Society Constructions; as well as a newly constructed low energy wood-frame arena for tennis.

Programme, 26th of May 2015

Chair: Professor Leif Gustavsson
09.15–09.30 Introduction
09.30–10.00 Forestry, wood constructions and bioenergy in a Swedish climate mitigation strategy, Anders Wijkman, tbc
10.00–10.30 Timing issues in estimating climate change effects of bioenergy, Annette Cowie
10.30–11.00 Estimating climate effects of harvest wood products and bioenergy, Sebastian Rüter
11.00–11.30 Net climate impacts of production and use of woody biomass, Heli Peltola
11.30–12.00 The harm or benefit of delayed greenhouse gas emissions, Miko Kirschbaum
12.00–13.00 Lunch – lobby outside Södra room
Chair: Professor Annette Cowie
13.00–13.30 Biomass resources in Baltic Region, Johan Bergh
13.30–14.00 Climate change effects of wood products and bioenergy, Leif Gustavsson
14.00–14.30 Using LCA to understand the climate change effects of bioenergy, Miguel Brandão
14.30–15.00 Climate change effects of bioenergy in comparison to fossil energy, Sylvia Haus
15.00–15.30 Coffee – lobby outside Södra room
15.30–16.00 Industrial perspectives, Göran Orlander
16.00–17.00 Plenary: Question and discussions

ENERWOODS Conference

Wood based energy systems from Nordic and Baltic Forests
A Nordic Research project

May 27, 2015, Linnaeus University, Växjö

The Nordic countries have ambitious goals to decarbonise their energy supply and to show global leadership in the transition towards sustainable and renewable energy systems. The prime objective of the ENERWOODS project was to provide scientifically based knowledge about the role of Nordic forestry in the development of Nordic renewable energy systems. ENERWOODS is funded by the Nordic Energy Research.


12.15–13.00 Lunch – lobby outside Södra room
Chair Professor Leif Gustavsson
13.00–13.30 Overview and general results, Palle Madson
13.30–14.00 Status and potentials of fertilization for increasing productivity and mitigation of northern forests, Johan Bergh
14.00–14.30 Status and potentials of tree or breeding for improving forest productivity and adaptation, Lars-Göran Stener
14.30–15.00 Novel and high-productive forest types to support forest adaptation and mitigation potentials, Palle Madsen
15.00–15.30 Coffee – lobby outside Södra room
Chair Dr Palle Madson
15.30–16.00 Cost- and energy-efficient bioenergy systems, Leif Gustavsson
16.00–17.00 Plenary: Question and discussions


  • Ole Jess Olsen, Guest Professor