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Sara Gustafsson


My research focuses on different aspects of sustainable urban development, with a special focus on the role of municipalities. This means that strategies, management systems and actor collaboration are some of my research interests.

The roles of municipalities for sustainable city development

My main interest related to both research and teaching is sustainable city development and how municipalities can act as arenas where different actors can collaborate to meet the challenges of sustainable development. Cross-sectoral and inter-organisational collaboration is key for sustainable development and it is important to have a broad systems perspective.

Close collaboration with municipalities

Collaboration with the surrounding society has always been an important component in my research and teaching. I have had the opportunity to follow several Swedish municipalities’ strategic environmental and sustainability management efforts over many year and have thereby build up a broad network. This has also enhanced my courses as I have been able to invite practitioners and specialists to give lectures on various topics as well as offer student projects based on real word problems.

Strategic environmental and sustainability management at municipalities

Municipalities are key actors when it comes to sustainable development. They operate close to the citizens and are links between citizens, national/international authorities and actors. Apart from being authorities they have also, during the last decades become more proactive regarding the struggle towards sustainable development and this means that they can be seen as motors for the local sustainability management.

I have, through a large amount of questionnaires, interviews and case studies, studied how Swedish municipalities organise their strategic environmental and sustainability management. Since I have had the opportunity to follow many of the municipalities over a long period of time, I have been able to study their maturity processes, their systems perspective related to sustainability issues as well as the challenges connected to these issues. 

Working towards sustainable development is not the matter of a single actor, on the contrary, it is something that requires cross-sector and inter-organisational collaboration. This is a multifaceted and transdisciplinary field that can be studied from several different perspectives. In my research, I have chosen to focus on sustainable city development from a management perspective; how do municipalities manage sustainability issues internally and externally in the local context.

The common theme for my later research projects is actor collaboration related to development and implementation of sustainability strategies. I have been the coordinator of a research programme called Sustainable Norrköping (2010-2013), which had a triple helix approach to actor collaboration. This was further developed in another project (HEKSA, 2010-2012) for which I was the project leader.

At present I work in two research project of which one deals with the sustainability perspective when building the “sustainable city” in which spatial planners and contractors need to collaborate. The other project deals with the potential of expanding the district cooling grids.


I teach in courses related to strategic and systematic environmental and sustainability management in organisations for engineering students. I give courses both in Swedish and in English. I also teach in sustainable city development. I supervise and review bachelor and master student theses and give courses in the postgraduate education in research methodology.



Short summary


  • Master in Biology, Karlstad University, 1998
  • PhD in Environmental systems analysis and environmental management, Linköping University, 2005
  • Associate Professor in Environmental Technology and Environmental Management, Linköping University, 2015
  • Professor in Environmental Technology and Environmental Management, Linköping University, 2022


  • Management Systems and Sustainability (TKMJ28)
  • Sustainable City Development (TKMJ48)
  • Environmental Management (TKMJ15)

Collaborative projects

  • Project ledare for LiPSS (LiU’s Policy for Strategic Collaboration) research collaboration
  • Member of the department of Management and Engineering departmental board
  • Member of the research and research education committee at the department of Management and Engineering



Venus Krantz, Sara Gustafsson (2023) Regional collaboration for the sustainable development goals: Experiences from developing a multi-actor platform in Sweden Sustainable Development Continue to DOI


Sara Gustafsson (2022) Omställning till ett hållbart samhälle: Vikten av samarbete, samverkan och samordning Kommunerna och hållbar utveckling: Demokrati, välfärd och lokal utveckling, p. 9-22
Maj-Britt Quitzau, Sara Gustafsson, Birgitte Hoffmann, Venus Krantz (2022) Sustainability coordination within forerunning Nordic municipalities - Exploring structural challenges across departmental silos and hierarchies Journal of Cleaner Production, Vol. 335, Article 130330 Continue to DOI