Research in the field of "industrial metabolism" traditionally has been focused on measuring and describing physical flows of economic systems. The "metabolism" of economic systems, however, changes over time, and measuring material flows is insufficient to understand this process. Understanding the relation between economic activities and material flows can help to unravel the socio-economic causes of these physical flows. Three issues are addressed: The importance of spatial scales and trade flows, empirical analysis of relations between economic development and material flows, and treatment of behaviour of and interactions between stake-holders. For each of these issues, methods for analysis are suggested.