Abstract A possible sustainability transition in developing Asia needs to complement the ongoing transition from an agrarian to an industrial socio-ecological regime. As is known from other world regions, an agrarian–industrial transition involves a major increase in material and energy flows (corresponding to a 2–4 fold increase in the demand for raw materials and energy). The socio-metabolic profile of the South-East Asian region still shows relatively low material and energy consumption per capita, suggesting that major growth may follow. Infrastructures that are closely bound-up in bulk material flows (transport, energy and food sectors) will be critical to future developments. The paper illustrates the challenge and potential solutions from a number of case studies.