In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Industrial Ecology

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Foundations
  • Journals
  • Databases and Tools
  • Industrial Symbiosis and Eco-industrial Development
  • Socioeconomic Metabolism and Material Flow Analysis
  • Life-Cycle Assessment
  • Environmental Input-Output Analysis and Footprinting
  • Resource Productivity and the Circular Economy
  • Urban Metabolism and Infrastructure
  • Links to Other Fields

Ecology Industrial Ecology
Marian Chertow, Reid Lifset, Tom Yang
  • LAST REVIEWED: 28 March 2018
  • LAST MODIFIED: 28 March 2018
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199830060-0200


Industrial ecology (IE) tracks physical resource flows of industrial and consumer systems at a variety of spatial scales, drawing on environmental and social science, engineering, management, and policy analysis. Prescriptively, IE seeks to reduce environmental impacts and the pressure on natural resources while maintaining function for human well-being, by stressing the importance of production choices to extend the life of embedded materials and energy, emphasizing circular rather than linear flows, and decoupling economic growth from resource use. IE has been described as a “post-modern science” that synthesizes multiple perspectives in theory and problem solving, often simultaneously, as a multidisciplinary, interdisciplinary, and transdisciplinary field. The unusual name “industrial ecology” derives from a metaphor with the biological ecosystem and borrows on several fronts, such as its focus on resource cycling, multi-scalar systems, material and energy stocks and flows, and food webs. Over time concepts from other sciences have also been weaved into industrial ecology. The intellectual roots of industrial ecology date back to the 19th century, and some seminal methods were published in the 1960s and 1970s. It took until the early 1990s, however, before a scientific field began to take shape. Since its early days, industrial ecology has become more robust through database development, deeper mathematical modeling, collaboration among natural, physical, and social scientists, and extension of theory on its own and in dialogue with other allied fields. At the same time, industrial ecology increasingly contributes insights to environmental management and policy, on issues ranging from climate change, to biodiversity loss, water, and more. Despite its youth, breadth, and intersection with other disciplines, industrial ecology can lay claim to several subfields as being within its ambit: industrial symbiosis, which studies the exchange of byproducts and sharing of resources among industrial actors; socioeconomic metabolism and material flows analysis, focusing on the stocks and flows of various materials through society; life-cycle assessment, examining the environmental impact of a material, product, or system across its entire life cycle; environmental input-output analysis, broadly focused on the environmental impact of entire sectors of the economy; sustainable urban systems, with focus on metabolism of resources at the urban scale; and resource productivity and circular economy, addressing the effectiveness of resource use while decreasing its impact. In addition to these core subfields, other topics are more loosely linked with industrial ecology, including green chemistry, life-cycle engineering, social ecology, design for environment, and ecological economics.

General Overviews

Ayres and Ayres 2002 captures the advancements made in the first decade of the field in an extensive handbook. Lu 2010 presents a thorough overview of industrial ecology in Mandarin, illustrating the great interest in and growth of the field in China. The latest compendium on the state of the field is Clift and Druckman 2016, which takes stock of three decades of industrial ecology in both research and application. With respect to overviews of specific subfields, Brunner and Rechberger 2017 is the latest handbook on material flow analysis; Matthews, et al. 2015 is a recent online only textbook about life-cycle assessment; and Suh 2010 is a handbook that provides an overview of input-output analysis in general, incorporating energy and environmental input-output analysis. Allwood, et al. 2012 provides very clear logic for approaching materials choice, use, and recovery with an eye to the impact on greenhouse gas emissions. From an applied perspective, the report on mitigation of climate change by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (Edenhofer, et al. 2014) utilizes multiple industrial ecology methods and findings as they apply to climate change, and a report of the United Nations Environment Program International Resource Panel (Ekins, et al. 2017) thoroughly explores the contributions that industrial ecology-inspired practices can have on the global economy, society, and environment.

  • Allwood, J. M., J. M. Cullen, and M. A. Carruth. 2012. Sustainable materials: With both eyes open. Cambridge, UK: UIT.

    This book lays out an achievable vision for reducing global carbon emissions by half by 2050 while demand for materials doubles, with focus on the energy, steel, mining, construction, and manufacturing industries. It targets the general public as well as policymakers and industry specialists.

  • Ayres, L., and R. U. Ayres, eds. 2002. A handbook of industrial ecology. Northampton, MA: Edward Elgar.

    This extensive volume covers in six parts and forty-six chapters the history, methods, applications, and connections of industrial ecology. Describes the field’s connection with economics, the material cycles of various nations and industries, and avenues for implementation in policy and industry.

  • Brunner, P. H., and H. Rechberger. 2017. Handbook of material flow analysis: For environmental, resource, and waste engineers. 2d ed. New York: CRC Press.

    This reference handbook provides a thorough introduction to material flow analysis and guides more experienced users in the latest advancements in the methodology. The new edition updates the collection of case studies as well as guidance on using the STAN software.

  • Clift, R., and A. Druckman, eds. 2016. Taking Stock of Industrial Ecology. Cham, Switzerland: Springer International.

    This edited collection contains commissioned chapters that review and assess key components of the field of industrial ecology including life-cycle sustainability analysis, urban metabolism, socioeconomic metabolism, carbon in trade flows, household consumption, and waste management as well as offering a series of case studies of the application of industrial ecology.

  • Edenhofer, O., R. Pichs-Madruga, Y. Sokona, et al., eds. 2014. Climate change 2014: Mitigation of climate change. Contribution of Working Group III to the Fifth Assessment Report of the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change. Cambridge, UK, and New York: Cambridge Univ. Press.

    The Working Group III on the mitigation of climate change of the Fifth Assessment report of the IPCCC made use of methodologies central to industrial ecology including material flow analysis, input-output analysis, and life-cycle assessment. They are used in chapters 1, 4, 5, 7, 8, 9, 11, and 12.

  • Ekins, P., N. Hughes, S. Brigenzu, et al. 2017. Resource efficiency: Potential and economic implications. Paris: Report of the International Resource Panel, United Nations Environment Program (UNEP).

    Launched by the United Nations Environment Program in 2007, the International Resource Panel (IRP) is a group of experts that develops and shares scientific knowledge on improved use of resources. This report by Ekins and colleague addresses resource productivity and decoupling of economic and environmental activity. Industrial ecologists have made significant contributions to the whole IRP series of reports on topics including cities, trade, metals, water, food, and deforestation.

  • Lu, Z. 2010. Gong ye sheng tai xue ji chu. Foundations of Industrial Ecology. Beijing: Ke xue chu ban she.

    This textbook in Chinese introduces the reader to the field of industrial ecology and why sustainable development is necessary, especially in the case of China. It offers descriptions and case studies of the major industrial ecology topics: material flow analysis, footprinting, design for environment, circular economy, eco-industrial parks, and more.

  • Matthews, H. M., C. T. Hendrickson, and D. H. Matthews. 2015. Life cycle assessment: Quantitative approaches for decisions that matter.

    This e-book is a freely available textbook on life-cycle assessment (LCA) intended for classroom use. It takes a big picture view of how lifecycle thinking has evolved from studying products to broader issues and bringing in more advanced methods including uncertainty and variability analysis.

  • Suh, S., ed. 2010. Handbook on input-output economics for industrial ecology. Dordrecht: Springer.

    This handbook presents a thorough review of the principles, methods, and data sets used in both input-output economics and industrial ecology, allowing members of the respective fields to learn the tools and skill sets of the other.

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