Industrial Ecology is a relatively new field of science that has rapidly developed over the last two decades.
Industrial Ecology involves the study of the “flows” of materials and energy through socio-economic systems with a view to optimizing their use. This is in contrast with conventional monetary economics, which involves the study of “flow” of money through socio economic systems.
Hence we can say that Industrial Ecology is:
The study of the flows of materials and energy in industrial and consumer activities.
The study of the effects of these flows on the environment.
The study of the influences of economic, political, regulatory, and social factors on the flow, use, and transformation of resources.
(Robert White, The Greening of Industrial Ecosystems, 1994)
Industrial ecology is also taken to be the activity of designing and managing human production-consumption systems, so that they interact with natural systems to form an integrated (eco) system which has ecological integrity and provides humans with a sustainable livelihood.
(Kay, On Complexity Theory, Exergy and Industrial Ecology: Some Implications for Construction Ecology, 2002)
Strategies for optimal utilization of resources can be developed (for societies as well as companies) that are based on an understanding of such flows of material and energy resources.