In January of 2000, a group of leaders from diverse fields who share an interest in promoting industrial ecology gathered at the New York Academy of Sciences. The group decided the time had come to create an international society. They formed a steering committee and began planning the launch of a new society dedicated to supporting research, applications, and communication related to the rapidly growing field of industrial ecology.

The mission of the ISIE is to promote the use of industrial ecology in research, education, policy, community development, and industrial practices. In order to accomplish this mission, ISIE seeks to build a community of interest, support cumulative learning, produce quality research, and promote social change.

In February 2001, the International Society for Industrial Ecology formally opened its doors to membership. The formation of ISIE is another important step in the establishment of the field of industrial ecology.

A Short History of Industrial Ecology

In 1989, Scientific American published what would prove to be a seminal article for the field of industrial ecology. The article by Robert Frosch and Nicholas Gallopoulos was titled “Strategies for Manufacturing” and suggested the need for "an industrial ecosystem" in which "the use of energies and materials is optimized, wastes and pollution are minimized, and there is an economically viable role for every product of a manufacturing process."

Frosch and Gallopoulos envisioned a more integrated model of industrial activity that would be environmentally sustainable on a global level. Their article was the catalyst for a Symposium held by the US National Academy of Sciences in the early 1990s that has been heralded as a founding event for the modern field of industrial ecology.

During the decade following the symposium, the US-based effort becoming known as industrial ecology joined with and built upon a substantial body of research, practice and expertise already underway throughout the world, but especially in northern Europe.The field’s growth was signaled by two Gordon Research Conferences in the United States as well as a number of special sessions at annual meetings and conferences of various professional and scientific organizations.

In the late 1990s the field gained increased international recognition through the creation of the Journal of Industrial Ecology -- now a widely respected, scholarly, peer-reviewed journal -- and the establishment of an academic degree-giving program at the Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU).

Industrial Ecology: Tools of the Trade

Industrial ecology provides a powerful prism through which to examine the impact of industry and technology and associated changes in society and the economy on the biophysical environment. It examines local, regional and global uses and flows of materials and energy in products, processes, industrial sectors and economies and focuses on the potential role of industry in reducing environmental burdens throughout the product life cycle.

Industrial ecology asks us to “understand how the industrial system works, how it is regulated, and its interaction with the biosphere; then, on the basis of what we know about ecosystems, to determine how it could be restructured to make it compatible with the way natural ecosystems function.” 2

1.) Frosch, Robert A. and Nicholas E. Gallopoulos. 1989. Strategies For Manufacturing. Scientific American 189(3):152.
2.) Erkman, S. 1997. Industrial Ecology: An Historical View. J. Cleaner Prod. 5(1-2):1