The overarching objective of industrial ecology is sustainable development, approached from the perspective of industry.

Industrial Ecology encompasses a wide range of inter-related scientific and academic activities, all aimed at improving industrial sustainability in practice.

Such activities might relate, for example, to urban renewal, recovering resources, generating clean energy, eco-industrial development or industrial symbiosis. They involve collaboration between people in occupations as diverse as public sector policy and administration, biology, economics, academia, environmental management, engineering, industrial design and education, to name just a few.

A particular objective of industrial ecology is that society achieves in the near future the concept of a Circular Economy, in which resources are conserved and all materials are reused again and again, indefinitely.

Industrial best practice and the formation of government policy are supported by analytical techniques such as life cycle assessment (LCA), materials flow analysis (MFA), various forms of footprint analysis and many other ways of developing information.

All these and many other elements of research and practice come within the ambit of industrial ecology and they do not apply only to manufacturing. Much of the knowledge and practice of industrial ecology applies also to extractive industries, such as mining and oil, agribusiness (such as farming and meat production), forestry, fisheries and even industries such as tourism and hospitality.

A fundamental tenet of industrial ecology is effective collaboration between people in government, academia and the private sector. Facilitating collaboration through its network of members is a core function of the Australian Industrial Ecology Network.