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Industrial Ecologists

The Job

The ecosystem is the main subject of study in ecology. Ecosystems are the communities of plants and animals within a given habitat that provide the necessary means of survival, including food and water. Ecosystems are defined by such physical conditions as climate, altitude, latitude, and soil and water characteristics. Forests, tundra, savannas (grasslands), and rainforests are examples of ecosystems.

Industrial ecologists monitor the environment and conduct laboratory and field tests to identify pollutants and their sources. They work closely with environmental scientists and specialists, who usually provide direction for their work and analyze the results. Industrial ecologists conduct their studies of various environments, which may be at manufacturing facilities, businesses, or public places. They set up the equipment used for monitoring pollutants, take regularly scheduled readings, and based on the findings, create technical and research reports. Industrial ecologists also examine the use and flow of materials or energy in industrial production processes, which can be on a local, regional, or global scale. They present their findings on environmental impact to their clients in the industries seeking help with environmental remediation. They may also share their findings with others in the industry, government agencies, and the general public. 

Industrial ecologists' work may also be used for environmental planning and resource management. Planning involves studying and reporting the impact of an action on the environment, such as determining how the construction of a new federal highway could affect the surrounding ecosystem. A planning team visits the site to view the physical geography, environment, and plants and animals, and it may recommend alternative actions that will have less damaging effects. Resource management is the effective use of resources that already exists. Industrial ecologists may help to build databases cataloging the plants, animals, and physical characteristics of certain areas. They may make recommendations for steps that can be taken to sustain the ecosystem in the future.  

Industrial ecologists use computers and various software programs to gather and process information and to analyze data and create reports. They use computer-aided design software such as Autodesk AutoCAD; scientific and analytical software such as Economic Input-Output Life Cycle Assessment (EIO-LCA); map creation software such as ESRI ArcGISl; and Adobe Acrobat for managing and creating documents and Adobe Illustrator for graphics and photo imaging.

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