Environmental restoration is closely allied with (or perhaps sometimes used interchangeably with) ecological restoration or environmental remediation. In the U.S., remediation is the term used more in the realms of industry, public policy, and the civil services. Environmental restoration is a term common in the citizens' environmental movement.
In the 1987 edition of his book Restoring the Earth: How Americans are Working to Renew our Damaged Environment, scientific editor and writer John J. Berger defined environmental restoration (or "natural resource restoration") as follows: "... A process in which a damaged resource is renewed. Biologically. Structurally. Functionally."
The ongoing growth of human population in the world and its associated impacts,[why?] mean that the need for ecological restoration has become increasingly clear. The old adage "an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure" points to the fact that ecological restoration is not always successful (or only over long spans of time) and, when feasible, is often difficult and expensive. Environmental restoration is often neglected, either being overlooked or being deemed inexpedient or of a low priority. However, in much of the industrialized world, it has been increasingly demanded by the public, at least since the early 1970s if not before.
The interest and activity in environmental restoration has given rise to a new branch of research and applied techniques within biology, restoration ecology.
Environmental restoration has been applied in aquatic situations (lake environmental restoration, streams environmental restoration, rivers environmental restoration, wetlands environmental restoration, etc.) and terrestrial ones (grasslands, forests, deserts, flatlands, hill country, mountain slopes, etc.).
Environmental restoration involves many different approaches and technologies depending on the requirements of the situation. It can involve heavy equipment like cranes, graders, bulldozers, or excavators, and also hand processes like the planting of trees and other vegetation. It can involve high-tech processes such as those applied in the careful environmental control required in fish-hatchery procedures. Today, computerized regulation is often being utilized in these processes. Computer-based mapping has also become an important dimension of restorative work, as has computer modeling.
In some situations, environmental restorative work is handled entirely by professionals working with skilled operators and technicians. In others, ordinary local community members may do much of the work, acquiring skills as the project proceeds. An example of this approach can be seen in Project Maitai where the Nelson City Council, New Zealand, has worked with community groups, such as Friends of the Maitai and local schools, to restore the Maitai River and its tributaries.
Although the international field of restoration is driven primarily by the non-profit, government and academic sectors, in the U.S and certain other countries (e.g. Australia, which has a robust mining restoration sector), there are active markets for ecological restoration. The U.S. market blossomed shortly after Congress passed the Clean Water Act and the Environmental Protection Agency issued implementing regulations aimed at preventing the loss of streams and wetlands, and in the wake of the passage of the Endangered Species Act of 1973. The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act of 1977 also created restoration opportunities. When regulations stemming from these laws came online in the mid-1980s, there were few firms that were qualified or experienced in performing large-scale restoration projects. The first estimate of the dollars and jobs in the U.S. was $9.5 billion in annual sales, with 126,000 people employed.