Multiple criteria decision making is an effective approach that can be successfully used for revealing eco-innovative solutions in industrial wastewater treatment by prioritizing various promising technologies. Besides, eligible researches on emerging membrane processes viz., forward osmosis and membrane distillation are gaining widespread interest in scientific communities focused on reclamation, recovery and reuse of industrial wastewaters. In this study, the preferability of four innovative systems compared to a traditional system was hierarchically prioritized for environmentally benign treatment and utilization of dairy industry wastewater using the most common tool in multi-criteria decision making analysis, analytical hierarchy process. The analyses were attributed to the preferences classified with regard to the technical, economic and environmental aspects of the alternatives. Despite the existence of both greatest importance of energy consumption and higher energy requirements of novel solutions, major prominent features to be provided by real-scale applications of innovative systems were determined as more valuable multiple outcomes in environmental protection and economic profit. The sensitivity analysis to evaluate how the variations in the predefined weights of attributes influence the preference priorities indicated that the decision prioritization analysis on the novel technology selection was sufficiently sensitive to all the main evaluation criteria. This study proved that novel membrane technologies have more preferable features in dairy wastewater treatment by further whey utilization and waste minimization and more effective industrial water reuse, especially in case of waste heat usage in membrane distillation. Finally, sustainable dairy wastewater management in a more desirable manner than now could be accomplished by means of technically highly efficient, economically cost-effective and environmentally eco-innovative achievements. (C) 2015 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.