10.1 System environment
Using the notion of a system environment gives us a precise way of thinking about what is inside or outside an organisation. In the case of a business organisation, such as a mining company, a water company or an environmental campaign group, the natural environment might be positioned within the organisation (i.e. part of the organisation as a system) because it might be considered a core part of shaping how the organisation functions. In the case of an organisation like a local accounting business, the natural environment might be placed in the system environment – it is not central to the functioning of the organisation.
Choosing when something is in the system or part of the system environment is not always easy. It may take iteration and require involving and engaging with others to learn about and understand the different aspects of an organisation to determine the system boundary. But it is important to remain aware that identifying something as part of a system or part of its environment is a choice.
To summarise, when you describe something as an organisation, you are making a distinction. You are drawing a boundary around a set of elements that you see as interconnected for a purpose – a system to do something. That which you see as being outside the boundary of the organisation (i.e. influences it, but is not part of it) can be referred to as the system environment.
This provides a powerful language of description and analysis because it can reveal the different ways in which people conceptualise an organisation and its environment (in the systems sense), and the implications this might have for environmental management. As you will see in later sections, the concept of system and system environment is also used in several environmental management approaches.