Environmental management and organisations
Environmental management and organisations

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3 Defining environmental management

Given the definitions of environment and management provided so far, you might not expect defining ‘environmental management’ to be straightforward. You would be right. Here is the definition from the Oxford English Dictionary:

Environmental management (noun): (a) chiefly Psychol. manipulation of the physical or social environment of a person or group; (b) management of human impact on the environment, especially with the intention of preserving natural resources.

OED (2013)

Activity 1 Defining environmental management

Review the definition of environmental management provided above. What do you think of it? Are there any surprising elements? Do you think there are any problems with the definition?


Given the earlier definitions of the separate terms, it is perhaps a little surprising to find that the Oxford English Dictionary places considerable emphasis on the psychological aspects of environmental management. It is also interesting to note that the term encompasses social aspects. The second part of the definition is perhaps more to be expected, but it is notable that it refers to managing human impact on the environment. Questions to raise might be:

  • is environmental management only about managing human impacts on environments?
  • is ‘the environment’ in the definition referring to the global environment or something else, and is this easily determined?
  • how does understanding management of human impacts change depending on what is meant by ‘environment’?

Defining environmental management is perhaps not as easy as you might first have expected. Drawing on the earlier discussion, the dictionary definition offers as many problems as it attempts to resolve, particularly around the focus on ‘human impacts’, which implies a one-way direction (humans to environment), and the use of ‘the environment’, which, as you have seen already, implies a singular thing to be managed. The definition offers a creative tension, which provides the platform for thinking about environmental management from a systems perspective.

In this unit, the working definition of environmental management is the managing of human–environment relationships, where managing can be interpreted in different ways: controlling, shaping, organising or creating the circumstances for new policies and practices to emerge. You should note that this definition avoids the use of ‘the’ to refer to a singular, definitive environment. It also deliberately uses relationships in the plural form.

A systems approach to thinking about managing human–environment relationships is introduced next.

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