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Organisations, environmental management and innovation
Organisations, environmental management and innovation

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2.14 Coupled systems

Building on the idea of connections and interdependencies between an organisation and its environment, organisations and the natural environment can be considered in a more systemic way: as a coupled system.

The concept of a coupled system is such that an organisation, as a system, is interconnected with the natural environment, as a wider system. Each interacts and influences the other over time through feedback systems so that the two (the organisation and the natural environment) become co-dependent and co-evolve over time.

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Figure 14 Coupled system

The graphic shown here implies that the range of possible connections which constitute human–environment relations are more varied and far-reaching than the linear, one-way impact an economic model might suggest. In other words, organisations are not just connected to their natural environment in a linear model. Organisations are also a product of and linked to the other organisations they engage with and the social and economic systems in which they operate – even if the social systems span several continents for some organisations. All these are part of the organisation’s environment in a systems sense – a perspective which offers a more innovative way of understanding connections.

In many respects, an organisation is a product of one or more societies and so the organisation can be located within a coupled socio-ecological system spanning several societies and environmental zones. Thus, the boundary of the coupled system can be expanded from an individual organisation and its natural environment to a range of organisations interacting with each other within a wider natural environment and also across different societies.

The implications for our understanding of organisations and their connections to the environment are significant and represent a major innovation in thought. Rather than just a focus on linear impacts from the organisation to its natural environment, it demands a more dynamic conceptualisation of the relationships between an organisation and its environment in a systems sense, including the society in which it operates and its environmental context.