Environment means our surroundings.

Our surroundings consist of naturally occurring things like the air, rivers and trees and it consists of things that are built by humans. We call these two environments:

Natural Environment

The natural environment is the naturally occurring surroundings that we live in.

That includes the air, water, hills and mountains, plant life and other naturally occurring things.

The natural environment also includes our climate, i.e. temperature, rainfall, moisture levels, etc.

Austrian woodland in snow

We need the natural environment for our survival and for our well being.

Left undisturbed, the natural environment sustains plant and animal life. With a small amount of damage, the natural environment has shown that it can repair itself and return to its former state. Environmental damage on a large scale however, has global consequences and can reach a point where damage is difficult, if not impossible to repair. Air pollution in one country effects others as air currents carry pollutants around the globe. A polluted river contaminates the river bed and life in the river, then as it flows into the sea, it contaminate the sea, the sea bed and sea life. Pollutants may be transmitted through the food chain, poisoning plants and animals in the process.

Environmental pollution can occur:

The polluting effects of industry has resulted in air and water pollution, raised acidity levels in rivers, seas and the air, loss of plant and animal habitats, loss of plant and animal species, climate change and a host of other serious effects.

Our unrestrained use of finite resources has resulted in some resources, such as coal and oil, running out in certain areas. Consequently coal, oil and other materials are transported from areas of the world that have them and are prepared to export them.

Protection of our natural environment and our natural resources is so important that the survival of life on Earth depends on it.

Design challenge for the natural environment

The challenge for all involved with design and technology is to design and build products that:

Built Environment

The "built environment" are the buildings and other structures designed and built by humans.

Inside Buildings and Structures

Internal environments include the environments of personal housing, public buildings, public and personal transport and places of work. These environments are designed to give us the conditions we need to live and work comfortably, i.e. security, warmth, light, clean fresh air and access to food, drink and places for rest and relaxation. The size, shape and colour of these internal environments, together with the materials used in them, their light source, their equipment and facilities, all have effects on our comfort, safety and well being. 

Individual tastes, cultural influences, fashion and the affluence of the accommodation owner/occupier helps to create diversity in the design of internal environments.

External Environments

External environments include the size, shape and layout of buildings, parks, and transport etc.  External environments should be visually pleasing and should enable the community to function properly.  That means that people should be able to move easily and safely from place to place, there should be places where people can do work to earn money, there should be places where they can buy food and household goods and there should be places for relaxation, recreation, sport and education.

Inner city parks such as Central Park in New York can be marvels of design and engineering.  Central Park looks natural but in fact it is carefully planned and crafted, with sophisticated systems that enable it look natural, yet be able to cope with the thousands of people that pass through it every day.

Zoos and wildlife preserves are attempts to create environments where animals can be seen in something resembling their natural habitats. Theme parks are another example of man’s attempts to manipulate the environment for leisure activities.  Others are golf courses, boating lakes, skateboard parks and dry ski slopes.


The environmental impact of the various transport systems is significant. Road systems are rarely adequate in most European cities.  In cities such as London, there are traffic jams that bring traffic to a standstill. The air pollution from internal combustion engines is endangering people's health and is increasing the levels of green house gases that create global warming and climate change.  Trains today are powered mostly by diesel engines and by electric engines.  Whether the engine pollutes the atmosphere directly or it is the greenhouse gases and other pollutants that are given off from the power stations that produce electricity, one way or another, man’s use of energy pollutes the environment.

The increase in air travel has had many beneficial effects for travellers but the increase in pollution from aircraft has had a detrimental effect on the environment.  Since shipping has stopped using wind as a power source, it too has contributed to air pollution from its engines. Spillages from oil tanker disasters have had devastating effects on the environment.

One of the greatest challenges for scientists and designers is to develop clean sources of energy that can be used for transport and for industry.    


Industrial practices have also had detrimental effects on the environment, although there have been some attempts at repairing the damage caused by industrial activity. 

Industrial activity has changed our landscape. Quarrying operations have removed hillsides, open cast mining has created massive craters, oil refineries, steel works, power stations and other industrial sites have destroyed the natural beauty of our environment.  From the scarring of the earth during mining excavations, the pollutants released during various processing operations and the dumping of waste products, industrial activity has polluted and scarred our environment.  That is, pollution of the land, sea and air.