What is a simple definition of the physical environment?
The physical environment can be defined as that which operates on an ongoing basis regardless of the persons in it. This physical environment then affects the actions of and outcomes concerning the people within it.
The physical environment includes land, air, water, plants and animals, buildings and other infrastructure, and all of the natural resources that provide our basic needs and opportunities for social and economic development. (Ministry of Social Development, New Zealand)
Say, for example, you are playing sport and it is a windy day. You have to adjust your game to ensure that you allow for the way the wind is blowing.
All processes and behaviors take place within specific physical environments. Within a classroom for example
lighting, acoustics, size, comfort, safety, access to technology, etc.
create and add to a physical environment that is either conducive to learning or perhaps distracting.
Therefore a simple definition of any physical environment would be your natural surroundings - including whether it is clean or dirty and the things within it and how they interact to create a 'space.'
The physical environment is the part of the environment surrounding humans that contains only physical elements, such as the water, soil, air, and so on. These are elements that are tangible and that people can touch. People are also affected by social factors in the environment, which refer to factors that are not tangible. For example, people in a neighborhood or town could be affected by physical factors such as the quality of the soil, the climate of the area, the conditions of the houses, and the surrounding waterways. People can also be affected by social factors, such as the ways in which people work and socialize in that neighborhood (for example, through religious organizations, community organizations, educational institutions, etc.).
The physical environment can be considered on a smaller scale as well. For example, the physical environment of children at home includes the placement of hazardous materials in the house, the proximity of play spaces, the layout of the house, and so on. Social factors affecting children in the house include the quality and type of interactions parents have with the children.
One's physical environment is one's surroundings. This is true whether or not there are any people around. Water, land formations, minerals, air, and vegetation are examples of natural physical surroundings. Infrastructure and buildings are examples of human-made physical environmental structures.
Physical environments are often described in terms of how they can either help or hurt the people or other organisms that live there. For example, a rain shadow may hurt the people who live on the dry side of the mountain, as it prevents them from getting rain. Animals can adjust to the presence of buildings instead of their natural surroundings; for example, many birds of prey nest in high-rises where they once had more access to tall trees.
One's physical environment shapes one's life. While one can alter the physical environment, there are often unforeseen consequences of doing so. It can lead to environmental damage for other organisms.
A physical environment can be described as anything we can physically experience through our senses—touch, smell, sight, hearing, and/or taste. The physical environment includes both the natural environment and the human-made environment. For example, the physical environment of a house can include the human-made structures such as the walls, the pipes, and the appliances, as well as the natural environment, such as the air circulating in the house, the water flowing through the pipes, and the trees, plants, and animals that exist in the yard.
One should consider the elements of the surrounding physical environment when deciding how to interact with that environment. For example, perhaps it is the height of summer and there is no air conditioning in the house—in this case, opening the windows and using ceiling fans would improve the physical environment in terms of human comfort.