Interdisciplinarity continues to be a focus and method for complex social and environmental challenges. This paper explores how the School of Environmental Sciences (ENV) at the University of East Anglia (UEA) which was founded through the idea of scientific interdisciplinarity operated in practice to create new knowledge about a new object of concern, the ‘environment’. Using the ‘trading zone’ concept, the social and epistemic processes behind making scientific interdisciplinarity a material and institutional reality are uncovered, and to what extent interdisciplinary knowledge was actually produced. This paper concludes that interdisciplinary processes can be effective in dealing with complex challenges but often rely on the institutional and social dynamics of the researchers involved. Historicising interdisciplinarity in knowledge-making settings can go some way in supporting new interdisciplinary endeavours associated with environmental and climate research.