Effective management of environmental systems involves assessment of multiple (physical, ecological, and socio-economic) issues, and often requires new research that spans multiple disciplines. Such integrative research across knowledge domains faces numerous theoretical and practical challenges. In this paper, we discuss how environmental modelling can overcome many of these challenges, and how models can provide a framework for successful integrative research. Integrative environmental modellers adopt various roles in integrative projects such as: technical specialist, knowledge broker, and facilitator. A model can act as a shared project goal, while the model development process provides a coordinated framework to integrate multi-disciplinary inputs. Modellers often have a broad generalist understanding of environmental systems. Their overarching perspective means that modellers are well-placed to facilitate integrative research processes. We discuss the challenges of interdisciplinary academic research, and provide a framework through which environmental modellers can play a role in guiding more successful integrative research programmes. A key feature of this approach is that environmental modellers are actively engaged in the research programme from the beginning-modelling is not simply an exercise in drawing together existing disciplinary knowledge, but acts as a guiding structure for new (cross-disciplinary) knowledge creation. © 2012 Elsevier Ltd.