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How do I achieve the same effect without default environment?

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It is the waterSphpere example, except I comment out line 23:

// var helper = scene.createDefaultEnvironment();
Then the outer sphere become transparent...  I don't want to use createDefaultEnvironment in a real project, but how do I mimic what it provides to make this example works as intended?
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is a convenience function for:

new EnvironmentHelper(undefined, this);

So, you just need to make sure you pass in only the options you want to keep.  You are creating it with the default options:

So, you can either call with the options you would like to or work your way backwards from that file to get just the parts you need :) At least I think that is the best starting point.

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I'm not sure if I well understand your question, but if you just want to use a custom environment texture (which is in any case needed when in PBR workflow), you just have to not use the helper and manually create your envTex:

var hdrTexture = new BABYLON.CubeTexture("textures/environment.env", scene);
hdrTexture.gammaSpace = false;
scene.environmentTexture = hdrTexture;


But if you want also use a custom reflection texture, you still need the environmentTexture but it's possible to add a reflectionTexture on your material:

waterMaterial.reflectivityColor = new BABYLON.Color3(0.05, 0.05, 0.05);
waterMaterial.reflectionTexture = new BABYLON.CubeTexture("textures/skybox2", scene);
waterMaterial.reflectionTexture.coordinatesMode = BABYLON.Texture.SKYBOX_MODE;



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