, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 237-258

Sustaining Engineering Codes of Ethics for the Twenty-First Century

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Abstract

How much responsibility ought a professional engineer to have with regard to supporting basic principles of sustainable development? While within the United States, professional engineering societies, as reflected in their codes of ethics, differ in their responses to this question, none of these professional societies has yet to put the engineer’s responsibility toward sustainability on a par with commitments to public safety, health, and welfare. In this paper, we aim to suggest that sustainability should be included in the paramountcy clause because it is a necessary condition to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of the public. Part of our justification rests on the fact that to engineer sustainably means among many things to consider social justice, understood as the fair and equitable distribution of social goods, as a design constraint similar to technical, economic, and environmental constraints. This element of social justice is not explicit in the current paramountcy clause. Our argument rests on demonstrating that social justice in terms of both inter- and intra-generational equity is an important dimension of sustainability (and engineering). We also propose that embracing sustainability in the codes while recognizing the role that social justice plays may elevate the status of the engineer as public intellectual and agent of social good. This shift will then need to be incorporated in how we teach undergraduate engineering students about engineering ethics.