Code of Ethics and Sustainability

The ASCE Code of Ethics, Canon 1 states :

Engineers shall hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public and shall strive to comply with the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their professional duties.

Point f under this Canon states:

Engineers should be committed to improving the environment by adherence to the principles of sustainable development so as to enhance the quality of life of the general public.  

A classical definition of “sustainable development” is the Brundtland commission of 1987:

“Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”

It is an interesting to ask what is the obligation of a civil engineering professional who seeks to uphold Canon 1 and clause f given the definition.  I ask a number of rhetorical questions:

  • Is it unethical to accept a job in which there is an inordinate consumption of non-renewable resources when alternatives (perhaps in the short term more costly) are available?
  • Is there an affirmative ethical obligation to do a life cycle assessment of a project to determine what alternative(s) most closely meets the Brundtland definitions as operationalized? This may require excluding others (even requiring going beyond narrow requirements under particular RFQ’s or RFP’s of clients — making the problem bigger).
  • Do engineers have an affirmative obligation under Canon 1d (“Engineers who have knowledge or reason to believe that another person or firm may be in violation of any of the provisions of Canon 1 shall present such information to the proper authority in writing and shall cooperate with the proper authority in furnishing such further information or assistance as may be required.“) to report others who may not be considering the principles of sustainable development in the performance of their duties?

Musings on Resiliency of Cities – More than Just Recovery to Ex Ante

I have just gotten back to the office after a day and a half conference on cities.  One topic discussed was resiliency.  A graphic used was similar to the one below:

NewImage

(Source: https://www.e-education.psu.edu/geog030/node/327)

The concept is that given a shock — a natural or manmade disaster, resilience is a property wherein the ex ante state can be re-attained.

 

But I have started to wonder whether we should explicitly acknowledge that in fact this type of resilience is settling for second best.  Perhaps a highly surpra-resilient system can take advantage of a shock to recover to an even better ex-post state. 

Perhaps the concept of chemical activation energy is more apt.

NewImage

(Source: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Transition_state_theory)

In this figure a low energy is considered more favorable.  But it is only the shock of a disruption that permits the system to attain a more favorable (lower energy) state due to the barrier.

So by looking merely to return to ex ante conditions, we are ignoring opportunities for improvement (e.g., more sustainability, more equity, etc.).

Thoughts?