The Ethics Explorer is an interactive tool that was built to help engineering educators navigate the landscape of engineering ethics education. It is the newest resource in the Engineering Ethics Toolkit.

Whether you’re an ethics veteran or brand new to teaching ethics within engineering, the Ethics Explorer allows you to find your own path through what can sometimes seem like a wilderness.

Choose a path depending on what you want to do. Improve your own ethics learning? Plan for ethics learning? Integrate or assess an ethics activity? Each path leads you through content such as learning outcomes, graduate attributes, and accreditation criteria, while also pointing you to supporting activities and resources linked to the content.

The Ethics Explorer replaces the static engineering ethics curriculum map published in 2015, although there is also a printable version available in PDF form, that summarises content from the interactive Explorer.

The content in the Ethics Explorer is subject to changes in context and should be customised to suit the various forms that
an engineering degree can take. It is intended as a non-prescriptive resource – as a way of suggesting to educators how ethics might comprise a distinct theme in an engineering undergraduate degree. This version of the Ethics Explorer is focused on the UK higher education context, but it may be adapted for use in other countries.

The Ethics Explorer is a free to use resource, accessible to all. Start exploring here.

Have you used the Ethics Explorer? Tell us about your experience – what you loved, what is missing, and what could be improved. Fill out our feedback form, or email w.attwell@epc.ac.uk.

 

This post is also available here.

 

Authors: Ahmet Omurtag (Nottingham Trent University); Andrei Dragomir (National University of Singapore / University of Houston).

Topic: Data security of smart technologies.

Engineering disciplines: Electronics; Data; Biomedical engineering.

Ethical issues: Autonomy; Dignity; Privacy; Confidentiality.

Professional situations: Communication; Honesty; Transparency; Informed consent; Misuse of data.

Educational level: Advanced.

Educational aim: Practising Ethical Analysis: engaging in a process by which ethical issues are defined, affected parties and consequences are identified, so that relevant moral principles can be applied to a situation in order to determine possible courses of action.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves Aziza, a biomedical engineer working for Neuraltrix, a hypothetical company that develops Brain-computer interfaces (BCI) for specialised applications. Aziza has always been curious about the brain and enthusiastic about using cutting-edge technologies to help people in their daily lives. Her team has designed a BCI that can measure brain activity non-invasively and, by applying machine learning algorithms, assess the job-related proficiency and expertise level of a person. She is leading the deployment of the new system in hospitals and medical schools, to be used in evaluating candidates being considered for consultant positions. In doing so, and to respond to requests to extend and use the BCI-based system in unforeseen ways, she finds herself compelled to weigh various ethical, legal and professional responsibilities.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher can use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Parts two and three develop and complicate the concepts presented in the Summary and Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

Legal regulations:

Professional organisations:

Philanthropic organisations:

Journal articles:

Educational institutions:

 

Summary:

Brain-computer interfaces (BCIs) detect brain activity and utilise advanced signal analysis to identify features in the data that may be relevant to specific applications. These features might provide information about people’s thoughts and intentions or about their psychological traits or potential disorders, and may be interpreted for various purposes such as for medical diagnosis, for providing real-time feedback, or for interacting with external devices such as a computer. Some current non-invasive BCIs employ unobtrusive electroencephalography headsets or even optical (near-infrared) sensors to detect brain function and can be safe and convenient to use.

Evidence shows that the brains of people with specialised expertise have identifiable functional characteristics. Biomedical technology may translate this knowledge soon into BCIs that can be used for objectively assessing professional skills. Researchers already know that neural signals support features linked to levels of expertise, which may enable the assessment of job applicants or candidates for promotion or certification.

BCI technology would potentially benefit people by improving the match between people and their jobs, and allowing better and more nuanced career support. However, the BCI has access to additional information that may be sensitive or even troubling. For example, it could reveal a person’s health status (such as epilepsy or stroke), or it may suggest psychological traits ranging from unconscious racial bias to psychopathy. Someone sensitive about their privacy may be reluctant to consent to wearing a BCI.

In everyday life, we show what is on our minds through language and behaviour, which are normally under our control, and provide a buffer of privacy. BCIs with direct access to the brain and increasing capability to decode its activity may breach this buffer. Information collected by BCIs could be of interest not only to employers who will decide whether to hire and invest in a new employee, but also to health insurers, advertising agencies, or governments.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Risks of brain activity decoding – Identify the physical, ethical, and social difficulties that could result from the use of devices that have the ability to directly access the brain and decipher some of its psychological content such as thoughts, beliefs, and emotions.

2. Activity: Regulatory oversight – Investigate which organisations and regulatory bodies currently monitor and are responsible for the safe and ethical use of BCIs.

3. Activity: Technical integration – Investigate how BCIs work to translate brain activity into interpretable data.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

After the company, Neuraltrix, deployed their BCI and it had been in use for a year in several hospitals, its lead developer Aziza became part of the customer support team. While remaining proud and supportive of the technology, she had misgivings about some of its unexpected ramifications. She received the following requests from people and institutions for system modifications or for data sharing:

1. A hospital asked Neuraltrix for a technical modification that would allow the HR department to send data to their clinical neurophysiologists for “further analysis,” claiming that this might benefit people by potentially revealing a medical abnormality that might otherwise be missed.

2. An Artificial Intelligence research group partnering with Neuraltrix requested access to the data to improve their signal analysis algorithms.

3. A private health insurance company requested Neuraltrix provide access to the scan of someone who had applied for insurance coverage; they stated that they have a right to examine the scan just as life insurance agencies are allowed to perform health checks on potential customers.

4. An advertising agency asked Neuraltrix for access to their data to use them to fine-tune their customer behavioural prediction algorithms.

5. A government agency demanded access to the data to investigate a suspected case of “radicalisation”.

6. A prosecutor asked for access to the scan of a specific person because she had recently been the defendant in an assault case, where the prosecutor is gathering evidence of potential aggressive tendencies.

7. A defence attorney requested data because they were gathering potentially exonerating evidence, to prove that the defendant’s autonomy had been compromised by their brain states, following a line of argument known as “My brain made me do it.”

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Identify legal issues – Students could research what laws or regulations apply to each case and consider various ways in which Neuraltrix could lawfully meet some of the above requests while rejecting others, and how their responses should be communicated within the company and to the requestor.

2. Activity: Identify ethical issues – Students could reflect on what might be the immediate ethical concerns related to sharing the data as requested.

3. Activity: Discussion or Reflection – Possible prompts:

 

Dilemma – Part two:

The Neuraltrix BCI has an interface which allows users to provide informed consent before being scanned. The biomedical engineer developing the system was informed about a customer complaint which stated that the user had felt pressured to provide consent as the scan was part of a job interview. The complaint also stated that the user had not been aware of the extent of information gleaned from their brains, and that they would not have provided consent had been made aware of it.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Technical analysis – Students might try to determine if it is possible to design the BCI consent system and/or consent process to eliminate the difficulties cited in the complaint. Could the device be designed to automatically detect sensitive psychological content or allow the subject to stop the scan or retroactively erase the recording?

2. Activity: Determine the broader societal impact and the wider ethical context – Students should consider what issues are raised by the widespread availability of brain scans. This could be done in small groups or a larger classroom discussion.

Possible prompts:

 

Dilemma – Part three:

Neuraltrix BCI is about to launch its updated version, which features all data processing and storage moved to the cloud to facilitate interactive and mobile applications. This upgrade attracted investors and a major deal is about to be signed. The board is requesting a fast deployment from the management team and Aziza faces pressure from her managers to run final security checks and go live with the cloud version. During these checks, Aziza discovers a critical security issue which can be exploited once the BCI runs in the cloud, risking breaches in the database and algorithm. Managers believe this can be fixed after launch and request the engineer to start deployment and identify subsequent solutions to fix the security issue.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Students should consider if it is advisable for Aziza to follow requests from managers and the Neuraltrix BCI board and discuss possible consequences, or halt the new version deployment which may put at risk the new investment deal and possibly the future of the company.

2. Activity: Apply an analysis based on “Duty-Ethics” and “Rights Ethics.” This could be done in small groups (who would argue for management position and engineer position, respectively) or a larger classroom discussion. A tabulation approach with detailed pros and cons is recommended.

3. Activity: Apply a similar analysis as above based on the principles of “Act-Utilitarianism” and “Rule-Utilitarianism.”

Possible prompts:

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

 

Authors: Paola Seminara (Edinburgh Napier University); Alasdair Reid (Edinburgh Napier University).

Topic: Sustainable materials  in construction.

Engineering disciplines: Civil engineering; Manufacturing; Construction.

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Respect for the environment; Future generations; Societal impact; Corporate Social Responsibility.

Professional situations: EDI; Communication; Conflicts with leadership/management; Quality of work; Personal/professional reputation.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Practising Ethical Analysis: engaging in a process by which ethical issues are defined, affected parties and consequences are identified, so that relevant moral principles can be applied to a situation in order to determine possible courses of action.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves an early-career consultant engineer working in the area of sustainable construction. She must negotiate between the values that she, her employer, and her client hold in order to balance sustainability goals and profit. The summary involves analysis of personal values and technical issues, and parts one and two bring in further complications that require the engineer to decide how much to compromise her own values.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in the Summary and Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

News articles:

Business:

Journal articles:

Educational institutions:

Citizen engagement organisation:

Professional organisation:

NGOs:

 

Suggested pre-reading:

Learners and teachers might benefit from pre-reading the above resources about EDI and enacting global responsibility, as well as introductory material on construction with mass timber such as information from Transforming Timber or the “How to Build a Wood Skyscraper” video.

 

Summary:

Originally from rural Pakistan, Anika is a construction engineer who has recently finished her postgraduate degree, having been awarded a fully funded scholarship. During her studies, Anika was introduced to innovative projects using mass timber and off-site methods of construction. After completing her studies, she was inspired to start her own consultancy practice in the UK, aiming to promote the use of sustainable materials within the construction industry.

James is the director of a well-established, family-owned architectural firm, originally started by his great-grandfather who was also a prominent societal figure. In the last year, James and his colleagues have sought to develop a sustainability policy for the firm. A key feature of this new policy is a commitment to adopt innovative, sustainable construction solutions wherever possible. James has been contacted by an important client who wants to commission his firm to work on a new residential development.

James first met Anika at university when they were both studying for the same postgraduate degree. Having a high regard for Anika’s capability and professionalism, James contacts Anika to propose working together to develop a proposal for the new residential development.

James hopes that Anika’s involvement will persuade the client to select construction solutions that are aligned with the new sustainability policy adopted by his firm. However, the important client has a reputation for prioritising profit over quality, and openly admits to being sceptical about environmental issues.

Anika schedules a meeting with the client to introduce herself and discuss some initial ideas for the project.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Personal values – What are the different personal values for Anika, James, and the client? How might they conflict with each other?

2. Activity: Professional communication – Elevator pitch activity part 1 – Working in groups of 2-3 and looking at the three different stakeholders’ personal values, each group will create a persuasive pitch of 1 minute used by Anika to convince the client to focus on sustainability.

3. Activity: Technical Analysis – Assemble a bibliography of relevant projects using mass timber and off-site methods of construction, and identify the weaknesses and strengths of these projects in terms of sustainability and long- and short-term costs and benefits.

4. Activity:  Professional communication – Elevator pitch activity part 2 – After conducting your technical analysis, work in groups of 2-3 to revise your elevator pitch and role play the meeting with the client. How should Anika approach the meeting?

 

Dilemma – Part one:

After the first meeting, the client expresses major concerns about Anika’s vision. Firstly, the client states that the initial costings are too high, resulting in a reduced profit margin for the development. Secondly, the client has serious misgivings about the use of mass timber, citing concerns about fire safety and the durability of the material.

Anika is disheartened at the client’s stance, and is also frustrated by James, who has a tendency to contradict and interrupt her during meetings with the client. Anika is also aware that James has met with the client on various occasions without extending the invitation to her, most notably a drinks and dinner reception at a luxury hotel. However, despite her misgivings, Anika knows that being involved in this project will secure the future of her own fledgling consulting company in the short term – and therefore, reluctantly, suspects she will have to make compromises.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Leadership and Communication – Which global responsibilities does Anika face as an engineer? Are those personal or professional responsibilities, or both? How should Anika balance her ethical duties, both personal and professional, and at the same time reach a decision with the client?

2. Activity: Research – Assemble a bibliography of relevant projects where mass timber has been used. How might you design a study to evaluate its structural and environmental credentials? What additional research needs to be conducted in order for more acceptance of this construction method?

3. Activity: Wider impact – Looking at Anika’s idea of using mass timber and off-site methods of construction, students will work in groups of 3-4 to identify the values categories of the following capital models: Natural, Social, Human, Manufactured and Financial.

4. Activity: Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion – Map and analyse qualities and abilities in connection with women and how these can have a positive and negative impact in the construction industry.

5. Discussion: Leadership and Communication – Which are the competitive advantages of women leading sustainable businesses and organisations? Which coping strategy should Anika use for her working relationship with James?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

Despite some initial misgivings, the client has commissioned James and Anika to work on the new residential development. Anika has begun researching where to locally source mass timber products. During her research, Anika discovers a new off-site construction company that uses homegrown mass timber. Anika is excited by this discovery as most timber products are imported from abroad, meaning the environmental impact can be mitigated.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Environmental footprint – Research the Environmental Product Declaration of different construction materials and whole life carbon assessment.

2. Discussion: Is transportation the only benefit of using local resources? Which other values (Natural, Social, Human, Manufactured and Financial) can be maximised with the use of local resources? How should these values be weighted?

3. Discussion: Professional responsibility – How important is Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Construction? How could the use of local biogenic materials and off-site methods of construction be incorporated into a strategic CSR business plan?

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Keywords: Collaboration; Pedagogy.

Who is this article for?: This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate ethics into the engineering and design curriculum or module design.

 

Premise:

Most engineers and engineering educators have experienced or read about a situation that makes them think, “that would make a great case study for students to learn from.” Examples of potential cases can be found in the news, in textbooks, and in the workplace. However, it can be difficult to translate a real world situation into an educational resource. This article sets forth a “recipe” based on recent educational scholarship that can be used to create case studies ideal for classroom use.

 

Case study purpose:

Recipes are created for different reasons – sometimes you want comfort food, sometimes it’s a healthy detox meal, sometimes it’s a stand-out celebratory feast for a special occasion. In a similar way, case studies should be written with a deliberate purpose in mind. To help you consider these, ask yourself:

Next, it’s important to remember that there are different kinds of learning within ethics education. The Ethics Explorer highlights these with its focus on graduate attributes which specify what characteristics and attitudes we hope engineering graduates will develop through this learning. For example, do you want to focus on students’ abilities to identify or identify with an ethical situation? Or do you want them to be able to reason through options or make a judgement? Or is it important for them to learn ethical knowledge such as professional codes or practices? Any of these could be a good focus, but in general, it is useful to write a case study aimed at one particular purpose, otherwise it can become too unwieldy. Plus, case studies that have a specific learning aim can make it easier to devise assessments related to their content. 

 

Case study ingredients:

Just as cooks do when preparing to make a meal, case study writers assemble ingredients. These are the components of a case that can be mixed together in different proportions in order to create the desired result. And, as in cooking, sometimes you should use more or less of an ingredient depending on the effect you want to create or the needs of your audience. But in general, educational scholars agree that these elements are necessary within a case study to promote learner engagement and to achieve the desired educational outcomes. 

1. Setting / Context.  Ethical issues in engineering don’t happen in a vacuum. Often they are exacerbated by the setting and context in which they occur, whether that’s a start-up tech company in London or an aid organisation in Brazil or in a research lab in Singapore. An authentic environment not only makes the case more realistic, but it also can add important extra dimensions to the issues at stake (Valentine et al., 2020). However, to ensure you don’t run afoul of IP or other legal concerns, it can be best to fictionalise company names and invent hypothetical (yet realistic) engineering projects.

2. Characters. Ethics is a fundamentally human concern; therefore it’s important to emphasise the emotional and psychological elements of engineering ethics issues (Walling, 2015; Conlon & Zandervoort, 2011). In real life, every person brings their role, point-of-view, and background to their consideration of ethical dilemmas, so case studies should replicate that. Additionally, aspects like age, gender, and ethnicity can add complexities to situations that replicate the realities of professional life and address issues relevant to EDI. Case studies can help students imagine how they might negotiate these. 

3. Topic. Besides the overarching ethical issue that is related to an engineering discipline, case studies are most effective when they incorporate both macro- and micro-ethical considerations (Rottman & Reeve, 2020). This means that they require students to not only deliberate about a particular scenario (should I program the software to allow for users to see how their data is used?), but also about a wider concern (how should transparency and privacy be negotiated when consenting to share data?). The chosen topic should also be specific enough so that there is opportunity to integrate elements of technical learning alongside the ethical dilemma, and reference broader issues that could relate to ethics instruction more generally (Davis, 2006; Lawlor, 2021). 

4. Cause for Conflict. An ethical dilemma could arise from many kinds of conflict. For instance, an employee could feel pressured to do something unethical by a boss. A professional could believe that a stance by an institution is unjust. A person could experience internal conflict when trying to balance work and family responsibilities. A leader could struggle to challenge the norms of a system or a culture. In simplest terms, ethical dilemmas arise when values conflict: is efficiency more important than quality? Is saving money worth ecological harm? Case studies that highlight particular conflicts can help promote critical thinking (Lennerfors, Fors, & Woodward, 2020).

 

Narrative:

Once the ingredients are assembled, it’s time to write the narrative of the case study. Begin with a simple story of around 250-500 words that sets out the characters, the context, and the topic. Sometimes this is enough to gesture towards some potential ethical issues, and sometimes the conflict can be previewed in this introductory content as well.

Then, elaborate on the conflict by introducing a specific dilemma. You can create an engaging style by including human interests (like emotion or empathy), dialogue, and by avoiding highly technical language. Providing different vantage points on the issue through different characters and motivations helps to add complexity, along with adding more information or multiple decision-making points, or creating a sequel such as justifying the decision to a board of directors or to the public. 

Ultimately, the narrative of the case study should be engaging, challenging, and instructional (Kim et al., 2006). It should provide the opportunity for students to reconsider, revisit, and refine their responses and perspectives (Herreid, 2007). Most of all, it should provide opportunities to employ a range of activities and learning experiences (Herkert, 2000). Your case study will be most effective if you suggest ideas for discussions or activities that can help learners engage with the issues in a variety of ways. 

 

Putting the frosting on the cake:

The community of professionals committed to integrating ethics in engineering education is strong and supportive. Running your ideas by an expert in the topic, a colleague, or a member of our Ethics Ambassadors community can help strengthen your case study. Most of all, discussing the issue with others can help you develop your own confidence in embedding ethics in engineering. The more case studies that we develop from more perspectives, the more diversity we bring to engineering education and practice – we can all learn from each other. We hope you start cooking up your own case study soon!

You can find information on contributing your own resources to the toolkit here.

 

References:

Conlon, E. and Zandvoort, H. (2011). ‘Broadening ethics teaching in engineering: Beyond the individualistic approach’, Science and Engineering Ethics, 17, pp. 217-232.

Davis, M. (2006) ‘Integrating ethics into technical courses: Micro-insertion’, Science and Engineering Ethics, 12, pp. 717-730.

Herkert, J.R. (2000) ‘Engineering ethics education in the USA: Content, pedagogy, and curriculum’, European Journal of Engineering Education 25(4), pp. 303-313.

Herreid, C.F. (2007) Start with a story: The Case study method of teaching college science. Arlington, VA: NSTA Press.

Kim, S. et al. (2006) ‘A conceptual framework for developing teaching cases: A Review and synthesis of the literature across disciplines’, Medical Education 40, pp. 867-876.

Rottman, C. and Reeve, D. (2020) ‘Equity as rebar: Bridging the micro/macro divide in engineering ethics education’, Canadian Journal of Science, Mathematics and Technology Education 20, pp. 146-165. 

Valentine, A. et al. (2020) ‘Building students’ nascent understanding of ethics in engineering practice’, European Journal of Engineering Education 45(6), pp. 957-970.

Walling, O. (2015) ‘Beyond ethical frameworks: Using moral experimentation in the engineering ethics classroom’, Science and Engineering Ethics 21, pp. 1637-1656.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.


Authors:
Cortney Holles (Colorado School of Mines); Ekaterina Rzyankina (University of Cape Town).

Topic: Critical digital literacy.

Engineering disciplines: Computer Science; Information Systems; Biomedical engineering.

Ethical issues: Cultural context; Social responsibility; Privacy.

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Working in area of competence; Informed consent.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Engaging in ethical judgement: reaching moral decisions and providing the rationale for those decisions.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

The case involves an engineering student whose personal choices may affect her future professional experience. It highlights both micro- and macro-ethical issues, dealing with the ways that individual actions and decisions can scale to create systemic challenges.

An ethical and responsible engineer should know how to work with and use digital information responsibly. Not all materials available online are free to use or disperse. To be digitally literate, a person must know how to access, evaluate, utilise, manage, analyse, create, and interact using digital resources (Martin, 2008). It is important to guide engineering students in understanding the media landscape and the influence of misleading information on our learning, our political choices, and our careers. A large part of critical digital literacy is evaluating information found on the web. For students working on a research project or an experiment, accessing accurate information is imperative. This case study offers several approaches to engaging students in the critique and improvement of their critical digital literacy skills. The foundations of this lesson can be applied in multiple settings and can be expanded to cover several class periods or simplified to be inserted into a single class.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in the Summary and Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

News articles:

Educational institutions:

Legal regulations:

Non-profit organisations:

Business:

 

Summary:

Katherine is a biomedical engineering student in her 3rd year in 2022, and will have a placement in a community hospital during her last term at university. She plans to pursue a career in public health after seeing what her country went through during the Covid-19 pandemic. She wants to contribute to the systems that can prevent and track public health risks from growing too large to manage, as happened with Covid-19. She is motivated by improving systems of research and treatment for emerging diseases and knows that communication between a variety of stakeholders is of the utmost importance.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What can you determine about Katherine’s values and motivation for her studies and her choice of career?

2. Discussion: How do you connect with her mission to improve diagnostic and treatment systems for public health threats?

3. Discussion: Who should be responsible for the messaging and processes for public health decisions? How are engineers connected to this system?

4. Activity: Research the Covid-19 vaccine rollout in the United Kingdom versus other countries – how did power, privilege, and politics influence the response?

5. Activity: Research current public health concerns and how they are being communicated to the public. In what ways might engineers affect how and what is communicated?

 

Dilemma – Part one:

As Katherine approaches the winter holiday season, she makes plans to visit her grandmother across the country. She hasn’t seen her since before the Covid-19 pandemic and is excited to be around her extended family for the holidays once again. However, she receives an email from her cousin informing everyone that he and his family are not vaccinated against Covid-19 because the whole vaccination operation was forced upon citizens and they refused to participate. Katherine is immediately worried for her grandmother – at 85 years old, she is at a higher risk than most – and for her brother, who suffers from Addison’s disease, an autoimmune disorder. Additionally, if Katherine comes into contact with Covid-19 while celebrating the holidays with her family, she could suffer repercussions at both her university and the hospital where she will work for her placement.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: How can Katherine communicate with her cousin about her concerns for her brother and grandmother? How might she use her expertise as a biomedical engineer in this conversation?

2. Discussion: What kind of information will be most convincing to support her decision? What sources would provide the evidence she is looking for, and which ones would provide counter arguments?

3. Discussion: What impacts might the decision have on Katherine’s position as a student or in the hospital?

4. Discussion: Do engineers, scientists, and medical professionals have more of an obligation to promote and adhere to public health guidance? Why or why not?

5. Activity: Talk to people in your life about their experience of navigating the Covid-19 vaccine. Did they choose to get it as soon as it was available? Did they avoid getting the vaccine for particular reasons? Were there impacts on their personal relationships or work because of their choices about the vaccine?

6. Activity: Research some of the impacts on individuals with health concerns and comorbidities in regard to Covid-19 and other viruses or public health concerns. How do these experiences match with or differ from your own?

7. Activity: Investigate the different ways that engineers were involved in vaccination development and response.    

 

Dilemma – Part two:

Katherine went back to university after a lengthy break for the holidays and immediately registered for an account on Facebook as a brand-new user. She was in such a hurry to have her profile up that she did not take the time to configure any privacy settings. She stayed up late reading an article about Covid-19  that had been posted on the website of one of the online newspapers. Before she posted this report on her own Facebook page, she did not verify the accuracy of the information or the source of the information.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What kind of impact might this social media activity have on Katherine’s position as a student or in the company/organisation/hospital she is working for as an intern? What should Katherine be worried or concerned about after posting information?

2. Discussion: Do social media companies collect or ask for any other non-essential information from you? Why does the website claim that they are collecting or asking for your information? Does the website share/sell/trade the information that they collect from you? With whom does the website share your collected information? How long does the website keep your collected information? Does the website delete your information, or simply de-personalise it?

3. Discussion: Regarding question 2, how are engineers involved with products, processes, or services that enable those choices and actions?

4. Discussion: What is real and fake news? How do you know? What do you look for to know if it is real or fake news (share guidelines)? Do you expect it to be easy to spot fake news? Why should we care if people distribute and believe fake news?

Students are particularly susceptible to being duped by propaganda, misleading information, and fake news due to the significant role that information and communication technology which is problematic to verify plays in their everyday life. Students devote a significant portion of their time to participating in various forms of online activity, including watching television, playing online games, chatting, blogging, listening to music, posting photos of themselves on social networking sites, and searching for other individuals with whom they can engage in online conversation. Students owe a significant portion of what they know about the world and how they perceive reality to the content that they read online. While many people share reliable and positive information online, others may engage in negative impact information sharing:

5. Discussion: What are some other examples of how engineering might fall prey to negative impact information sharing?

6. Discussion: How might engineers help address the problem of fake news and negative impact information sharing?

 

References:

Martin, A. (2008). ‘Digital Literacy and the “Digital Society”’, in Lankshear C. and Knobel M. (eds.), Digital Literacies: Concepts, Policies, and Practices. New York: Peter Lang,  (pp. 151-176).

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Onyekachi Nwafor (KatexPower).

Topic: A country-wide energy transition plan.

Engineering disciplines: Energy; Electrical.

Ethical issues:  Sustainability; Social responsibility; Risk.

Professional situations: Public health and safety,

Educational level: Beginner.

Educational aim: Engaging in Ethical Judgement: reaching moral decisions and providing the rationale for those decisions.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

At COP26, H.E. President Muhammadu Buhari announced Nigeria’s commitment to carbon neutrality by 2050. This case involves an engineer who is one of the stakeholders invited by the president of Nigeria to implement an Energy Transition Plan (ETP). It requires the engineer, who is a professional and well experienced in renewable energy and energy transition, to deliver a comprehensive decarbonisation roadmap that will ensure net zero emissions.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

UK website:

Think tank:

Nigeria government site:

Industry publication:

Business:

 

Dilemma – Part one:

You are an electrical engineer working as a technical consultant in an international organisation aiming to  transform the global energy system to secure a clean, prosperous, zero-carbon future for all. The organisation is one of the stakeholders invited by the federal government of Nigeria to implement the country’s new Energy Transition Plan (ETP) and you are given the task of creating a comprehensive decarbonisation roadmap and presenting it at the stakeholder meeting.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: In what ways could an electrical engineer bring needed expertise to the ETP? Why are engineers essential to ensuring a zero-carbon future? Should engineers be involved in policy planning? Why or why not?

2. Activity: Wider context research: Nigeria is currently an oil-producing country. What might policy makers need to consider about this reality when implementing an ETP? How strongly should you advocate for a reduction of the use of fossil fuels in the energy mix?

3. Discussion and activity: List the potential benefits and risks to implementing the ETP. Are these benefits and risks the same no matter which country they are implemented in?

4. Activity: Research and outline countries that have attained a zero emission target. What are their energy distribution mixes? Based on this information, what approach should Nigeria take and why?

5. Activity: What will be your presentation strategy at the stakeholder meeting? What will you advocate for and why? What ethical justifications can you make for the plan you propose?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

At the stakeholder meeting, you were given the opportunity to present your decarbonisation roadmap and afterwards faced serious opposition by the chief lobbyist of the Fossil Fuel and Mining Association, Mr. Abiola. Mr. Abiola is of the opinion that because Nigeria contributes less than 1% to the global emissions, it should not be held accountable for climate change, and therefore no country-wide climate policy is necessary. Furthermore, he fears the domestic market for coal that is used to produce electricity as well as the global market for fossil fuels will shrink because of the new policy. He also argues that a shift away from coal and fossil fuels could result in challenges to the security of supply, since renewables are by definition unreliable and volatile. Other stakeholders, such as activists and environmental experts, also voiced different concerns and opinions. They argue that time has already run out, and no country can delay decarbonisation plans no matter how small their impact on the global total. This conflict has resulted in disagreements in the negotiation.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Debate: Do different countries have different ethical responsibilities when it comes to decarbonisation? Why or why not? If so, for what reasons?

2. Discussion: How should countries weigh the short-term versus long-term benefits and burdens of the energy transition? What role do governments and corporations play in managing those? What role should citizens play?

3. Discussion: How will you prepare for and handle opposing questions to your roadmap plan? 

4. Activity: Create a participatory stakeholder engagement plan embedded in the overall decarbonisation strategy.

5. Activity: How will you utilise the different renewable energy mix to provide 100% access to electricity and ensure security of supply as an electrical engineer?

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Dr. Natalie Wint (UCL). 

Topic: Responsibility for micro- and nano-plastics in the environment and human bodies.  

Engineering disciplines: Chemical Engineering; Environmental Engineering; Materials Engineering; Mechanical Engineering. 

Ethical issues: Corporate social responsibility; Power; Safety; Respect for the Environment. 

Professional situations: Whistleblowing; Company growth; Communication; Public health and safety. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

Educational aim: Becoming Ethically Sensitive: being broadly cognizant of ethical issues and having the ability to see how these issues might affect others. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study involves a young engineering student on an industrial placement year at a firm that manufactures cosmetics. The student has been working hard to impress the company as they are aware that this may lead to them being offered a job upon graduation. They are involved in a big project that focuses on alternative, more environmentally friendly cosmetic chemistries. When they notice a potential problem with the new formulation, they must balance their commitment towards environmental sustainability with their desire to work for the company upon graduation.  

This dilemma can be addressed from a micro-ethics point of view by analysing personal ethics, intrinsic motivations and moral values. It can also be analysed from a macro-ethics point of view, by considering corporate responsibility and intergenerational justice. The dilemma can also be framed to emphasise global responsibility and environmental justice whereby the engineers consider the implications of their decisions on global communities and future generations.  

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The dilemma in this case is presented in two parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:   

Teachers have the opportunity to:    

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

EU agencies: 

Industry publications: 

EU law: 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

Microplastics are solid plastic particles composed of mixtures of polymers and functional additives; they also contain residual impurities. Microplastics generally fall into two groups: those that are unintentionally formed as a result of the wear and tear of larger pieces of plastic, and those that are deliberately manufacturedand added to products for specific purposes (primary microplastics). Microplastics are intentionally added to a range of products including cosmetics, in which they act as abrasives and can control the thickness, appearance, and stability of a product.  

Legislation pertaining to the use of microplastics varies worldwide and several loopholes in the regulations have been identified. Whilst many multinational companies have fought the introduction of such regulations, other stakeholders have urged for the use of the precautionary principle, suggesting that all synthetic polymers should be regulated in order to prevent significant damage to both the environment and human health. 

Recently, several changes to the regulation of microplastics have been proposed within Europe. One that affects the cosmetics industry particularly concerns the intentional addition of microplastics to cosmetics. Manufacturers, especially those who export their products, have therefore been working to change their products. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:  

1. Discussion: Professional values – What ethical principles and codes of conduct are applicable to the use of microplastics? Should these change or be applied differently when the microplastics are used in products that may be swallowed or absorbed through the eyes or skin?

2. Activity: Research some of the current legislation in place surrounding the use of microplastics. Focus on the strengths and limitations of such legislation.  

3. Activity: Technical integration – Research the potential health and environmental concerns surrounding microplastics. Investigate alternative materials and/or technological solutions to the microplastic ‘problem’.  

4. Discussion: Familiarise yourself with the precautionary principle. What are the advantages and disadvantages of applying the precautionary principle in this situation?  

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

Alex is a young engineering student on an industrial placement year at a firm that manufactures cosmetics. The company has been commended for their sustainable approach and Alex is really excited to have been offered a role that involves work aligned with their passion. They are working hard to impress the company as they are aware that this may lead to them being offered a job upon graduation.  

Alex is involved in a big project that focuses on alternative, more environmentally friendly cosmetic chemistries. Whilst working in the formulation laboratory, they notice that some of the old filler material has been left near the preparation area. The container is not securely fastened, and residue is visible in the surrounding area. The filler contains microplastics and has recently been taken out of products. However, it is still in stock so that it could be used for comparative testing, during which the performance of traditional, microplastic containing formulations are compared to newly developed formulations. It is unusual for the old filler material to be used outside of the testing laboratory and Alex becomes concerned about the possibility that the microplastics have been added to a batch of the new product that had been made the previous day. They raise the issue to their supervisor, asking whether the new batch should be quarantined.  

“We wouldn’t ever hold such a large, lucrative order based on an uncertainty like that,” the supervisor replies, claiming that even if there was contamination it wasn’t intentional and would therefore not be covered by the legislation. “Besides, most of our products go to countries where the rules are different.” 

Alex mentions the health and environmental issues associated with microplastics, and the reputation the company has with customers for being ethical and sustainable. They suggest that they bring the issue up with the waste and environmental team who have expertise in this area.  

Their supervisor replies: “Everyone knows that the real issue is the microplastics that are formed from disintegration of larger plastics. Bringing up this issue is only going to raise questions about your competence.”  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Personal values – What competing personal values or motivations might trigger an internal conflict for Alex? 

2. Activity: Research intergenerational justice and environmental justice. How do they relate to this case? 

3. Activity: Identify all potential stakeholders and their values, motivations, and responsibilities. 

4. Discussion: Consider both the legislation in place and the RAEng/Engineering Council Ethical Principles. What should Alex do according to each of these? Is the answer the same for both? If not, which set of guidance is more important? 

5. Discussion: How do you think the issue of microplastics should be controlled? 

6. Activity: Alex and their boss are focused on primary microplastics. Consider the lifecycle of bulk plastics and the various stakeholders involved. Who should be responsible for the microplastics generated during the disintegration of plastic products?

7. Discussion: What options for action does Alex have available to them? What are the advantages and disadvantages of each approach? What would you do if you were Alex? 

8. Activity: Technical integration related to calculations or experiments on microplastics. 

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.


Author:
Dr Gill Lacey (Teesside University).

Topic: Maintenance of an offshore wind farm.

Engineering disciplines: Mechanical; Energy.

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Risk.

Professional Situations: Public health and safety; Quality of work; Conflicts with leadership/management.

Educational level: Beginner.

Educational aim: Becoming Ethically Aware: determining that a single situation can be considered from a ethical point of view.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

The case is based on a genuine challenge raised by a multinational energy company that operates an offshore wind farm in the North Sea. It involves three professional engineers responsible for various aspects of the project to negotiate elements of safety, risk, environmental impact, and costs, in order to develop a maintenance plan for the wind turbine blades.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

This case is presented in two parts. In the first part, the perspectives and responsibilities of the three engineers are outlined so that students can determine what professional and ethical responsibilities are inherent in their roles. In the second part, a scenario is developed that puts the roles into potential conflict. Students then have the opportunity to work through a real-world brief that requires them to negotiate in order to present a solution to management. Teachers can choose to use Part one in isolation, or some or all of Part two to expand on the issues in the case. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities, as desired.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

Professional organisations:

Business:

Journal articles:

 

Dilemma – Part one:

Offshore wind has huge benefits to the electricity industry as a renewable, low carbon resource.  The size and scale of the turbines, together with the remoteness – the wind farm referred to in this case is 200 km from shore – are a problem. However, it is a rapidly maturing industry and many of the issues around accessibility during installation have been solved. A wind farm is expected to generate for twenty years and so a system of inspection and maintenance needs to be put in place. At the same time, the environmental impact of industrial activity (including ongoing maintenance and repairs) needs to be managed in order to mitigate risks to ecosystem resources and services provided by the open sea.

In this wind farm there are one hundred turbines, each with three blades. The blades are 108 m long. Clearly, they need to be kept in good condition. However, inspecting the blades is a difficult and time consuming job.

There are three engineers that are responsible for various aspects of maintenance of the wind turbine blades. They are:

1. Blade engineer: My job is to make sure the blades are in good condition so that the wind farm operates as it was designed and generates as much power as possible. I am responsible for:

2. Health and safety engineer: My job is to make sure that the technicians who inspect and maintain the turbine blades are at minimal risk. I need to ensure compliance with:

3. Environmental engineer: My job is to ensure that the ecosystem is damaged as little as possible during turbine inspection and maintenance, and to rectify as best as possible any adverse effects that are incurred. After all, wind power is considered to be “green” energy and so wind farms should do as little damage to the environment as possible. This work helps:

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What sort of instances might cause damage to the turbine blades? (Possible answers: bird strike, collision with a vessel, storm, ice etc.)

2. Discussion: What problems might a damaged blade cause? (Possible answers: a damaged blade cannot generate properly; it might unbalance the other two blades until the whole turbine is affected. If a blade were to come loose it could strike another turbine blade, a vessel, sea creatures etc.)

3. Activity: Research how blade inspection is done. (Answer: a combination of photos from drones and reports from crew who need to use rope access to take a close look.)

a. If a drone is used, what issues might the drone have? (Answers: needs to be operated from a nearby vessel; weather (wind!); getting good resolution photos from a vibrating and moving drone; energy (battery) to power the drone.)

b. If a technician goes onsite, what issues are there with rope access? (Answers: time consuming; dangerous; can only be done in good weather; have to stop the turbine to access; training the inspection team; recording the findings.)

4. Discussion: What competing values or motivations might conflict in this scenario? Explain what constraints each engineer might be operating under and the potential conflicts between the roles.

5. Activity: Research what health and safety, environmental, and legal policies affect offshore wind farms. If they are in the open sea, which country’s laws are applied? Who is responsible for maintaining ecosystem health in the open sea? How are harms identified and mitigated?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

So, the blade engineer wants maintenance done effectively, with as little down time as possible; the H&S engineer wants it done safely, with as little danger to crew as possible; while the environmental engineer wants it done with as little damage to the ecosystem as possible. These three people must together develop an inspection plan that will be approved by upper management, who are largely driven by profitability – limited downtime in maintenance means increased profits as well as more energy delivered to customers.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

The students are then presented with a brief that gives some background to the wind farms and the existing inspection regime. The brief is structured to allow engineering design, engineering drawing and technical research to take place alongside consideration of potential ethical dilemmas.

Brief: In teams of three, where each team member is assigned a different role outlined above (blade engineer, health and safety engineer, environmental engineer), propose a feasible method for blade inspection that:

Aspects to consider:

Teachers could task teams to work together to:

The pitch could include details of:

 

1. Activity: Working in groups, consider possible solutions:

a. Explore 2 or 3 alternatives to answer the need or problem, identifying the ethical concerns in each.

b. Analyse the alternative solutions to identify potential benefits, risks, costs, etc.

c. Justify the proposed solution.

 (Apart from the design process, this activity allows some discussion over the choice of solution. Looking at more than one allows the quieter students to speak out and justify their thinking.)

2. Activity: Working in groups, present a solution that consists of one or more of the following:

a. Make a CAD or drawn prototype.

b. Make a physical or 3D model.

c. Create a poster detailing the solution which could include technical drawings.

d. Presentation.

 

Students will be assessed according to:

a. Quality of final solution

b. Construction and testing of model

c. Innovation and originality

d. Communication skills

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Dr Irene Josa (University College London). The author would like to acknowledge Colin Church (IOM3) who provided valuable feedback during the development of this case.

Topic: Materials sourcing and circularity.

Engineering disciplines: Materials engineering; Manufacturing; Environmental engineering; Construction.

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Risk.

Professional situations: Conflicts of interest; Public health and safety; Legal implications; Whistleblowing; Power; Corporate social responsibility.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Gaining ethical knowledge. Knowing the sets of rules, theories, concepts, frameworks, and statements of duty, rights, or obligations that inform ethical attitudes, behaviours, and practices.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves an engineer responsible for verifying the source of recycled construction material to ensure it is not contaminated. The case is presented in three parts. Part one focuses on the environmental, professional, and social contexts and may be used in isolation to allow students to explore both micro-ethical and macro-ethical concerns. Parts two and three bring in a dilemma about public information and communication and allows students to consider their positions and potential responses. The case allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and / or activities as desired.

This case study addresses two of AHEP 4’s themes: The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37.

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

NGOs:

Government site:

Business:

Journal articles:

Professional organisations:

 

Dilemma – Part one:

Charlie is a junior environmental engineer who started working at Circle Mat after graduating. Circle Mat is a construction products company that takes pride in using recycled materials from waste in their products, such as mortars and concretes. In fact, Circle Mat was recently nominated by the National Sustainability Association in the prize for the most innovative and sustainable production chains.

Charlie’s role is to ensure that the quality standards of the recycled waste used in the products are met. She is sent a report every two weeks from the factories receiving the waste and she checks the properties of this waste. While she is also supposed to visit all the factories once a month, her direct supervisor, Sam, advised her to visit only those factories where data shows that there are problems with the quality. While it is Charlie’s responsibility to verify the quality and to create the factory visit plan, she trusts her line manager as to how best approach her work.

Among all the factories with which they are working, the factory in Barretton has always had the highest quality standards, and since it is very far from where Charlie is based, she has postponed for months her visit to that factory.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Charlie is responsible for checking the quality from the data she receives, but what about the quality/reliability of the data? Where does her responsibility begin and end? What ethical guidance, codes, or frameworks can help her decide?

2. Activity: Research the issue of asbestos, including current science, potential risks, and legal implications.

3. Discussion: Macroethical context – What is circularity, and how does it relate to climate goals or environmental practice?

  

Dilemma: Part two:

After several months, she finally goes to the town where the factory is located. Before getting to the factory, she stops for a coffee at the town’s café. There, she enquires of the waiter about the impacts of the factory on the town. The waiter expresses his satisfaction and explains that since Circle Mat started operations there, the town has become much more prosperous.

When Charlie reaches the factory, she notices a pile of waste that, she assumes, is the one that is being used as recycled aggregate in concrete. Having a closer look, she sees that it is waste from demolition of a building, with some insulation walls, concrete slabs and old pipes. At that moment, the head of the factory arrives and kindly shows Charlie around.

At the end of the visit, Charlie asks about the pile, and the head says that it is indeed demolition waste from an old industrial building. By the description, Charlie remembers that there are some buildings in the region that still contain asbestos, so asks whether the demolition material could potentially have asbestos. To Charlie’s surprise, the head reacts aggressively and says that the visit is over.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Use an environmental and social Life Cycle Assessment tool to assess the environmental and social impacts that the decision that Charlie makes might have.

2. Discussion: Map possible courses of action regarding the approach that Charlie could adopt when the factory head tries to shut down the visit. Discuss which is the best approach and why. Some starting questions would be: What should Charlie do? What feels wrong about this situation?

3. Discussion: if she reports her suspicions to her manager, what data or evidence can she present? Should she say anything at all at this point?

 

Dilemma – Part three:

In the end, Charlie decides not to mention anything, and after writing her report she leaves Barretton. A few days later, Circle Mat is announced to be the winner of the prize by the National Sustainability Association. Circle Mat organises a celebration event to be carried out in Barretton. During the event, Charlie discovers that Circle Mat’s CEO is a relative of the mayor of Barretton.

She is not sure if there really is asbestos in the waste, and also she does not know if other factories might be behaving in the same way. Nonetheless, other junior engineers are responsible for the other factories, so she doesn’t have access to the information.

Some days after the event, she receives a call from a journalist who says that they have discovered that the company is using waste from buildings that contain asbestos. The journalist is preparing an article to uncover the secret and wants to interview her. They ensure that, if she wants, her identity will be kept anonymous. They also mention that, if she refuses to participate, they will collect information from other sources in the company.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Technical integration related to measuring contaminants in waste products used for construction materials.

2. Discussion: What ethical issues can be identified in this scenario? Check how ethical principles of the construction sector inform the ethical issues that may be present, and the solutions that might be possible.

3. Discussion: What interpersonal and workplace dynamics might affect the approach taken to resolve this situation? 

4. Discussion: Would you and could you take the interview with the journalist? Should Charlie? Why or why not?

5. Activity: In the case of deciding to take the interview, prepare the notes you would take to the interview.

 

This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.

Any views, thoughts, and opinions expressed herein are solely that of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views, opinions, policies, or position of the Engineering Professors’ Council or the Toolkit sponsors and supporters.

Author: Peter Beattie (Ultra Group). 

Topic: Dealing with contracts or subcontracts with potential slave or forced labour. 

Engineering disciplines: Manufacturing; Engineering business. 

Ethical issues: Social responsibility; Human rights; Risk. 

Professional situations: Legal implications; Company/organisational reputation; Conflicts with leadership/management. 

Educational level: Beginner. 

Educational aim: Practising Ethical Reasoning: the application of critical analysis to specific events in order to evaluate and respond to problems in a fair and responsible way. 

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study puts students in the shoes of an engineer who is required to select a subcontractor to manufacture systems and parts. There are stipulations around who can be selected, among which are legal and ethical concerns around  suspicions of slavery or forced labour. The engineer must navigate communication with both their supervisors and their potential subcontractor, and ultimately justify their decision.  

This case study addresses two of the themes from the Accreditation of Higher Education Programmes fourth edition (AHEP4): The Engineer and Society (acknowledging that engineering activity can have a significant societal impact) and Engineering Practice (the practical application of engineering concepts, tools and professional skills). To map this case study to AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP 4 here and navigate to pages 30-31 and 35-37. 

The case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher could use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Parts two and three enable additional professional situations to be brought into consideration. The case study allows teachers the option to stop at multiple points for questions and/or activities as desired.  

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

Government sites: 

Global development institutions: 

NGOs: 

Educational institutions: 

 

Summary: 

Autonomous Vehicle Corporation (AVC) has recently been awarded a contract to provide a bespoke design unmanned air vehicle to India. AVC is a UK certified B Corp that prides itself on maintaining the highest standards of social and environmental performance, transparency, and accountability. 

A stipulation of the newly awarded contract is that at least 30% of the contract value is spent on the manufacture of sub-systems and parts from subcontractors based in India. AVC is responsible for identifying and contracting these suppliers. 

After many years working as a Systems Engineer for AVC, you have been selected as the Lead Engineer for the project, responsible for the selection of the Indian suppliers. You are aware from your initial research of reports regarding slave and forced labour in the region’s manufacturing industry and are concerned that this situation might affect the project and the company. Additionally, you would personally feel uncomfortable knowing that you might contract a supplier who engaged in those practices. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: To consider how AVC might be impacted from engaging a supplier that utilises slave or forced labour, chart out the viewpoints of different stakeholders, such as customers, investors, other suppliers, communities, and employees. 

2. Discussion: Are there other factors besides ethical considerations that may influence your selection of supplier? What are these?  

3. Discussion: How would you weigh the importance of ethical considerations, such as the use of slave or forced labour, against the other factors identified in the previous question? What information or resources might you use in guiding your weighting of these considerations? 

4. Activity: Contrast the UK Engineering Council’s code of ethics with the Engineering Council of India’s Code of Ethics. How do the two differ? Which code should you be primarily guided by in this situation? Why? How might cultural expectations and norms influence what is seen as ethical?  

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

One supplier you are considering is Quality Electronics Manufacturing Pvt. Ltd. (QEM), a company based outside Naya Raipur in one of India’s poorest provinces. During a video call, QEM’s managing director assures you that they comply with a strict code of ethics and conduct all recruitment through a carefully selected list of brokers and agencies. He tells you that QEM sources raw materials from around the world, and none of their suppliers have ever been convicted of any offences relating to slavery. He invites you to tour their factory when you are in the country next month and will personally escort you to answer any questions you may have. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Does anything you have heard give you cause for concern regarding the risk of slave or forced labour at QEM in particular? Research this issue from the perspective of various sources, such as investigative journalism, academic papers, government reports, and industry publications. Do their conclusions align or differ in any significant ways? Are there any gaps in knowledge that these sources haven’t adequately covered?  

2. Discussion: QEM mentions that they source raw materials from around the world. The reality of modern supply chains is that they often involve multiple complex layers of subcontractors. Does AVC have an ethical duty to consider the whole supply chain? Would this be the same if AVC were further down the supply chain? If AVC were further down the supply chain, would they have to consider the upstream elements of the supply chain? What are the business implications of considering an entire supply chain? 

3. Activity: List possible contextual risk factors and potential indicators of slave and forced labour. Which are present in the case of QEM? 

4. Activity and discussion: Create a set of questions you wish to answer during your visit to QEM to help assess the risk that they are engaged in the use of slave or forced labour. How will you get this information? Who will you need to talk to? What evidence would you expect to see and collect? To practise business communication, students could draft a memo to their supervisor explaining the situation and outlining their proposed course of action.  

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

During your visit to QEM’s factory, you meet with workers at all levels and you review QEM’s policies and procedures. You identify some potential risk factors that could indicate QEM is using forced labour in its workforce. You raise this with QEM’s managing director, but he responds indignantly, “QEM creates good jobs for our workers and without us they would not be able to feed their families. Your contract would allow us to sustain those jobs and create many more for the local community.” 

You know that QEM is the lowest cost supplier for the work you want them to undertake, and you are under pressure to keep budgets down. You have no conclusive evidence that QEM uses forced labour. You also know that the alternative suppliers you could use are all based in regions with high employment, which means the risk of not being able to staff your work (resulting in schedule delays) is high.  

Upon your return to the UK, your project manager calls you into her office and tells you she needs your decision on whether to utilise QEM by the end of the week. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Conduct a risk analysis that identifies what might be the impact of not using QEM and what might be the impact of using QEM. 

2. Debate: Do you use QEM as one of your suppliers? Why, or why not? You may wish to consider your answer using the lens of uncertainty and risk. 

3. Discussion: What actions could you put in place with QEM to reduce the incidence/risk of slave or forced labour in its workforce? Which of these would you recommend, and which would you require, QEM to implement as part of contracting with them? How would you enforce them, and what evidence of them being successfully implemented would you need? 

 

Dilemma – Part three – Postscript:

If you chose to use QEM: It is now two years after you subcontracted QEM. An investigation by an NGO has uncovered the rampant use of slave and forced labour within the global electronics manufacturing industry by companies with B-Corp status. AVC is named as one of the perpetrators, and a story about workers at QEM is scheduled to run in a leading tabloid newspaper tomorrow morning. AVC has called an emergency press conference to give its side of the story.  

If you chose not to use QEM: The following week, your project manager calls you into her office again. She tells you that she has just stepped out of a meeting with the board, and they are deeply concerned about spiralling costs on your project. In particular, they are concerned that you rejected QEM’s proposal in favour of another supplier who is more than twice as expensive. You have been asked to present your reasoning to the board when they reconvene shortly.  

 

Optional STOP for activity:

1. Roleplay either the press conference or the board meeting and defend your decision. 

 

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