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. 

 

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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 J.L. Rowlandson (University of Bristol).

Topic: Home heating in the energy transition. 

Engineering disciplines: Chemical; Civil; Mechanical; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Social responsibility. 

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Conflicts of interest; Quality of work; Conflicts with leadership/management; Legal implication. 

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 considers not only the environmental impacts of a clean technology (the heat pump) but also the social and economic impacts on the end user. Heat pumps form an important part of the UK government’s net-zero plan. Our technical knowledge of heat pump performance can be combined with the practical aspects of implementing and using this technology. However, students need to weigh the potential carbon savings against the potential economic impact on the end user, and consider whether current policy incentivises consumers to move towards clean heating technologies.  

This case study offers students an opportunity to practise and improve their skills in making estimates and assumptions. It also enables students to learn and practise the fundamentals of energy pricing and link this to the increasing issue of fuel poverty. Fundamental thermodynamics concepts, such as the second law, can also be integrated into this study.  

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 dilemma in this case is presented in six parts. If desired, a teacher can use the Summary and Part one in isolation, but Parts two to six develop and complicate the concepts presented in the Summary and Part one to provide for additional learning. 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: 

Open access textbooks: 

Journal articles: 

Educational institutions: 

Business: 

Government reports: 

Other organisations: 

Stakeholder mapping: 

 

Summary – Heating systems and building requirements: 

You are an engineering consultant working for a commercial heat pump company. The company handles both the manufacture and installation of heat pumps. You have been called in by a county council to advise and support a project to decarbonise both new and existing housing stock. This includes changes to social housing (either directly under the remit of the council or by working in partnership with a local housing association) and also to private housing, encouraging homeowners and landlords to move towards net zero emissions. In particular, the council is interested in the installation of clean heating technologies with a focus on heat pumps, which it views as the most technologically-ready solution. Currently most heating systems rely on burning natural gas in a boiler to provide heat. By contrast, a heat-pump is a device that uses electricity to extract heat from the air or ground and transfer it to the home, avoiding direct emission of carbon dioxide.  

The council sets your first task of the project as assessing the feasibility of replacing the existing gas boiler systems with heat pumps in social housing. You are aware that there are multiple stakeholders involved in this process you need to consider, in addition to evaluating the suitability of the housing stock for heat pump installation.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Why might the council have prioritised retrofitting the social housing stock with heat pumps as the first task of the project? How might business and ethical concerns affect this decision?  

2. Activity: Use stakeholder mapping to determine who are the main stakeholders in this project and what are their main priorities? In which areas will these stakeholders have agreements or disagreements? What might their values be, and how do those inform priorities?  

3. Discussion: What key information about the property is important for choosing a heating system? What does the word feasibility mean and how would you define it for this project? 

4. Activity: Research the Energy Performance Certificate (EPC):  what are the main factors that determine the energy performance of a building?  

5. Discussion: What do you consider to be an ‘acceptable’ EPC rating? Is the EPC rating a suitable measure of energy efficiency? Who should decide, and how should the rating be determined?  

 

Technical pre-reading for Part one: 

It is useful to introduce the thermodynamic principles on which heat pumps operate in order to better understand the advantages and limitations when applying this engineering technology in a real-world situation. A heat pump receives heat (from the air, ground, or water) and work (in the form of electricity to a compressor) and then outputs the heat to a hot reservoir (the building you are heating). We recommend covering: 

An online, open-source textbook that covers both topics is Applications of Thermodynamics – Heat Pumps & Refrigerators. 

 

Dilemma – Part one – Considering heat pump suitability: 

You have determined who the main stakeholders are and how to define the project feasibility. A previous investigation commissioned by the council into the existing housing stock, and one of the key drivers for them to initiate this project, has led them to believe that most properties will not require significant retrofitting to make them suitable for heat pump installation.  

 

Optional STOP for question and activities: 

1. Activity: Research how a conventional gas boiler central heating system works. How does a heat pump heating system differ? What heat pump technologies are available? What are the design considerations for installing a heat pump in an existing building? 

 

Dilemma – Part two – Inconsistencies: 

You spot some inconsistencies in the original investigation that appear to have been overlooked. On your own initiative, you decide to perform a more thorough investigation into the existing housing stock within the local authority. Your findings show that most of the dwellings were built before 1980 and less than half have an EPC rating of C or higher. The poor energy efficiency of the existing housing stock causes a potential conflict of interest for you: there are a significant number of properties that would require additional retrofitting to ensure they are suitable for heat pump installation. Revealing this information to the council at this early stage could cause them to pull out of the project entirely, causing your company to lose a significant client. You present these findings to your line manager who wants to suppress this information until the company has a formal contract in place with the council.  

 

Optional STOP for question and activities: 

1. Discussion: How should you respond to your line manager? Is there anyone else you can go to for advice? Do you have an obligation to reveal this information to your client (the council) when it is they who overlooked information and misinterpreted the original study? 

2. Activity: An example of a factor that causes a poor EPC rating is how quickly the property loses heat. A common method for significantly reducing heat loss in a home is to improve the insulation. Estimate the annual running cost of using an air-source heat pump in a poorly-insulated versus a well-insulated home to look at the potential financial impact for the tenant (example approach shown in the Appendix, Task A). 

3. Discussion: What recommendations would you make to the council to ensure the housing is heat-pump ready? Would your recommendation change for a new-build property? 

 

Dilemma – Part three – Impact of energy costs on the consumer: 

Your housing stock report was ultimately released to the council and they have decided to proceed, though for a more limited number of properties. The tenants of these dwellings are important stakeholders who are ultimately responsible for the energy costs of their properties. A fuel bill is made up of the wholesale cost of energy, network costs to transport it, operating costs, taxes, and green levies. Consumers pay per unit of energy used (called the unit cost) and also a daily fixed charge that covers the cost of delivering energy to a home regardless of the amount of energy used (called the standing charge). In the UK, currently the price of natural gas is the main driver behind the price of electricity; the unit price of electricity is typically three to four times the price of gas. 

Your next task is to consider if replacing the gas boiler in a property with a heat pump system will have a positive or negative effect on the running costs.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Estimate the annual running cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler (see Appendix Task B for an example approach). 

2. Discussion: Energy prices are currently rising and have seen drastic changes in the UK over the past year. The lifetime of a new heat pump system is around 20 years. How would rising gas and electric prices affect the tenant? Does this impact the feasibility of using a gas boiler versus a heat pump? How can engineering knowledge and expertise help inform pricing policies? 

 

Dilemma – Part four – Tenants voice concerns: 

After a consultation, some of the current tenants whose homes are under consideration for heat pump installation have voiced concerns. The council is planning to install air-source heat pumps due to their reduced capital cost compared to a ground-source heat pump. The tenants are concerned that the heat pump will not significantly reduce their fuel bills in the winter months (when it is most needed) and instead could increase their bills if the unit price and standing charge for electricity continue to increase. They want a guarantee from the council that their energy bills will not be adversely affected. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Why would air-source heat pumps be less effective in winter? What are the potential effects of increased energy bills on the tenants? How much input should the tenants have on the heating system in their rented property? 

2. Discussion: Do the council have any responsibility if the installation does result in an increased energy bill in the winter for their tenants? Do you and your company have any responsibility to the tenants?  

 

Dilemma – Part five – The council consultation: 

The council has hosted an open consultation for private homeowners within the area that you are involved in. They want to encourage owners of private dwellings to adopt low-carbon technologies and are interested in learning about the barriers faced and what they can do to encourage the adoption of low carbon-heating technologies. The ownership of houses in the local area is similar to the overall UK demographic: around 20% of dwellings are in the social sector (owned either by the local authority or a housing association), 65% are privately owned, and 15% are privately rented.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Estimate the lifetime cost of running an air-source heat pump and ground-source heat pump versus a natural gas boiler. Include the infrastructure costs associated with installation of the heating system (see Appendix Task C for an example approach). This can be extended to include the impact of increasing energy prices.  

2. Activity: Research the policies, grants, levies, and schemes available at local and national levels that aim to encourage uptake of net zero heating. 

3. Discussion: From your estimations and research, how suitable are the current schemes? What recommendations would you make to improve the uptake of zero carbon heating? 

 

Dilemma – Part six – Recommendations: 

Energy costs and legislation are important drivers for encouraging homeowners and landlords to adopt clean heating technologies. There is a need to weigh up potential cost savings with the capital cost associated with installing a new heat system. Local and national policies, grants, levies, and bursaries are examples of tools used to fund and support adoption of renewable technologies. Currently, an environmental and social obligations cost, known as the ‘green levies,’ are added to energy bills which contribute to a mixture of social and environmental energy policies (including, for example, renewable energy projects, discounts for low-income households, and energy efficiency improvements).  

Your final task is to think more broadly on encouraging the uptake of low-carbon heating systems in private dwellings (the majority of housing in the UK) and to make recommendations on how both councils locally and the government nationally can encourage uptake in order to reduce carbon emissions.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: In terms of green energy policy, where does the ethical responsibility lie –  with the consumer, the local government, or the national government?  

2. Discussion: Should the national Government set policies like the green levy that benefit the climate in the long-term but increase the cost of energy now?  

3. Discussion: As an employee of a private company, to what extent is the decarbonisation of the UK your problem? Do you or your company have a responsibility to become involved in policy? What are the advantages or disadvantages to yourself as an engineer?  

 

Appendix: 

The three tasks that follow are designed to encourage students to practise and improve their zeroth order approximation skills (for example a back of the envelope calculation). Many simplifying assumptions can be made but they should be justified.  

Task A: Impact of insulation 

Challenge: Estimate the annual running cost for an air-source heat pump in a poorly insulated home. Compare to a well-insulated home.  

Base assumptions around the heat pump system and the property being heated can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume:  

Example estimation: 

1. Estimate the overall heat loss for a poorly- and well-insulated property.

Note: heat loss is greater in the poorly insulated building.

 

 2. Calculate the work input for the heat pump.  

Assumption: heat pump matches the heat loss to maintain a consistent temperature.

 Note: a higher work input is required in the poorly insulated building to maintain a stable temperature.

 

3. Determine the work input over a year. 

Assumption: heat pump runs for 8 hours per day for 365 days.

 

4. Determine the running cost 

For an electricity unit price of 33.8 p per kWh.

 

Note: running cost is higher for the poorly insulated building due to the higher work input required to maintain temperature. 

 

Task B: Annual running cost estimation 

Challenge: Estimate the annual running cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler.  

Base assumptions around the boiler system, heat pump system, and property can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume: 

Energy tariffs (correct at time of writing) for the domestic consumer including the energy price guarantee discount: 

Domestic energy tariffs 
Electric standing charge  51.0p per day 
Unit price of electricity  33.8p per kWh 
Gas standing charge  26.8p per kWh 
Unit price of gas  10.4p per kWh 

 

Example estimation: 

1. Calculate the annual power requirement for each case. 

Assumed heating requirement is 15,000 kWh for the year. 

2. Calculate the annual cost for each case: 

Note: the higher COP of the ground-source heat pump makes this the more favourable option (dependent on the fuel prices).  

 

Task C: Lifetime cost estimation  

Challenge: Estimate the total lifetime cost for a property when using a heat pump versus a natural gas boiler.  

Base assumptions around the boiler system, heat pump system, and property can be researched by the student as a task or given to them. In this example we assume: 

Energy tariffs (correct at time of writing) for the domestic consumer including the energy price guarantee discount: 

Domestic energy tariffs 
Electric standing charge  51.0p per day 
Unit price of electricity  33.8p per kWh 
Gas standing charge  26.8p per kWh 
Unit price of gas  10.4p per kWh 

 

1. Calculate the lifetime running cost for each case.

 

2. Calculate the total lifetime cost for each case.

 

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Case enhancement: Industrial pollution from an ageing pipeline

Activity: Prompts to facilitate discussion activities.

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

 

Overview:

There are several points in this case during which an educator can facilitate a class discussion about relevant issues. Below are prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. These correspond with the stopping points outlined in the case. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be.

 

Case Summary – Discussion prompts:

1. Professional Contexts. The question listed in the case study is meant to elicit students’ consideration of working as an engineer in a professional culture different from the one they are familiar with. To answer this question, educators could have students reflect quietly and make notes for a few minutes, or discuss with a partner before sharing with the class. If students are hesitant to engage in questions of cultural differences, they could be prompted to examine why they have that discomfort. Educators might also want to prepare for conversations like this by reviewing the guidance article Tackling tough topics in discussion.

2. Meeting Preparation. The question listed in the case study focuses on the choices that engineers make when presenting data; that is, should they show managers a complete or incomplete picture of the situation in question? What implications does that have in terms of managers’ ability to make decisions? The question also is meant to help students consider aspects of professional communication. Students could be tasked with actually doing a version of the meeting preparation as pairs in the classroom, or they could do this as a reflective exercise as well.

 

Dilemma – Part one – Discussion prompts:

1. Personal and Professional Responsibility. Here, students are being asked to explore their own personal responses to the informal housing situation outside the factory and interrogate whether or not that response could or should affect their professional actions. The question also investigates the scope of professional responsibility, and at what point an engineer has fulfilled this or fallen short. To engage students in this discussion, educators could split the class in half, with half the room discussing the position that Yasin does NOT have a responsibility, and why; and the other half discussing the position that Yasin DOES have a responsibility and why. Alternatively, students could be asked to write down their own answer to this question along with reasoning why or why not, and then the educator could ask volunteers to share responses in order to open up the discussion.

2. Economic Contexts. Students can use this question to expand on question 1 of this section, and in fact they may already have drawn cost into their reasoning. One way to open up this discussion is to think of the broader costs, meaning: is there a social or environmental cost that the company externalises through its polluting activities? Another way into the question is to go back to the question of responsibility, because engineers are routinely responsible for making budgets and judgements related to costs. Through this financial activity, are they able to advocate for more ethical practices, and should they?

 

Dilemma – Part two – Discussion prompts

1. Job Offer. This question is meant to point to the issue of bribery, and have students wrestle with the situations presented in the case. Educators could have students review various definitions of bribery, including the one in the RAEng’s Statement of Ethical Principles. They could compare this with the Engineering Council of India’s Code of Ethics. What do these two codes say about Yasin’s case? If they don’t give clear guidance, what should Yasin do? Students could discuss why or why not they think this is bribery in small or large groups, and could debate what Yasin’s action should be and why.

2. External Reporting. This question addresses whistleblowing, and what responsibilities engineers have for reporting unethical actions to professional or legal entities. Students could be asked individually to answer the question and give reasons why, based on the codes of ethics relevant to the case. They could also answer the question based on their own personal values. Then they could discuss their responses in small groups and interrogate whether or not the codes conflict with their values. Educators could at this point raise the question of whether or not there may be different cultural expectations in this area that Yasin might have to navigate, and if so, if this should make any difference to the action he should take. Students could also be asked to chart out the personal and professional repercussions Yasin could experience for either action. This discussion could be good preparation for activity #5, the debate.

 

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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: Diana Martin (Eindhoven University of Technology); Sarah Jayne Hitt, Ph.D. SFHEA (NMITE, Edinburgh Napier University).

Topic:  Participatory approaches for engaging with a local community about the development of risky technologies. 

Engineering disciplines: Nuclear engineering; Energy; Chemical engineering. 

Ethical issues: Corporate Social Responsibility; Risk; Accountability; Respect for the Environment. 

Professional situations: Conflicts of interest; Public health and safety; Communication. 

Educational level: Advanced.  

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

 

Learning and teaching notes:  

This case study involves an early career engineer tasked with leading the development of plans for the construction of the first nuclear plant in a region. The case can be customised by instructors when specifying the name of the region, as to whether the location of the case study corresponds to the location of the educational institution or if a more remote context is preferred. The case incorporates several components, including stakeholder mapping, participatory methods for assessing risk perception and community engagement, qualitative risk analysis, and policy-making.  

The case study asks students to identify and define an open-ended risk problem in engineering and develop a socially acceptable solution, on the basis of limited and possibly contradictory information and differing perspectives. Additionally, students can gain awareness of broader responsibilities of engineers in the development of risky technologies, as well as the role of engineers in public debates and community engagement related to the adoption or development of risky technologies. 

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 dilemma in this case is presented in three parts. If desired, a teacher can use Part one in isolation, but Part two and Part three develop and complicate 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: 

Journal articles: 

Community engagement organisations: 

 

Dilemma – Part one:

You are an early career engineer working in the civil nuclear industry for Ultra Nuclear. This is a major company overseeing the construction of new power stations that has a strong reputation as a leader in the field with no controversies associated with its activity. Indeed, you have been impressed with Ultra Nuclear’s vision that the transition to using more nuclear energy can significantly reduce carbon emissions, and their development of next-generation nuclear technologies. After two years of working on the strictly technical side of the business, you have been promoted to a project manager role which requires you to do more public engagement. Your manager has assigned your first major project which involves making the plans for the development of a new power plant.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Societal context – What is the context in which Ultra Nuclear operates? Identify the national and supranational policies and regulation in your country related to the adoption of nuclear energy. Reflect on the broader rationale given for the adoption of nuclear energy. Research the history of nuclear technological developments (including opposition and failures) in your country. When tracing the context, you may consider:

2. Discussion: Personal values – What is your initial position on the adoption of nuclear energy? What are the advantages and disadvantages that you see for the adoption of nuclear energy in your country? What alternatives to nuclear energy do you deem more suitable and why?

3. Discussion: Risk perception – How do you perceive the risk of nuclear energy? How do your family and friends see this risk? How is nuclear energy portrayed in the media? Do you see any differences in how people around you see these risks? Why do you think this is so?

4. Activity: Risk mapping – Using a qualitative risk matrix, map the risks of a nuclear power plant.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

As it happens, this will be the first power plant established in the region where you were born, and your manager counts on your knowledge of the local community in addition to your technical expertise. To complete your project successfully, you are expected to ensure community approval for the new nuclear power plant. In order to do this, you will have to do some research to understand different stakeholders and their positions.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity: Stakeholder mapping – Who are all the groups that are involved in the scenario? 

1.a. Activity: Read the article by Sven Ove Hansson, which puts forward a method for categorising stakeholders as risk-exposed, beneficiaries, or decision-makers (including overlaps of the three categories). Place each stakeholder group in one of these categories.

1.b. Discussion: Why are some groups risk-exposed, others beneficiaries, and others decision-makers? Why is it undesirable to have stakeholder groups solely in one of the categories? 

1.c. Discussion: What needs to change for some stakeholder groups to be not only in the category of risk-exposed, but also in the category of beneficiaries or decision-makers?  

2. Activity: Stakeholder mapping – How does each stakeholder group view nuclear energy? For each stakeholder group identified, research the arguments they put forward, their positions and preferences in regard to the adoption of nuclear energy. In addition to the stakeholder groups previously identified, you may consider:

For your research, you may consult the webpage of the stakeholder group (if it exists); any manifesto they present; mass media features (including interviews, podcasts, news items or editorials); flyers and posters. 

3. Discussion: How convincing are these arguments according to you? Do you see any contradictions between the arguments put forward by different groups? 

3.a. Discussion: Which group relies most on empirical data when presenting their position? Which stakeholders take the most extreme positions, according to you (radical either against or for nuclear energy), and why do you think this is so?  

3.b. Discussion: In groups of five students, rank the stakeholders from those that provide the most convincing to the least convincing arguments, then discuss these rankings in plenary. 

3.c. Roleplay (with students divided into groups): Each group is assigned a stakeholder, and gets to prepare and make the case for why their group is right, based on the empirical data and position put forward publicly by the group. The other groups grade on different criteria for how convincing the group is (such as 1. reliability of data, 2. rhetoric, 3. soundness of argument). 

4. Guest speaker activity: The instructor can invite as a guest speaker a representative of one of the stakeholder groups to talk with students about the theme of nuclear energy. Students can prepare a written reflection after the session on the topic of “What I learned about risks from the guest speaker” or “What I learned about my responsibility as a future engineer in regard to the adoption of nuclear energy.” 

 

Dilemma – Part three:

You arrive at the site of the intended power plant. You are received with mixed emotions. Although you are well liked and have many friends and relatives here, you are also warned that some residents are against the plans for the development of nuclear energy in the area. Several people with whom you’ve had informal chats have significant concerns about the power plant, and whether their health or safety will be negatively affected. At the same time, many people from the surrounding area do not yet know anything about the plans for building the nuclear site. In addition, in the immediate vicinity of the power plant site, the community hosts a small number of refugees who, having just arrived, are yet to be proficient in the language, and whose communication relies mostly on a translator. How will you ensure that this community is well informed of the plans for developing the power plant in their region and approves the plans of Ultra Nuclear? How will you engage with the community and towards what aims? 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Research empirical data on the risk awareness and risk perception of public attitudes about nuclear energy, and sum up any findings that you find interesting or relevant for the case study. 

1.a. Discussion: According to you, is risk awareness and perception the same thing? How do they differ as concepts? Considering the research you just did, is there a relation between people’s risk awareness and perception? What does this imply? 

1.b Discussion: Do you identify any differences in the risk perception of the public (based on gender, age, geographical location, educational level)? Why do you think this is so?  

1.c. Discussion: Does the public see the same risks about nuclear energy as technical experts do? Why is this so? 

1.d. Activity: Read Sheila Jasanoff – The political science of risk perception. What is the key takeaway message for you?

2. Group activity: Compose a survey to understand the risk awareness and risk perception of members of the local community.

2.a. Discussion: What are the key questions for the survey? 

2.b. Discussion: How will you distribute the survey and to how many people? 

2.c. Discussion: Do you need to make any special arrangements to ensure that the views of all relevant groups are represented in the survey? 

2.d. Discussion: How will you use the data from the survey and how do you plan to follow-up on the survey?

3. Group activity: Develop a method for engaging with the community in the stages of developing and operating the nuclear plant.

3.a. Discussion: What values and principles do you highlight by engaging with the community? 

3.b. Discussion: How do you choose which participatory methods to use? 

You can use the following resources: Participation toolkit  or Performing Participatory Foresight Methods, Mazzurco and Jesiek, Bertrand, Pirtle and Tomblin. 

 

Annex:  

Localised case study: The development of Nuclear Energy in Ireland. 

Context description: Wikipedia entry for Nuclear power in Ireland and the Carnsore Point protests. 

Summary: 

The entire island of Ireland, comprising The Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland (part of the UK), has never produced any electricity from nuclear power stations. Previous plans have been opposed as early as the 1970s through large public rallies, concerts, and demonstrations against the production of nuclear energy on the island. At the time, Carnsore Point was proposed as a site for the development of four nuclear reactors by the Electricity Supply Board. Public opposition led to the cancelling of this nuclear project and its replacement with a coal burning power station at Moneypoint. Since the 2000s there has been a renewed interest in the possibilities for producing nuclear energy on the island, in response to climate change and the need to ensure energy security. Surveys for identifying public acceptance and national forums have been proposed as ways to identify current perceptions and prospects for the development of nuclear energy. Nevertheless, nuclear energy in the Republic of Ireland is still prohibited by law, through the Electricity Regulation Act (1999). Nuclear energy is currently a contentious topic of debate, with many involved parties holding varying positions and arguments. 

Example of stakeholders: The Irish government; the UK government; political parties; electricity supply board (state owned electricity company); BENE – Better Environment with Nuclear Energy (lobby group); Friends of the Irish Environment (environmental group), Friends of the Earth – Ireland (environmental group); The Union of Concerned Scientists; Wind Aware (lobby group); local community (specified further based on demographic characteristics, such as the Traveller community); scientists in the National Centre for Plasma Science & Technology at Dublin City University (university researchers). 

Sources used for the description of the roles: Policy documents; official websites; institutional or group manifestos; news articles, editorials and other appearances in the media. 

 

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Case enhancement: Power-to-food technologies

Activity: An ethical evaluation of the technology and its impacts.

Author: Dr Fiona Truscott (UCL).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part one, Point 1 section of the case: “Identify different aspects of the production process where ethical concerns may arise, from production to delivery to consumption.” Below are prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be.

In this group activity, students will act as consultants brought in by the Power to Food team to create an ethical evaluation of the technology and any impacts it may have throughout its lifetime. The aim here is for students to work together to discuss the potential ethical issues at each stage of the production process as well as thinking about how they might be addressed. Groups will need to do research, either in class or at home. Depending on the timeframe you may want to give them a starting point and some basic information found in the case study’s learning and teaching resources.

 

Suggested timeline:

 

Team briefing:

You are a team of consultants brought in by the company who has developed Power to Food technology. Before they go to market they want to understand the ethical issues that may arise from the technology and address them if possible. They want you to look at the process as a whole and identify any ethical issues that might come up. They also want to know how easy these issues might be to address and want you to suggest potential ways to address them. You will need to provide the company with a briefing on your findings.

 

Tools:

It’s useful to give teams some frameworks through which they can do an analysis of the production process. One of those is to discuss who is harmed by the process at each stage. This is harm in the widest possible sense: physical, environment, political, reputational etc. What or who could be impacted and how? Another framework is the values of the people or entities involved in the process: what are they trying to achieve or what do they want and are any of these in conflict? Topics such as sustainability and accessibility also have an ethical dimension, and using these as a lens can help students to look at the problem from a different viewpoint.

 

Prompts for questions:

These are questions that you can get students to answer in class or suggest that they cover in an assessment. This could also be information you give the team so that they can use it as a foundation.

 

Assessment:

This group activity lends itself to a few different assessment formats, depending on what fits with your programme and timeframe. The two key things to assess are whether students can understand and identify ethical issues across the whole Power to Food production process and whether they can discuss ways to address these issues and the complexities that can be involved in addressing these issues. These two things can be assessed separately; for example through a written report where teams discuss the potential issues and a presentation where they talk about how they might address these issues. Or one assessment can cover both topics. This can be a written report, a live or recorded presentation, a video, podcast or a poster. Teams being able to see other teams’ contributions is both a good way of getting them to discuss different viewpoints and makes for a fun session. You can get teams to present their final work or a draft to each other.

Depending on the timeframe, you may also want to build in some skills assessment too. The AAC&U’s VALUE rubrics are a great starting point for assessing skills and IPAC is a good tool for assessing teamwork via peer assessment.

 

Marking Criteria:

Good Average Poor
Understanding and identification of ethics issues across the whole Power to Food production process Has identified and understood context specific ethical issues across the production process. May have shown some understanding of how issues may impact on each other. Has identified and understood broad/general ethical issues around production processes but hasn’t linked much to the specific context of the case study. Some stages may be more detailed than others. Has not identified many or any ethical issues and seems to have not understood what we’re looking for.
Discussing ways to address these issues and the complexities that can be involved Has identified context specific ways to address the ethical issues raised and has understood the potential complexities of addressing those ethical issues. Has identified broad/general ways to address the ethical issues raised and made some reference to differing levels of complexity in addressing ethical issues. Has not identified many or any ways to address the ethical issues raised and seems to have not understood what we’re looking for.
Communication Very clear, engaging and easy to understand communication of the ethical issues involved and ways to address them. Right language level for the audience. Generally understandable but not clear in places or uses the wrong level of language for the audience (assumes too much or not enough prior knowledge). Difficult to understand the point being made either due to language used or disconnection to the point of the assessment or topic.

 

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Case enhancement:
Business growth models in engineering industries within an economic system

Activity: Defending a profit-driven business versus a non-profit-driven business.

Author: Dr Sandhya Moise (University of Bath).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part one, Point 4 section of the case: “In a group, split into two sides with one side defending a profit-driven business and the other defending a non-profit driven business. Use Maria’s case in defending your position.” Below are several prompts for discussion questions and activities that can be used. These correspond with the stopping points outlined in the case. Each prompt could take up as little or as much time as the educator wishes, depending on where they want the focus of the discussion to be.

 

Session structure:

1. As pre-class work, the students can be provided the case study in written format.

2. During class, the students will need to be introduced to the following concepts, for which resources are provided below (~20 min):

3. Group activity (15 min +)

4. Whole class discussion/debate (15 min +)

 

Learning resources:

Ethics in Engineering resources:

Professional Codes of Conduct resources:

Corporate Social Responsibility Resources:

ESG Mandate Resources:

In recent years, there have been calls for more corporate responsibility in environmental and socioeconomic ecosystems globally. For example:

In 2017, the economist Kate Raworth set out to reframe GDP growth to a different indicator system that reflects on social and environmental impact. A Moment for Change?

Further reading:

 

Group Activity – Structure:

Split the class into two or more groups. One half of the class is assigned as Group 1 and the other, Group 2. Ask students to use Maria’s case in defending their position.

 

Group activity 1:

Group 1: Defend a profit-driven business model – Aims at catalysing the company’s market and profits by working with big corporations as this will enable quicker adoption of technology as well as economically benefit surrounding industries and society.

Group 2: Defend a non-profit driven business – Aims at preventing the widening of the socioeconomic gap by working with poorly-funded local authorities to help ensure their product gets to the places most in need (opportunities present in Joburg).

 

Pros and Cons of each approach:

Group 1: Defend a profit-driven business model:

Advantages and ethical impact:

Disadvantage and ethical impacts:

Group 2: Defend a non-profit driven business:

Advantages and ethical impact:

Disadvantage and ethical impacts:

 

Relevant ethical codes of conduct examples:

Royal Academy’s Statement of Ethical Principles:

Both of the above statements can be interpreted to mean that engineers have a professional duty to not propagate social inequalities through their technologies/innovations.

 

Discussion and summary:

This case study involves very important questions of profit vs values. Which is a more ethical approach both at first sight and beyond? Both approaches have their own set of advantages and disadvantages both in terms of their business and ethical implications.

If Maria decides to follow a profit-driven approach, she goes against her personal values and beliefs that might cause internal conflict, as well as propagate societal inequalities.

However, a profit-driven model will expand the company’s business, and improve job opportunities in the neighbourhood, which in turn would help the local community. There is also the possibility to establish the new business and subsequently/slowly initiate CSR activities on working with local authorities in Joburg to directly benefit those most in need. However, this would be a delayed measure and there is a possible risk that the CSR plans never unfold.

If Maria decides to follow a non-profit-driven approach, it aligns with her personal values and she might be very proactive in delivering it and taking the company forward. The technology would benefit those in most need. It might improve the reputation of the company and increase loyalty of its employees who align with these values. However, it might have an impact on the company’s profits and slow its growth. This in turn would affect the livelihood of those employed within the company (e.g. job security) and risks.

 

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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: Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Dr Nik Whitehead (University of Wales Trinity Saint David); Dr Matthew Studley (University of the West of England, Bristol); Dr Darian Meacham (Maastricht University); Professor Mike Bramhall (TEDI-London); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Trade-offs in the energy transition.

Engineering disciplines: Chemical engineering, Electrical engineering, Energy.

Ethical issues: Sustainability, Honesty, Respect for the environment, Public good.

Professional situations: Communication, Bribery, Working cultures.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Practise ethical reasoning. Ethical reasoning applies critical analysis to specific events in order to consider, and respond to, a problem in a fair and responsible way.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case requires an engineer with strong convictions about sustainable energy to make a decision about whether or not to take a lucrative contract from the oil industry. Situated in Algeria, the engineer must weigh perspectives on environmental ethics that may differ from those informed by a different cultural background, as well as navigate unfamiliar workplace expectations. The engineer’s own financial wellbeing is also at stake, which may complicate decision-making. As a result, this case has several layers of relations and potential value-conflicts. These include values that underlie assumptions held about the environment and its connection to human life and services.

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 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. To prepare for activities related to environmental ethics, teachers may want to read, or assign students to pre-read the following academic articles: ‘Environmental ethics: An overview’ or ‘Mean or Green: Which values can promote stable pro-environmental behavior?’

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

 

Summary:

You are an electrical engineer who had a three-year contract with a charity in Algeria to install solar systems on remote houses and farms that were not yet connected to the grid. The charity’s project came to an end and you have set up your own company to continue the work. It has been difficult raising money from investors to fund the project and the fledgling business is in debt. It is doubtful that your company will survive for much longer without a high-profit project.

During your time in Algeria, you have made many local and regional contacts in the energy industry. Through one of these contacts, you learn of an energy company operating a large oil field in the region that is looking to convert to solar energy to power its injection pumping, monitoring, and control systems. In doing so, the oil field will eliminate its dependency on coal-fired electricity, increasing production while boosting the company’s environmental credentials. It also hopes to make use of a governmental tax credit for businesses that make such solar conversions.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What is your initial reaction to using solar energy for oil and gas production? What might your initial reaction reveal to you about your own perspectives and values?

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

3. Activity: Research the trend for using solar energy in oil and gas production. Which companies are promoting it and which countries are using this technology?

4. Discussion and activity related to optional pre-readings: Consider how your perspective is related to the following environmental values, and pair/share or debate with a peer.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

The following week you receive a phone call in your home office. It is a representative of the energy company named Sami. He asks you to bid for the solar installation contract for the oilfield. At first you are reluctant, it doesn’t seem right to use solar power to extract fuel that will contribute to the ongoing climate emergency. You explain your hesitation, saying “I got into the solar business because I believe we have a responsibility to future generations to develop sustainable energy.” Sami laughs and says “While you’re busy helping people who don’t exist yet, I’m trying to provide energy to the people who need it now. Surely we have a responsibility to them too?”

Sami then quotes a figure that the company is willing to pay you for the project work. You are taken aback at how large it is – the profit made on this contract would be enough to pay off your debts and give your business financial security moving forward. Still, you hesitate, telling Sami you need some time to think it over. He agrees and persuades you to attend dinner with him and his family later that week.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Have you done anything wrong by accepting Sami’s dinner invitation?

2. Discussion: Environmental ethics deals with assumptions that are often unstated, such as the obligation to future generations. Like Sami, some people find that our obligation is greater to people who exist at this moment, not to those that don’t yet exist. Do you agree or disagree with this position? Why? Can we maintain an obligation to future generations while simultaneously saying that this must be weighed against the obligations in the here and now?

3. Activity: Both cost-benefit and value trade-off analyses are valuable approaches to consider in this case.  Determine the possible courses of action and undertake both types of analysis for each position by considering both short- and long-term consequences. [use the Mapping actors and processes article to help with this activity].

4. Activity: Using reasoning and evidence, create arguments for choosing one of the possible courses of action.

5. Activity: Undertake technical calculations in the areas of chemical and / or electrical engineering related to carbon offset and solar installations.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

When you arrive at Sami’s house for dinner you are surprised to find you aren’t the only guest. Leila, a finance manager at the oil company is also present. During the meal, she suggests they are considering investing in your business. “After all,” she points out, “many of our employees and their families could really use solar at their homes. We have even decided to subsidise the installation as a benefit to them.”

You are impressed by the oil company’s commitment to their workers and this would also guarantee you an income stream for 3-5 years. Of course, to guarantee the investment in your company, you will have to agree to undertake the oil field installation. You comment to Leila and Sami that it feels strange to be having these formal discussions over a family meal. “This is how we do business here,” says Sami. “You become part of our family too.”

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Do you accept the contract to complete the installation? Do you accept the investment in your company? Why, or why not?

2. Discussion: Is this bribery? Why, or why not?

3. Activity: Role-play the conversation between Sami, Leila, and the engineer.

4. Activity: Use heuristics to analyse possible courses of action. One heuristic is the Environmental ethics decision making guide. Another is the 7-step guide to ethical decision-making.

 

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: Professor Thomas Lennerfors (Uppsala University); Nina Fowler (Uppsala University); Johnny Rich (Engineering Professors’ Council); Professor Dawn Bonfield MBE (Aston University); Professor Chike Oduoza (University of Wolverhampton); Steven Kerry (Rolls-Royce); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Alternative food production.

Engineering disciplines: Energy; Chemical engineering.

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Social responsibility.

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Personal/professional reputation; Falsifying or misconstruing data / finances; Communication.

Educational level: Advanced.

Educational aim: Practise ethical reasoning. Ethical reasoning applies 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 involves an engineer navigating multiple demands on a work project. The engineer must evaluate trade-offs between social needs, technical specifications, financial limitations, environmental needs, legal requirements, and safety. Some of these factors have obvious ethical dimensions, and others are more ambiguous. The engineer must also navigate a professional scenario in which different stakeholders try to influence the resolution of the dilemma.

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:

 

Summary:

Power-to-X (P2X) describes a number of pathways for the transformation of electricity to alternative forms. This can be utilised for storing energy for later use, in order to balance periods of excesses and deficits resulting from the use of renewable energy technologies. It can also be used in applications that do not use electricity, such as through the transformation of electricity to hydrogen or other gases for industrial use.

One area that has seen significant development in recent years is power-to-food (PtF). This pathway results in CO2 being transformed, through chemical or biological processes powered by renewable energy, into food. One such process uses electrolysis and the Calvin cycle to create hydrocarbons from CO2, water and bacteria. The end result is a microbial protein, a substance that could be used in animal feed. Ultimately, the technology could produce a meat alternative suitable for human consumption, further reducing the carbon emissions produced by intensive animal farming.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Identify the potential harms and risks of this technology, both objective and subjective. For example, could the shift of food production from soil to chemical industries concentrate power in the hands of a few? What public perceptions or cultural values might impact the acceptance or uptake of the technology? 

2. Discussion: Wider context – What social, technological, economic, environmental, political, or legal factors might need to be considered in order to implement this technology?

3. Activity: Research companies that are currently developing P2X technologies. Which industries and governments are promoting P2X? How successful have early projects been? What obstacles exist in upscaling?

4. Activity: Undertake a technical activity in the area of biochemical engineering related to the storing and transforming of renewable energy.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

You are the Chief Technical Officer at a company that has developed PtF technology that can convert CO2 to edible fatty acids (or triglycerides). The potential of CO2 capture is attractive to many stakeholders, but the combination of carbon reduction tied in with food production has generated positive media interest. The company also intends to establish its PtF facility near a major carbon polluter, that will reduce transport costs. However, some nearby residents are concerned about having a new industrial facility in their area, and have raised additional concerns about creating unsafe food.

As part of the process to commercialise this technology, you have been tasked with completing an ethical assessment. This includes an analysis of the technology’s short and long-term effects in a commercial application.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion and Activity: Identify different aspects of the production process where ethical concerns may arise, from production to delivery to consumption. Which ethical issues do you consider to be the most challenging to address?

2. Discussion: What cultural values might impact the ethical assessment? Does trust play a role in our ethical and consumption decisions? What internal logics / business goals might steer, or influence, the acceptance of various ethical considerations?

3. Discussion: Which areas of the ethical assessment might stakeholders be most interested in, or concerned about, and why?

4. Discussion: Does the choice of location for PtF facilities influence the ethical assessment? What problems could this PtF technology solve?

5. Discussion: What competing values or motivations might come into conflict in this scenario? What codes, standards, or authoritative bodies might be relevant to this? What is the role of ethics in technology development?

6. Activity: Assemble a bibliography of relevant professional codes, standards, and authorities.

7. Activity: Research the introduction of novel foods throughout history and / or engineering innovations in food production.

8. Activity: Write up the ethical assessment of the business case, and include findings from the previous questions and research.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

You deliver your ethical assessment to your manager. Shortly afterwards you are asked to edit the report to remove or downplay some ethical issues you have raised. The company leadership is worried that potential investors in an upcoming financing round may be dissuaded from investing in the company if you do not edit these sections.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Professional and ethical responsibilities – What are the ethical implications of editing or not editing the report? What consequences could this type of editing have? Think about stakeholders such as the company, potential investors and society.

2. Discussion: Wider considerations of business ethics – How would you recognise an ethical organisation? What are its characteristics? What is the role of ethics in business?

 

Enhancements:

An enhancement for this case study can be found here.

 

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: Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Professor Chike Oduoza (University of Wolverhampton); Emma Crichton (Engineering Without Borders UK); Professor Mike Sutcliffe (TEDI-London); Dr Sarah Junaid (Aston University); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Monitoring and resolving industrial pollution.

Engineering disciplines: Chemical engineering; Civil engineering; Manufacturing; Mechanical engineering.

Ethical issues: Environment, Health, Public good.

Professional situations: Bribery, Whistleblowing, Corporate social responsibility, Cultural competency.

Educational level: Advanced.

Educational aim: To encourage ethical motivation. Ethical motivation occurs when a person is moved by a moral judgement, or when a moral judgement is a spur to a course of action. 

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case requires an engineer to balance multiple competing factors including: economic pressure, environmental sustainability, and human health. It introduces the perspective of corporate social responsibility (CSR) as a lens through which to view the dilemma. In this case study, the engineer must also make decisions that will affect their professional success in a new job and country.  

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:

 

Summary:

Yasin is a pipeline design engineer who has been employed to manage the wastewater pipeline for MMC Textile Company in Gujarat. The company has a rapidly growing business contributing to one of India’s most important industries for employment and export. Yasin was hired through a remote process during the pandemic – he had never been to the industrial site or met his new colleagues in person until he relocated to the country. For 10 years, Yasin worked for the Water Services Regulation Authority in the UK as a wastewater engineer; this is the first time he has been employed by a private company and worked within the textile industry.

The production of textiles results in highly toxic effluent that must be treated and disposed of. A sludge pipeline takes wastewater away from MMC’s factory site and delivers it to a treatment plant downstream. On arrival at MMC, Yasin undertakes an initial inspection of the industrial site and the pipeline. He conducts some testing and measurements, then reviews the company’s documents and specifications related to the pipeline. This pipeline was built 30 years ago when MMC first began operations. In the last five years, MMC has partnered with a fast fashion chain and invested in advanced production technologies, resulting in a 50% increase in its yearly output. Yasin soon realises that as production has increased, the pipeline sometimes carries nearly double its registered capacity. Yasin was hired because MMC’s managers were aware that the pipeline capacity might be stretched and needed his expertise to develop a solution. However, Yasin suspects they are unaware of the real extent of the problem, and is nervous about how they will react to confirmation of this suspicion. Yasin is due to provide an informal verbal report on his initial inspection to the factory managers. This will be his first official business meeting since arriving in India.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Although Yasin is a qualified and experienced engineer, what professional challenges might he encounter at MMC?

2. Discussion: What preparation does Yasin need to make for this informal meeting? What data or evidence should he present?

3. Activity: Role-play Yasin’s first meeting with the factory managers.

4. Activity: Research the environmental effects of textile production and / or India’s policies on textile waste management.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

At the meeting, Yasin is tasked with developing a menu of proposals to mitigate the problem. The options he puts forward include retrofitting the original pipeline, replacing it with a new one, eliminating the pipeline entirely and focusing on on-site water treatment technology, as well as other solutions. He is directed to consider the risks and benefits of the alternatives. These include the economic burdens, both the cost of the intervention as well as the decline in production necessitated while the intervention takes place, and the environmental consequences of action or inaction.  

During his research, Yasin discovers that informal housing has sprung up in the grey zone between the area’s formal zoned conurbation and the MMC industrial site. This is because there is little local regulation or enforcement as to where people are allowed to erect temporary or permanent dwellings. He estimates that there are several thousand people living in impoverished conditions on the edges of MMC’s property. Indeed, many of the people living in the informal settlement work in the lowest-skilled jobs at the textile factory. The informal settlement is located around a well that Yasin suspects may be polluted by effluent that seeps into the soil and groundwater when the pipeline overflows. He can find no information in company records about data related to this potential pollution.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Does Yasin have a responsibility to do anything about the potential groundwater pollution at the informal settlement?

2. Discussion: Should Yasin advocate for the solution with the lowest cost?

3. Activity: Practise problem definition. What are the parameters and criteria Yasin should use in defining the issues at stake? What elements of the problem is he technically or ethically obligated to resolve? Why?

4. Activity: Create a tether diagram mapping the effects of each potential solution on the company, the local people, and the environment.

5. Activity: Undertake a technical activity in the areas of chemical, civil, manufacturing and / or mechanical engineering related to groundwater pollution.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

As Yasin learns more about MMC, he discovers that as the company grew rapidly in the last five years,  and has boosted its CSR initiatives, MMC started a programme to hire and upskill local labourers and began a charitable foundation to make donations to local schools and charities. For these activities, MMC has recently received a government commendation for its community commitments. Yasin is concerned about how to make sense of these activities on the one hand, and the potential groundwater contamination on the other. He speaks to his supervisor about MMC’s CSR initiatives and learns that company directors believe that their commendation will pave the way for an even better relationship with the government and perhaps enable a favourable decision on a permit to build another textile factory site nearby. At the end of the conversation, his supervisor indicates that if a new factory is built, it will need a chief site engineer. “That position would be double your current salary,” the supervisor says, “a good job on fixing this pipeline situation would make you look like a very attractive candidate.” Yasin is due to formally present his proposal about the pipeline next week to the factory manager and company directors.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: How should Yasin respond to the suggestion of a job offer?

2. Discussion: Should Yasin report any of MMC’s actions or motivations to an external authority?

3. Activity: Research CSR and its ethical dimensions, both in the UK and in India.

4. Activity: Undertake a technical activity in the areas of chemical, civil, manufacturing and / or mechanical engineering, related to pipeline design and flow rates.

5. Activity: Debate whether or not Yasin should become a whistleblower, either about the groundwater pollution or the job offer.

 

Enhancements:

An enhancement for this case study can be found here.

 

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: Professor Raffaella Ocone OBE FREng FRSE (Heriot-Watt University); Professor Thomas Lennerfors (Uppsala University); Professor Sarah Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Soil carbon sequestration and Solar geoengineering.

Engineering disciplines: Chemical engineering; Energy and Environmental engineering.

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Social responsibility; Risk.

Professional situations: Public health and safety, Communication.

Educational level: Beginner.

Educational aim: To develop ethical awareness. Ethical awareness is when an individual determines that a single situation has moral implications and can be considered from an ethical point of view.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves a dilemma that most engineering students will have to face at least once in their careers: which job offer to accept. This study allows students to consider how personal values affect professional decisions. The ethical aspect of this dilemma comes from weighing competing moral goods –that is, evaluating what might be the better choice between two ethically acceptable options. In addition, the case offers students an introduction to ethical principles underpinning EU environmental law, and a chance to debate ethical aspects surrounding emerging technologies. Finally, the case invites consideration of the injustices inherent in proposed solutions to climate change.

This case study addresses two AHEP 4 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:

 

Summary:

Olivia is a first-generation university student who grew up on a farm in rural Wales and was often frustrated by living in such a remote environment. When she received excellent A levels in maths and sciences, she took a place on a chemical engineering course in London.

Olivia became passionate about sustainability and thrived during her placements with companies that were working on innovative climate solutions. One of the most formative events for her  was COP26 in Glasgow. Here, she attended debates and negotiations that contributed to new global agreements limiting global warming to 1.5°C. Following this experience, Olivia has been looking for jobs that would allow her to work on the front line combating climate change.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

Olivia has received two job offers. One is a very well-paid position at CarGro, a small firm not far from her family farm. This company works on chemical analysis for soil carbon storage – the ability of soil’s organic matter to sequester carbon-rich compounds and therefore offset atmospheric CO2

The other offer is for an entry-level position at EnSol, a company developing the feasibility of stratospheric aerosol injection. This technology aims to mimic the effect that volcanic eruptions have on the atmosphere when they eject particles into the stratosphere that reflect sunlight and subsequently cool the planet. EnSol is a start-up located in Bristol that has connections with other European companies working on complementary technologies.

While considering these two offers, Olivia recalls an ethics lesson she had in an engineering design class. This lesson examined the ethical implications of projects that engineers choose to work on. The example used was of a biomedical engineer who had to decide whether to work on cancer cures or cancer prevention, and which was more ethically impactful. Olivia knows that both CarGro and EnSol have the potential to mitigate climate change, but she wonders if one might be better than the other. In addition, she has her own goals and motivations to consider: does she really want to work near her parents again, no matter how well-paid that job is?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Personal values – what personal values will Olivia have to weigh in order to decide which job offer to accept? 

2. Activity: research the climate mitigation potential of soil carbon sequestration (SCS) and stratospheric aerosol injection (SAI).

3. Discussion: Professional values – based on the research, which company is doing the work that Olivia might feel is most ethically impactful? Make an argument for both companies.

4. Discussion: Wider impact – what impact does the work of these two companies have? Consider this on local, regional, and global scales. Who benefits from their work, and who does not?

5. Discussion: Technical integration – undertake a technical activity in the areas of chemical engineering, energy and / or environmental engineering related to the climate mitigation potential of SCS and SAI.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

To help her with the decision, Olivia talks with three of her former professors. The first is Professor Carrera, whom Olivia accompanied to COP26. Professor Carrera specialises in technology policy, and tells Olivia about the precautionary principle, a core component of EU environmental law. This principle is designed to help governments make decisions when outcomes are uncertain.

The second is Professor Adams, Olivia’s favourite chemical engineering professor, who got her excited about emerging technologies in the area of climate change mitigation. Professor Adams emphasises the opportunity at EnSol provides, to be working on cutting-edge research and development – “the sort of technology that might make you rich, as well!”

Finally, Olivia speaks to Professor Liu, an expert in engineering ethics. Professor Liu’s latest book on social responsibility in engineering argues that many climate change mitigation technologies are inequitable because they unfairly benefit rich countries and have the potential to be risky and burdensome to poorer ones.

Based on these conversations, Olivia decides to ask the hiring managers at CarGro and EnSol some follow-up questions. Knowing she was about to make these phone calls, both her mother and her best friend Owen (who has already secured a job in Bristol) have messaged her with contradictory advice.  What does Olivia ask on the calls to CarGro and EnSol to help her make a decision? Ultimately, which job should Olivia take?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Activity and discussion: research the precautionary principle – what have been the potentially positive and negative aspects of its effect on EU policy decisions related to the environment?

2. Activity: identify the risks and benefits of SCS and SAI for different communities.

3. Activity: map the arguments of the three professors. Whose perspective might be the most persuasive to Olivia and why?

4. Activity: rehearse and role play phone calls with both companies.

5. Activity: debate which position Olivia should take.

 

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.

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