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

 

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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.

Case enhancement: Glass safety in a heritage building conversion

Activity: Do engineers have a responsibility to warn the public if there is a chance of risk?

Author: Cortney Holles (Colorado School of Mines, USA).

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part two, Point 1 section of this case: Debate whether or not Krystyna has an ethical or professional responsibility to warn relevant parties (“of matters . . .  which are of potential detriment to others who may be adversely affected by them” – The Society of Construction Law’s Statement of Ethical Principles).

After introducing or studying the Glass Safety case, teachers may want students to dig deeper into the ethical issues in the case through a debate.  The resources and lesson plan below guide teachers through this lesson.

 

1. Introduce the debate assignment:

Students will debate whether or not Krystyna has an ethical or professional responsibility to warn relevant parties. Build in some time for students to prepare their arguments in small groups (either during class or as a homework assignment).  Create small groups of 2-5 students that can develop positions on each of the following positions on the question of the debate:

Does Krystyna have a responsibility to warn Sir Robert or future residents of the buildings about the glass?

 

2. Supporting the arguments in the debate with texts:

Provide students with resources that offer support for the different positions in the debate, listed below.  Perhaps you have assigned readings in the class they can be asked to reference for support in the debate.  Teachers could also assign students to conduct independent research on these stakeholders and positions if that matches the goals of the class.

 

Resources:

Journal articles:

Law:

Professional organisations:

Educational institution:

Ethics:

 

3. Running the debate in class:

Key concepts this debate can cover:

 

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.


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.

 

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

Topic: Safety of construction materials.

Engineering disciplines: Mechanical, Materials.

Ethical issues: Safety, Communication, Whistleblowing, Power.

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 concerns a construction engineer navigating multiple demands. The engineer must evaluate trade-offs between technical specifications, historical preservation, financial limitations, social needs, and safety. Some of these issues have obvious ethical dimensions, while others are ethically more ambiguous. In addition, the engineer must 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 the AHEP outcomes specific to a programme under these themes, access AHEP4 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:

Krystyna is a construction engineer working as part of a team that is retrofitting a Victorian-era factory into multi-unit housing. As an amateur history buff, she is excited to be working on a listed building for the first time in her career after finishing university three years ago. However, this poses additional challenges: she must write the specification for glass windows that will maintain the building’s heritage status but also conform to 21st century safety standards and requirements for energy efficiency. In addition, Krystyna feels under pressure because Sir Robert, the developer of the property, is keen to maximise profits while maintaining the historic feel valued by potential buyers. He also wants to get the property on the housing market as soon as possible to help mitigate a housing shortage in the area. This is the first of many properties that Dave, the project’s contractor who is well-regarded locally and has 30 years of experience working in the community, will be building for Sir Robert. This is the first time that Krystyna has worked with Dave.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What competing values or motivations might conflict in this scenario?

2. Discussion: What codes, standards and authority bodies might be relevant to this scenario?

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

4. Activity: Undertake a technical project relating to testing glass for fire safety and / or energy efficiency.

5. Activity: Research the use of glass as a building material throughout history and / or engineering innovations in glass production.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

On her first walk through the property with Dave, Krystyna discovers that the factory building has large floor-to-ceiling windows on the upper stories. Dave tells her that these windows were replaced at some point in the past 50 years before the building was listed, at a time when it wasn’t used or occupied, although the records are vague. The glass is in excellent condition and Sir Robert has not budgeted either the time or the expense to replace glass in the heritage building.

While writing the specification, Krystyna discovers that the standards for fire protection as well as impact safety and environmental control have changed since the glass was most likely installed. After this research, she emails Dave and outlines what she considers to be the safest and most responsible form of mitigation: to fully replace all the large windows with glass produced by a supplier with experience in fire-rated safety glass for heritage buildings. To justify this cost, she highlights the potential dangers to human health and the environment of not replacing the glass.

Dave replies with a reassuring tone and refers to his extensive experience as a contractor. He feels that too many additional costs would be incurred such as finding qualified installers, writing up new architectural plans, or stopping work altogether due to planning permissions related to historic properties. He argues that there is a low probability of a problem actually arising with the glass. Dave encourages Krystyna not to reveal these findings to Sir Robert so that “future conflicts can be avoided.”

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: What ethical issues that can be identified in this scenario?

2. Discussion: What interpersonal dynamics might affect the way this situation can be resolved?

3. Discussion: If you were the engineer, what action would you take, if any?

4. Activity: Identify all potential stakeholders and their values, motivations, and responsibilities using the SERM found in the Learning and teaching resources section.

5. Activity: Role-play the engineer’s response to the contractor or conversation with the developer.

6. Discussion: How do the RAEng/Engineering Council Statement of Ethical Principles and the Society of Construction Law Statement of Ethical Principles inform what ethical issues may be present, and what solutions might be possible?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

After considerable back and forth with Dave, Krystyna sees that she is unlikely to persuade him to make the changes to the project that she has recommended. Now she must decide whether to go against his advice and notify Sir Robert that they have disagreed about the best solution. Additionally, Krystyna has begun to wonder whether she has a responsibility to future residents of the building who will be unaware of any potential dangers related to the windows. Meanwhile, time is moving on and there are other deadlines related to the project that she must turn her focus to and complete.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

The Society of Construction Law’s Statement of Ethical Principles advises “provid[ing] information and warning of matters . . . which are of potential detriment to others who may be adversely affected by them.”

1. Activity: Debate whether or not Krystyna has an ethical or professional responsibility to warn relevant parties.

2. Discussion: If Krystyna simply warns them, is her ethical responsibility fulfilled?

3. Activity: Map the value conflicts and trade-offs Krystyna is dealing with. Use the Mapping Actors and Processes article in the Learning and teaching resources section.

4. Discussion: If you were Krystyna, what would you do and why?

5. Discussion: In what ways are the professional codes helpful (or not) in resolving this dilemma?

6. Discussion: ’Advises’ or ‘requires’? What’s the difference between these two words in their use within a code of ethics? Could an engineer’s response to a situation based on these codes of ethics be different depending on which of these words is used?

 

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.

Authors: Dr Sarah Junaid (Aston University); Emma Crichton (Engineers Without Borders UK); Professor Dawn Bonfield MBE (Aston University); Professor Chike Oduoza (University of Wolverhampton); Johnny Rich (Engineering Professors’ Council); Steven Kerry (Rolls-Royce); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Ethical entrepreneurship in engineering industries.

Engineering disciplines: Mechanical engineering, Electrical and electronic engineering, Chemical engineering.

Ethical issues: Justice, Corporate social responsibility, Accountability.

Professional situations: Company growth, Communication, Public health and safety.

Educational level: Beginner to 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 involves the CEO of Hydrospector, a newly formed company that makes devices detecting water leaks. The CEO has been working hard to secure contracts for her new business and has a personal dilemma in structuring her business model. She must balance the need to accelerate growth by working with high revenue global corporations, with her desire to bring a positive impact to the communities with greatest need. By working with less wealthy local authorities, the company risks slower business growth.

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 in perpetuating inequity versus closing the inequality gap; and sustainability in terms of the local socioeconomic system.

There is also a clear cultural context in this case study that provides an opportunity to develop cultural awareness when addressing engineering problems. Through this lens, this case can be structured to emphasise the need to engage with local communities and stakeholders – such as a UK company choosing to engage with its local community first. Or it can be framed to emphasise global responsibility whereby the CEO of a UK company chooses to address water shortages in South Africa.

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 study is presented in three parts. Part one introduces the case and discusses personal and corporate ethical dilemmas, with an emphasis on ethical awareness. Pre-reading may be needed on the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) mandate and / or corporate social responsibility (CSR). Part two expands on Part one to bring in the socio-political elements of corporate responsibility. For Part three, instructors or programme directors could incorporate this exercise in projects that involve product development, with students working through Part one and two as examples. This part aims to encourage ethical action on the part of students who are developing their own products, so that they can consider aspects of justice, responsibility, and sustainability in their engineering solutions. This case also 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: 

 

Foreword and suggested pre-reading for Part one:

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

 

Part one:

Maria is a young co-founder and technical lead (CTO) living in the UK looking at the business development of her newly-formed transnational company, Hydrospector, based in Johannesburg (Joburg), South Africa, where her co-founder/CEO is located. The company makes devices that detect water leaks and the small team has been working hard to secure contracts for their new business. Maria is an electrical and electronics engineer by training and was the lead inventor for this technology. She has proven her technology works in detecting leaks early and at low levels, lowering the risk of damage to infrastructure that impacts local communities. The technology will also save companies millions each year by detecting low-level water loss that currently remains undetected. Her company is now in a position where they need to find customers.

Targeting big corporations will mean her technology will get out much more quickly and be a huge economic benefit to surrounding industries and society. Maria comes from a lower socioeconomic background in Lancashire (UK) and her personal experience of the economic disparity between the different areas she has lived in, means she feels strongly about not wanting to perpetuate this norm. She feels that Hydrospector’s business growth model needs to have a more active approach in preventing the widening of the socioeconomic gap. In Joburg, where the company is based, there are stark differences in the affluence of neighbouring communities. Should she focus on working with poorly-funded local authorities to help ensure their product gets to the places most in need, rather than prioritise projects that will be more lucrative and accelerate the business more quickly?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Personal values – what personal values are causing the internal conflict for Maria? Does her own background make a difference to the issues at stake? If Maria was from an affluent area / background, how may this have affected her perspective?

2. Discussion: Professional values – what ethical principles and codes of conduct are applicable to this scenario?

3. Discussion: Wider impact – is focusing on profit alone morally inferior to prioritising ESG?

4. Activity: 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.

5. Activity: Technical integration – undertake a technical activity in the areas of mechanical, electrical and / or chemical engineering related water flow detection sensors.

 

Foreword and pre-reading for Part two:

It is useful to learn more about the context (geographical, political, social and cultural) of this case study in order to gain a deeper understanding of the nuances that each scenario brings. The following section outlines the local problems with water supply and misuse in South Africa compared to the UK. The links below are starting points to explore these challenges further and carry out research when working on projects as an engineer. They represent perspectives from news, government, and industry sources.

 

Part two:

The CEO and Operations Manager of Hydrospector is Maria’s friend and co-founder, Lucy, who grew up in Joburg. Like Maria, Lucy grew up experiencing the socioeconomic disparity in her area. Lucy’s passion for bringing benefits to disadvantaged communities makes their collaboration an ideal partnership. The company started trading in South Africa where there is a particular interest from Johannesburg Water, the main local water supply company. Water supply shortages in the region have badly affected the country in recent years. Hydrospector has successfully won a bid with a venture capitalist based in South Africa and has rolled out the sensors in Makers Valley, Joburg, a region that has developed economically in recent years. Soon after, the company also won a contract to install sensors in the Merseyside region of the UK in a trial project co-funded by the local council and United Utilities.

 

Scenario A – Environmental impact:

Hydrospector’s components are sourced in South Africa with both manufacturing and assembly carried out locally in Joburg. It has taken Lucy and her team a year to develop supply and manufacturing operations to run smoothly and economically. To ship to the UK would be a financially better deal for the company than to source and manufacture the product locally in the UK. However, the impact of the carbon footprint would not help their ESG goals. Lucy will have to decide whether to ship the product from South Africa or produce the product locally and therefore set up another operations team in the UK. Setting up in the UK will cost the company more due to component pricing, but would support the local economy. The company could potentially afford to set up UK operations, but this will impact heavily on their financial profit forecast in the first couple of years.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What should Lucy decide? What considerations does she need to make for supply chain management, when considering local customers compared to global ones?

2. Discussion: What could be the unintended consequences of her decision? Consider this question from the following points of view: environmental, economic and social – the public view.

 

Scenario B – Unintended outcomes:

After six months’ post-installation work in inner-city Bertrams, Makers Valley, Johannesburg Water has contacted Hydrospector about the illegal tapping of its pipes. They suspect water is being stolen from these settlements according to data from the installed sensors. Furthermore, engineers from Johannesburg Water carrying out maintenance work have found some of the sensors have been deliberately damaged, which they suspect has been done so that illegal tapping goes undetected. Johannesburg Water wants to prosecute those responsible and has contacted Lucy to provide all the data logged from the sensors and the time/date stamps to identify specific details about damage. Lucy, however, is aware of cases where funds intended to be used to improve infrastructure for low-income households such as electricity, water supply and sanitation, have sometimes been poorly managed and at worse embezzled so that the communities are left worse off, with ageing pipes and infrastructure. She realises that some illegal tapping may have been done in order to provide for these communities.

Several weeks after this discovery, United Utilities in Merseyside has been in touch about local individuals and companies illegally accessing water from hydrants that are found in street drains for their own usage. These companies have mobile trucks and so have been difficult to find and prosecute. United Utilities would like Hydrospector’s full co-operation in providing the logging data needed, as well as installing sensors at targeted locations where they suspect misuse is happening. Lucy’s research has found that 99% of leakages in the UK are not illegally sourced but rather are due to poor pipe networks. In fact, 20% of water supply loss in the UK is due to leaks and paid for by the customer (domestic users).

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: How should Hydrospector respond to the two requests? Should the response be the same or different? If the same, why? If different, what makes the two cases different?

2. Discussion: Should water supply companies ultimately be responsible for water leakages? If so, why are they charging domestic users for the 20% water loss? What are the environmental implications of this business decision?

3. Discussion: Maria and Lucy are also concerned that, if these cases were to be picked up by the media, there might be a reputational risk for the company and their ability to achieve their business vision and goals. The co-founders are worried about their product’s unintended consequences., They feel that it could be misused, potentially exacerbate socio-economic inequality further and go against the intended use of the product. Are they right to be concerned? Are they responsible for unintended outcomes?

4. Activity: What role should engineers have in shaping public policy? Often laws and regulations related to policy are dependent on technical knowledge, but some engineers believe it is not their role or responsibility to help shape policy. Debate this issue, or research the relationship between engineering and policy.

 

Scenario C – Public trust:

Hydrospector has been involved in a project where it surveyed and identified significant leakages and damage to the water supply system in one of the communities in Joburg. The company has been asked by the local authorities not to disclose this information to other parties, particularly media outlets, due to the security risks, including potential terrorism. However, this will affect the transparency of the project, which is publicly funded. In addition, reporting these findings could help resolve the problems found, for example, supply and construction companies may be willing to step up to help.

The company suspects that the local authorities are seeking to avoid a public outcry for the sake of impact scores on customer satisfaction. However, without public knowledge, change to improve the situation is likely to be slow.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Should the company keep the data unpublished or report the data? What ethical reasons can you identify for either choice?

2. Discussion: Should transparency be prioritised over public trust every time? Why or why not?

3. Activity: Debate the above questions by splitting up the students and having each group / individual represent the potential perspectives of United Utilities, Johannesburg Water and Maria / Lucy.

4. Discussion: What guidelines should companies be given for releasing publicly funded data and data misuse?

 

Foreword and pre-reading for Part three:

This exercise can be supported by technical and non-technical sessions such as business models, SWOT analysis, project management and risk.

 

Part three:

First, introduce Parts one and two of this case study to inform the exercise as part of a student project, such as a final year capstone.

Design a business growth model for an engineered product, identifying the potential socioeconomic impact, providing a viable profitable forecast and a life cycle sustainability assessment. Explore the ESG indicators and Raworth’s Doughnut of social and planetary boundaries as starting points.

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion and activity: Is impact your main priority? What type of impact are you looking to gain for your business? Consider economic, personal, social and environmental impacts – such as research exercise.

2. Discussion: What risks and opportunities can be identified (SWOT) for the different growth models that could be used to achieve the impact you desire?

3. Activity: Create a business growth model and plan based on your critical research.

4. Activity: Draft a CSR plan for this business.

5. Activity: Speak to people in non-engineering fields that can review and help develop your model.

 

Enhancements:

An enhancement for this case study can be found here.

 

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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.

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