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

Topic: Sustainable materials  in construction.

Engineering disciplines: Civil engineering; Manufacturing; Construction.

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

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

Educational level: Intermediate.

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

 

Learning and teaching notes:

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

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

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

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

News articles:

Business:

Journal articles:

Educational institutions:

Citizen engagement organisation:

Professional organisation:

NGOs:

 

Suggested pre-reading:

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

 

Summary:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part one:

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part two:

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

 

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

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

Author: Dr. Natalie Wint (UCL). 

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

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

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

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

Educational level: Intermediate. 

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

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

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

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

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

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

Learners have the opportunity to:   

Teachers have the opportunity to:    

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

EU agencies: 

Industry publications: 

EU law: 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:  

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

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

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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


Author:
Wendy Attwell (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Balancing personal values and professional conduct in the climate emergency. 

Engineering disciplines: Civil engineering; Energy and Environmental engineering; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Justice; Accountability; Social responsibility; Risk; Sustainability; Health; Public good; Respect for the law; Future generations; Societal impact. 

Professional situations: Public health and safety; Communication; Law / Policy; Integrity; Legal implications; Personal/professional reputation. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

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

 

Learning and teaching notes:  

This case study involves an engineer who has to weigh personal values against professional codes of conduct when acting in the wake of the climate crisis. This case study allows students to explore motivations and justifications for courses of action that could be considered morally right but legally wrong.  

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 Parts two and three develop and complicate the concepts presented in 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: 

Professional organisations: 

Educational institutions: 

Education and campaign groups: 

 News articles:  

 

Summary: 

Kelechi is a civil engineer in a stable job, working on the infrastructure team of a County Council that focuses on regeneration and public realm improvements. Kelechi grew up in an environment where climate change and its real impacts on people was discussed frequently. She was raised with the belief that she should live as ethically as possible, and encourage others to consider their impact on the world. These beliefs were instrumental in leading Kelechi into a career as a civil engineer, in the hope that she could use her skills and training to create a better world. In one of her engineering modules at university, Kelechi met Amanda, who encouraged her to join a student group pushing for sustainability within education and the workplace. Kelechi has had some success with this within her own job, as her employer has been willing to participate in ongoing discussions on carbon and resilience, and is open to implementing creative solutions.  

But Kelechi is becoming frustrated at the lack of larger scale change in the wake of the climate emergency. Over the years she has signed petitions and written to her representatives, then watched in dismay as each campaign failed to deliver real world carbon reduction, and as the government continued to issue new licenses for fossil fuel projects. Even her own employers have failed to engage with climate advocates pushing for further changes in local policy, changes that Kelechi believes are both achievable and necessary. Kelechi wonders what else she can do to set the UK – if not the world – on a path to net zero. 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

Scrolling through a news website, Kelechi is surprised to see a photo of her friend and ex-colleague Amanda, in a report about climate protesters being arrested. Kelechi messages Amanda to check that she’s ok, and they get into a conversation about the protests. Amanda is part of a climate protest group of STEM professionals that engages in non-violent civil disobedience. The group believes that by staging direct action protests they can raise awareness of the climate emergency and ultimately effect systemic change.  

Amanda tries to convince Kelechi to join the group and protest with them. Amanda references the second principle of the Statement of Ethical Principles published by the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering: “Respect for life, law, the environment and public good.” Amanda believes that it is ok to ignore the tenet about respect for the law in an effort to safeguard the other three, and says that there have been plenty of unjust laws throughout history that have needed to be protested in order for them to be changed for the public good. She also references another part of the Statement: that engineers should ”maximise the public good and minimise both actual and potential adverse effects for their own and succeeding generations”. Amanda believes that by protesting she is actually fulfilling her duty to uphold these principles.  

Kelechi isn’t sure. She has never knowingly broken the law before, and is worried about being arrested. Kelechi consults her friend Max, who is a director of a professional engineering institution, of which Kelechi is a member. Max, whilst she has some sympathies for the aims of the group, immediately warns Kelechi away from the protests. “Forget about being arrested; you could lose your job and end your career.”  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What personal values will Kelechi have to weigh in order to decide whether or not to take part in a civil disobedience protest? 

2. Discussion: Consider the tenet of the Statement of Ethical Principles “Respect for life, law, the environment and public good.” To what extent (if at all) do the four tenets of this ethical principle come into conflict with one another in this situation? Can you think of other professional situations in which they might conflict? 

3. Discussion: Is breaking the law always unethical? Are there circumstances when breaking the law might be the ethical thing to do in the context of engineering practice? What might these circumstances be? 

4. Discussion: To what extent (if at all) does the content of the Statement of Ethical Principles make a case for or against being part of a protest where the law is broken?  

5. Discussion: Following on from the previous question – does it make a difference what is being protested, if a law is broken? For example, is protesting fossil fuels that lead to climate change different from protesting unsafe but legal building practices, such as cladding that causes a fire risk? Why? 

6. Activity: Research other professional codes of engineering: do these have clear guidelines for this situation? Assemble a bibliography of other professional codes or standards that might be relevant to this scenario. 

7. Discussion: What are the potential personal and professional risks or benefits for Kelechi if she takes part in a protest where the law is broken? 

8. Discussion: From a professional viewpoint, should Kelechi take part in the protest? What about from a personal viewpoint? 

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

After much deliberation, Kelechi decides to join the STEM protest group. Her first protest is part of a direct action to blockade a busy London bridge. To her own surprise, she finds herself volunteering to be one of two protesters who will climb the cables of the bridge. She is reassured by the risk assessment undertaken by the group before selecting her. She has climbing experience (although only from her local leisure centre), and safety equipment is provided.  

On the day of the protest, Kelechi scales the bridge. The police are called and the press arrive. Kelechi stays suspended from the bridge for 36 hours, during which time all traffic waiting to cross the bridge is halted or diverted. Eventually, Kelechi is convinced that she should climb down, and the police arrest all of the protesters.  

Later on, Kelechi is contacted by members of the press, asking for a statement about her reason for taking part in the protest. Kelechi has seen that press coverage of the protest is so far overwhelmingly negative, and poll results suggest that the majority of the public see the protesters’ actions as selfish, inconvenient, and potentially dangerous, although some have sympathy for their cause. “What if someone died because an ambulance couldn’t use the bridge?” asks someone via social media. “What about the five million deaths a year already caused by climate change?” asks another, citing a recent news article 

Kelechi would like to take the opportunity to make her voice heard – after all, that’s why she joined the protest group – but she isn’t sure whether she should mention her profession. Would it add credibility to her views? Or would she be lambasted because of it? 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What professional principles or codes is Kelechi breaking or upholding by scaling the bridge?  

2. Activity: Compare the professional and ethical codes for civil engineers in the UK and elsewhere. How might they differ in their guidance for an engineer in this situation?  

3. Activity: Conduct a risk assessment for a) the protesters who have chosen to be part of this scenario, and b) members of the public who are incidentally part of this scenario. 

4. Discussion: Who would be responsible if, as a direct or indirect result of the protesters blocking the bridge, a) a member of the public died, or b) a protester died? Who is responsible for the excess deaths caused directly or indirectly by climate change? 

5. Discussion: How can Kelechi best convey to the press and public the quantitative difference between the short-term disruption caused by protests and the long-term disruption caused by climate change? 

6. Discussion: Should Kelechi give a statement to the press? If so, should she discuss her profession? What would you do in her situation? 

7. Activity: Write a statement for Kelechi to release to the press. 

8. Discussion: Suggest alternative ways of protesting that would have as much impact in the news but potentially cause less disruption to the public. 

 

Dilemma – Part three: 

Kelechi decides to speak to the press. She talks about the STEM protest group, and she specifically cites the Statement of Ethical Principles as her reason for taking part in the protest: “As a professional civil engineer, I have committed to acting within our code of ethics, which requires that I have respect for life, the environment and public good. I will not just watch lives be destroyed if I can make a difference with my actions.”  

Whilst her statement gets lots of press coverage, Kelechi is called out by the media and the public because of her profession. The professional engineering institution of which Kelechi is a member receives several complaints about her actions, some from members of the public and some from other members of the institution. “She’s bringing the civil engineering profession into disrepute,” says one complaint. “She’s endangering the public,” says another. 

It’s clear that the institution must issue a press release on the situation, and it falls to Kelechi’s friend Max, as a director of the institution, to decide what kind of statement to put out, and to recommend whether Kelechi’s membership of the institution could – or should – be revoked. Max looks closely at the institution’s Code of Professional Conduct. One part of the Code says that “Members should do nothing that in any way could diminish the high standing of the profession. This includes any aspect of a member’s personal conduct which could have a negative impact upon the profession.” Another part of the Code says: “All members shall have full regard for the public interest, particularly in relation to matters of health and safety, and in relation to the well-being of future generations.” 

As well as the institution’s Code of Conduct, Max considers the historic impact of civil resistance in achieving change, and how those engaging in such protests – such as the suffragettes in the early 1900s – could be viewed negatively at the time, whilst later being lauded for their efforts. Max wonders at what point the tide of public opinion begins to turn, and what causes this change. She knows that she has to consider the potential impacts of the statement that she puts out in the press release; how it might affect not just her friend, but the institution’s members, other potential protesters, and also her own career.  

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Historically, has civil resistance been instrumental or incidental in achieving systemic change? Research to find out if and when engineers have been involved in civil resistance in the past. 

2. Discussion: Could Kelechi’s actions, and the results of her actions, be interpreted as having “a negative impact on the profession”? 

3. Discussion: Looking at Kelechi’s actions, and the institution’s code of conduct, should Max recommend that Kelechi’s membership be revoked? 

4. Discussion: Which parts of the quoted code of conduct could Max emphasise or omit in her press release, and how might this affect the tone of her statement and how it could be interpreted? 

5. Activity: Debate which position Max should take in her press release: condemning the actions of the protesters as being against the institution’s code of conduct; condoning the actions as being within the code of conduct; remaining as neutral as possible in her statement. 

6. Discussion: What are the wider impacts of Max’s decision to either remain neutral, or to stand with or against Kelechi in her actions?  

7. Activity: Write a press release for the institution, taking one of the above positions. 

8. Discussion: Which other authorities or professional bodies might be impacted by Max’s decision? 

9. Discussion: What are the potential impacts of Max’s press release on the following stakeholders, and what decisions or actions might they take because of it? Kelechi; Kelechi’s employer; members of the STEM protest group; the institution; institution members; government policymakers; the media; the public; the police; fossil fuel businesses; Max’s employers; Max herself. 

 

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: Developing an internet constellation

Activity: Anatomy of an internet satellite.

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

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part two section. It is based on the work done by Kate Crawford and Vladan Joler and published by the SHARE Lab of the SHARE Foundation and the AI Now Institute of New York University, which investigates the “anatomy” of an Amazon Echo device in order to “understand and govern the technical infrastructures” of complex devices. Educators should review the Anatomy of an AI website to see the map and the complementary discussion in order to prepare and to get further ideas. This activity is fundamentally focused on developing systems thinking, a competency viewed as essential in sustainability that also has many ethical implications. Systems thinking is also an AHEP outcome (area 6). The activity could also be given a supply chain emphasis.

This could work as either an in-class activity that would likely take an entire hour or more, or it could be a homework assignment or a combination of the two. It could easily be integrated with technical learning. The activity is presented in parts; educators can choose which parts to use or focus on.

 

1. What are the components needed to make an internet satellite functional?:

First, students can be asked to brainstorm what they think the various components of an internet satellite are without using the internet to help them. This can include electrical, mechanical, and computing parts.

Next, students can be asked to brainstorm what resources are needed for a satellite to be launched into orbit. This could include everything from human resources to rocket fuel to the concrete that paves the launch pad. Each of those resources also has inputs, from chemical processing facilities to electricity generation and so forth.

Next, students can be asked to brainstorm what systems are required to keep the internet satellite operational throughout its time in orbit. This can include systems related to the internet itself, but also things like power and maintenance.

Finally, students can be asked to brainstorm what resources will be needed to manage the satellite’s end of life.

Small groups of students could each be given a whiteboard to make a tether diagram showing how all these components connect, and to try to determine the path dependencies between all of them.

To emphasise ethics explicitly, educators could ask students to imagine where within the tether diagram there could be ethical conflicts or dilemmas and why. Additionally, students could reflect on how changing one part of the system in the satellite would affect other parts of the system.

 

2. How and where are those components made?:

In this portion of the activity, students can research where all the parts of those components and systems come from – including metals, plastics, glass, etc. They should also research how and where the elements making up those parts are made – mines, factories, chemical plants, etc. – and how they are then shipped to where they are assembled and the corresponding inputs/outputs of that process.

Students could make a physical map of the globe to show where the raw materials come from and where they “travel” on their path to becoming a part of the internet satellite system.

To emphasise ethics explicitly, educators could ask students to imagine where within the resources map there could be ethical conflicts or dilemmas and why, and what the sustainability implications are of materials sourcing.

 

3. The anatomy of data:

In this portion of the activity, students can research how the internet provides access to and stores data, and the physical infrastructures required to do so. This includes data centres, fibre optic cables, energy, and human labour. Whereas internet service is often quite localised (for instance, students may be able to see 5G masts or the service vans of their internet service provider), in the case of internet satellites it is very distant and therefore often “invisible”.

To emphasise ethics explicitly, educators could ask students to debate the equity and fairness of spreading the supply and delivery of these systems beyond the area in which they are used. In the case of internet satellites specifically, this includes space and the notion of space as a common resource for all. This relates to other questions and activities presented in the case study.

 

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: Water wars: managing competing water rights

Activity: Role-play the council meeting, with students playing different characters representing different perspectives.

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

 

Overview:

This enhancement is for an activity found in the Dilemma Part two, Point 6 section: “Role-play the council meeting, with students playing different characters representing different perspectives.” Below are several 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.

 

Prompts for questions:

After discussing the case in class, and completing the stakeholder mapping activity (Dilemma Part one, Point 4 – repeated below) from the Water Wars case study, this lesson guides teachers through conducting a role-play of the council meeting scenario.

1. Discuss the stakeholder mapping activity: Who are all the characters in the scenario? What are their positions and perspectives? How can you use these perspectives to understand the complexities of the situation more fully?

2. To prepare for the council meeting role-play activity, assign students in advance to take on different stakeholder roles (randomly or purposefully), or let them self-assign based on their interests.  Roles can include any of the following:

Suggestions from Stakeholder mapping activity:

Additional stakeholders to consider:

3. Before the class session in which the role-play will occur, students should research their stakeholder to get a sense of their values and motivations in regard to the case. Where no information is available, students can imagine the experiences and perspectives of the stakeholder with the goal of articulating what the stakeholder values and what motivates them to come to the council meeting to be heard on this issue. Students should prepare some statements about the stakeholder position on the water use by DSS, what the stakeholder values, and what the stakeholder proposes the solution should be. Students assigned to be council members will prepare for the role-play by learning about the conflict and writing potential questions they would want to ask of the stakeholders representing different views on the conflict.

4. In class, students prepare to role-play the council meeting by first connecting with others in the same stakeholder role (if applicable – you may have few enough students to have only one student assigned to a stakeholder) and deciding who can speak (you may want to require each student to speak or ask that one person be nominated to speak on behalf of the stakeholder group).

5. As the session begins, remind students to jot down notes from the various perspectives’ positions so there can be a debrief conversation at the end.  Challenge students to consider their personal biases and position at the outset and reflect on those positions and biases at the end of the council meeting. If they were a lead member of the council, what solution would they propose or vote for?

6. As the Council Meeting begins, the teacher should act as a moderator to guide students through the session. First the teacher will briefly highlight the issue up for discussion, then pass it to the students representing the Council members.  Council members will open the meeting with their description of the matter at hand between DSS and other local parties. They set the tone for the meeting with a call for feedback from the community members. The teacher can help the Council members call up the stakeholders in turn. Each stakeholder group will have a chance to state their argument, values, and reasons for or against DSS’ water use.  Each stakeholder will have an opportunity to suggest a proposed solution and Council members can engage in discussion with each stakeholder to clarify anything about their position that was unclear.

7. At the end of the meeting, the council members privately confer and then publicly vote on a resolution for the community.  All students, no matter their role, end the class by reflecting on the outcome and their original position on the case. Has anything shifted in their position or rationale after the council meeting? Why or why not?

8. The whole class could then engage in a discussion about the outcome of the council meeting. Teachers could focus on an analysis of how the process went, a discussion about the persuasiveness of different values and positions, and/or an exploration of the internal thinking students went through to arrive at their positions.

 

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.

Theme: Collaborating with industry for teaching and learning

Authors: Ian Hobson (Senior Lecturer and Academic Mentor for Engineering Leadership Management at Swansea University and former Manufacturing Director at Tata Steel) and Dr Vasilios Samaras (Senior Lecturer and Programme Director for Engineering Leadership Management at Swansea University)

Keywords: Academia, Industry

Abstract: Throughout the MSc Engineering Leadership Management program, the students at Swansea University develop theoretical knowledge and capability around leadership in organisations. Working alongside our industry partner Tata Steel, they deploy this knowledge to help understand and provide potential solutions to specific organisational issues that are current and of strategic importance to the business. The output of this work is presented to the Tata Steel board of directors along with a detailed report.

 

Aims of the program

In today’s world, our responsibility as academics is to ensure that we provide an enabling learning environment for our students and deliver a first-class education to them. This has been our mantra for many years. But what about our responsibility to the employing organisations? It’s all well and good providing well educated graduates but if they are not aligned to the requirements of those organisations then we are missing the point. This may be an extreme scenario, but there is a real danger that as academics we can lose touch with the needs of those organisations and as time moves on the gap between what they want and what we deliver widens.

In today’s world this relationship with the employment market and understanding the requirement of it is essential. We need to be agile in our approach to meet those requirements and deliver quality employees to the market.

How did we set this collaborative approach?

In reality the only way to do this is by adopting a collaborative approach to our program designs. Our aim with the MSc Engineering Leadership Management (ELM) at Swansea University is to ensure that we collaborate fully with the employment market by integrating industry professionals into our program design and delivery processes. In this way we learn to understand the challenges that organisations face and how they need strength in the organisation to meet those challenges. This of course not an easy task to accomplish.

In our experience professionals within organisations are often overrun with workload and trying to manage the challenges that they face. A university knocking the door with an offer of collaboration is not always top of their priority list, so how do we make this happen? You need to have a balance of academics and experienced industry leaders working within the program who understand the pressures that business faces. They also often have networks within the external market who are willing to support such programs as the ELM. The power of collaboration is often overlooked. It’s often a piece of research, dealing with a specific technical issue, it is rarely a continuum of organisational alignment. If the collaboration is designed for the long-term benefit of improving employability, then organisations will see this as a way to help solve the increasing challenge of finding “good” employees in a market that is tightening. So overall this becomes a win-win situation.

How was the need for the program identified?

Our program was developed following feedback to the university from the market that graduates were joining organisations with good academic qualifications but lacked an understanding of how organisations work. More importantly how to integrate into the organisation and develop their competencies. This did come with time and support, but the graduates fell behind the expected development curve and needed significant support to meet their aspirations.

Swansea University developed the ELM to provide education on organisations and how they work and develop the skills that are required to operate in them as an employee. These tend to be the softer skills, but also developing the student’s competence in using them. Examples include working as teams and providing honest feedback via 1-1s and 360s and team reviews.

In our experience the ability to challenge in a constructive way is a competency that the students don’t possess. All our work is anchored in theory which provides reference for the content. The assignments that we set involve our industry partners and provide potential solutions to real issues that organisations face.  The outcome of their projects is presented to senior management within the host organisation. This is often the high point of the year for the students. This way the students get exposure to the organisations which extends their comfort zones preparing them for the future challenges.

What are the program outcomes?

September 2022 will be our fifth year. The program is accredited by the Institution of Engineering and Technology (IET). Our numbers have increased year on year, and we are running cohorts of up to 20 students. It’s a mix of UK and international students. The program requires collaboration between the university faculties which has brought significant benefits and provided many learning opportunities. The collaboration between the engineering and business schools has made us realise that working together we provide a rounded program that is broad in content, but also deep in areas that are identified as specific learning objectives.

The feedback from the University is that students on the ELM program perform well and they have a more mature approach to learning and have confidence in themselves and are proactive in lectures. From our industry partners they feed back that the ELM students are ahead of the curve and are promoted into positions ahead of their peers.

What have we learned from the program?

As lecturers, over the years it has become very clear that the content that we deliver must change year on year. We cannot deliver the same content as it quickly becomes out of date. The theory changes very little, but the application changes significantly, in line with the general market challenges. It is almost impossible to predict and if we sit back and look at the past 4 years this pattern is clear. We also need to refresh our knowledge and we have as much to learn from our students as they do from us. We treat them as equals and have a very good learning relationships and have open and honest debates. We always build feedback into our programs and discus how we can improve the content and delivery of the program. Without exception feedback from a year’s cohort will modify the program for the following year.

Looking ahead

We are being approached by organisations interested in the University delivering a similar program to their future leaders on a part time basis which is something we are considering. We do however recognise that this program is successful because of the experience and knowledge of the lecturers and the ability to work with small cohorts which enables a tailored approach to the program content.

We believe that collaboration with the market keeps the ELM aligned with its requirements. Equally as importantly is the collaboration with our students. They are the leaders of the future and if the market loses sight of the expectations of these future leaders, then they will fail.

The ELM not only aligns its programs with the market, it keeps the market aligned with future leaders.

 

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 Nik Whitehead (University of Wales Trinity Saint David); Dr Sarah Jayne Hitt SFHEA (NMITE); Professor Thomas Lennerfors (Uppsala University); Claire Donovan (Royal Academy of Engineering); Professor Raffaella Ocone OBE FREng FRSE (Heriot Watt University); Isobel Grimley (Engineering Professors’ Council).

Topic: Low earth orbit satellites for internet provision. 

Engineering disciplines: Electronics, Mechanical engineering.

Ethical issues: Respect for environment, Public good, Future generations.

Professional situations: Communication, Management, Working cultures.

Educational level: Intermediate.

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

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case is about an experienced engineer leading a team at a tech start-up. The company has been awarded a contract to produce an innovative satellite that will be used in an internet constellation. While the team was initially excited about their work, some members are now concerned about the impact of the internet constellation. While mainly focused on environmental ethics, effects on human communities are also raised in this case study.

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, this section enables students to practise different types of analysis and to introduce aspects of environmental ethics. It highlights the challenges of making ethical decisions with global consequences, in scenarios where policy isn’t clear. Part two develops and complicates the concepts presented in Part one to provide for additional learning by focusing on the course of actions taken by an individual engineer based on the dilemma presented in Part one. The Challenge of Environmental Ethics linked below is recommended, though not required, for students engaging with this case. Additionally, throughout the case, there is 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: 

After years of working your way up the corporate ladder, you are now Head of Engineering for a tech start-up. The company has won a contract connected to a project creating a constellation of thousands of low Earth orbit satellites. This constellation has the potential to create a reliable system of internet access for areas of the world that are hard to reach by conventional infrastructure. Your company is one of those chosen to develop and build a low-cost, lightweight, efficient satellite that can be produced at scale. This is a huge accomplishment for you, as well as for your company. 

 

Dilemma – Part one:

A conference that brings together various project partners is met by protesters whose message is that the internet constellation has several potential negative impacts for nature and human communities. Disparaging comments have been made about your company’s participation in the project on social media. Some members of your team seem quite rattled by the protests, and you convene at a coffee shop to discuss. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion: Technical analysis – Undertake a technical activity in the areas of electronic and / or mechanical engineering related to internet constellations.

2. Activity: Position analysis – Divide students into three groups—constellation project managers; satellite engineers and protestors. Imagine how their positions are related to the internet constellation. What values might inform their positions? What knowledge might inform their position that the other groups do not have access to or understanding of?

3. Discussion: Environmental analysis – While nature cannot speak for itself, if it could, what might be its position on the internet constellation? What aspects of the natural world might be affected by this technology in both the short- and long-term? For example, are there any direct or indirect effects on the health of humans and the ecosystems around them? Should the natural world of space be treated the same way as the natural world on earth?

4. Discussion: Policy analysis – Who should make decisions about projects that affect nature on a global scale? What laws or regulations exist that govern internet constellations?

5. Discussion and Activity: Moral analysis – Use environmental ethics principles such as intrinsic value and anthropocentrism to debate the project. Beyond environmental concerns, how might other ethical approaches, such as consequentialism or justice, inform positions on the issue?

 

Dilemma – Part two:

You remind and explain to your team members that they, and the company, have a duty to the client. Everyone has been hired to deliver a specific project and been excited about overcoming the technical challenges to ensure the project’s success. The team agrees, but also expresses concern about aspects that aren’t in the project remit, such as how the satellite will be maintained and what will happen to it at the end of its life. They demand that you pause your work until an ethical review is conducted. 

You report all of this to the CEO, who reacts with disappointment and unhappiness at your team’s actions. She argues that the only thing your company is doing is building the satellite: it’s not your responsibility what happens to it afterwards. She feels that it’s your job to get your team back in line and on task. How do you approach this situation? 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

1. Discussion and Activity: How do you respond to this situation? What responsibilities do you have to your team, your boss, and the client? How will you balance these? Are the team’s engineers right to be concerned about the impact of their satellite within the wider constellation, or is it beyond their scope? Role-play an interaction between you and the engineering team, or between you and your boss.

2. Activity: Life cycle analysis – Research life cycles of satellites and their environmental impact.

3. Discussion and Activity: Debate if, and how, we have obligations to future generations. Is it possible to have a moral contract with a person that may never be born? How do we know that people in the future, will value the same things we do now? Both creating the internet constellation and preventing its implementation seem to potentially benefit future generations. How do we balance these ‘goods’ and make a decision on how to proceed? Who gets to decide?

4. Activity: Anatomy of an internet satellite – use the Anatomy of an AI case study as an example of a tether map, showing the inputs and outputs of a device. Create a tether map showing the anatomy of an internet satellite.

 

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

Topic: Data centres’ impact on sustainable water resources.

Engineering disciplines: Civil engineering, Electronic engineering.

Ethical issues: Sustainability, Respect for environment, Future generations, Risk, Societal impact.

Professional situations: Law or policy, Communication, Integrity.

Educational level: Intermediate.

Educational aim: Practise ethical judgement. Ethical Judgment is the activity of thinking about whether something has a moral attribute. Judgments involve reaching moral decisions and providing the rationale for those decisions.

 

Learning and teaching notes:

This case involves a situation where environmental damage may be occurring despite the mechanism causing this damage being permissible by law. The engineer at this centre of the case is to represent the company that is responsible for the potential damage, at a council meeting. It requires the engineer to weigh up various harms and goods, and make a decision that could seriously impact their own job or career. There is also a section at the end of this case study that contains technical information providing further details about the water cooling of ICT equipment.

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.

Students have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

 

Summary:

The company Data Storage Solutions (DSS) has built a large data centre on land that was historically used for agriculture and owned by a farming operation. DSS was incorporated as a subsidiary of the farming company so that it could retain the water rights that were attached to the property. This ensured access to the large amount of water needed to cool their servers. This centre manages data from a variety of sources including the local hospital and university.

When the property was used as a farm, the farming operation never used its full allocation of water. Now, the data centre always uses the maximum amount legally allotted to it. For the rainy half of the year, this isn’t a problem. However, in more arid months, the nearby river almost runs dry, resulting in large volumes of fish dying. Other farmers in the area have complained that the water level in their wells has dropped, making irrigation much more expensive and challenging.

 

Dilemma – Part one:

You are a civil engineer working for DSS and have been requested by your boss to represent the company at a forthcoming local council meeting where the issue will be discussed. Your employer is sending you to justify the company’s actions and defend them against accusations of causing an environmental hazard in the local area which is reducing the water table for farmers and affecting local biodiversity. Your boss has told you that DSS has a right to the water and that it does not intend to change its behaviour. This meeting promises to be a contentious one as the local Green party and farmers’ union have indicated that they will be challenging the company’s water usage. How will you prepare for the meeting?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: Personal values – What is your initial position on the issue? Do you see anything wrong with DSS’s water use? Why, or why not?

2. Discussion: Professional responsibilities – What ethical principles and codes of conduct are relevant to this situation?

3. Activity: Define and identify the relevant data you should compile to take to the meeting. What information do you need in order to be prepared?

4. Activity: Stakeholder mapping – Who are all the characters in the scenario? What are their positions and perspectives? How can you use these perspectives to understand the complexities of the situation more fully? Examples include:

Data Storage Solutions

5. Activity: Undertake a technical activity such as civil and / or electronic engineering related to the measurement of stream flow and calculating data centre cooling needs.

 

Dilemma – Part two:

As you prepare for the meeting, you reflect on several competing issues. For instance, you are an employee of DSS and have a responsibility to represent its interests, but can see that the company’s actions are environmentally harmful. You appreciate that the data centre is vital for the local community, including the safe running of schools and hospitals, and that its operation requires sufficient water for cooling. Your boss has told you that you must not admit responsibility for any environmental damage or biodiversity loss. You also happen to know that a new green battery plant is planning to open nearby that will create more data demand and has the potential to further increase DSS’s water use. You know that obtaining water from other sources will be costly to DSS and may not be practically possible, let alone commercially viable. What course of action will you pursue?

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Activity: Debate what course of action you should take. Should you take the company line despite knowing about the environmental impacts? Should you risk your reputation or career? What responsibilities do you have to fellow employees, the community, and the environment?

2. Activity: Risk analysis – What are the short- and long- term burdens and benefits of each course of action? Should environmental concerns outweigh others? Is there a difference between the environment locally and globally?

3. Activity and discussion: Read Sandra Postel’s case for a Water Ethic, and consider New Zealand’s recent legislation that gives a rainforest the same rights as a human. With this in mind, does the stream have a right to thrive? Do the fish have a right to a sustainable environment? Are humans ultimately at risk here, or just the environment? Does that answer change your decision? Why?

4. Activity: Prepare a statement for the council meeting. What will you argue?

5. Activity: The students should interrogate the pros and cons of each possible course of action including the ethical, the practical, the cost, the local relationship and the reputational damage implications. They should decide on their own preferred course of action and explain why the balance of pros and cons is preferable to other options. The students may wish to consider this from other perspectives, such as:

6. Activity: Role-play the council meeting, with students playing different characters representing different perspectives.

7. Activity: Allow students to reflect on how this case study has enabled them to see the situation from different angles, and whether this has helped them to understand the ethical concerns and come to an acceptable conclusion.

 

Annex – Accompanying technical information:

ICT equipment generates heat and so most devices must have a mechanism to manage their temperature. Drawing cool air over hot metal transfers heat energy to that air, which is then pushed out into the environment. This works because the computer temperature is usually higher than the surrounding air. There are several different mechanisms for data centre cooling, but the general approach involves chillers reducing air temperature by cooling water – typically to 7–10 °C, which is then used as a heat transfer mechanism. Some data centres use cooling towers where external air travels across a wet media so that the water evaporates. Fans expel the hot, wet air and the cooled water is recirculated. Other data centres use adiabatic economisers – where water is sprayed directly into the air flow, or onto a heat exchange surface, thereby cooling the air entering the data centre. With both techniques the evaporation results in water loss. A small 1 MW data centre using one of these types of traditional cooling can use around 25.5 million litres of water per year. Data centre water efficiency deserves greater attention. Annual reports show water consumption for cooling directly paid for by the operator, so there is an economic incentive to increase efficiency. As the total energy share of cooling has fallen with improving PUEs (Power Usage Effectiveness metric), the focus has been on electricity consumption, and so water has been a low priority for the industry. However, the largest contributor to the water footprint of a data centre is electricity generation. Where data centres own and operate the entire facility, there is more flexibility for exploring alternative sources of water, and different techniques for keeping ICT equipment cool.

 

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); 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.

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