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.


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

Topic: Critical digital literacy.

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

Ethical issues: Cultural context; Social responsibility; Privacy.

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

Educational level: Intermediate.

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

 

Learning and teaching notes:

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

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

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

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

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

News articles:

Educational institutions:

Legal regulations:

Non-profit organisations:

Business:

 

Summary:

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part one:

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part two:

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

References:

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

 

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

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

Author: Dr. Natalie Wint (UCL). 

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

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

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

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

Educational level: Intermediate. 

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

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

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

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

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

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

Learners have the opportunity to:   

Teachers have the opportunity to:    

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Professional organisations: 

EU agencies: 

Industry publications: 

EU law: 

 

Dilemma – Part one: 

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:  

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

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

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part two: 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

Topic: Materials sourcing and circularity.

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

Ethical issues: Respect for the environment; Risk.

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

Educational level: Intermediate.

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

 

Learning and teaching notes:

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

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

Learners have the opportunity to:

Teachers have the opportunity to:

 

Learning and teaching resources:

NGOs:

Government site:

Business:

Journal articles:

Professional organisations:

 

Dilemma – Part one:

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

  

Dilemma: Part two:

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part three:

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities:

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Authors: Dr Yujia Zhai (University of Hertfordshire); Associate Professor Scarlett Xiao (University of Hertfordshire). 

Topic: Data security of industrial robots.  

Disciplines: Robotics; Data; Internet of Things. 

Ethical issues: Safety; Health; Privacy; Transparency. 

Professional situations: Rigour; Informed consent; Misuse of data. 

Educational level: Intermediate. 

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

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

This case study involves an engineer hired to develop and install an Industrial Internet of Things (IIoT) online machine monitoring system for a manufacturing company. The developments include designing the infrastructure of hardware and software, writing the operation manuals and setting policies. The project incorporates a variety of ethical components including law and policy, stakeholders, and risk analysis. 

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

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

Legal regulations: 

UN agency: 

Educational resource: 

Government sites: 

 Educational institutions: 

 

Summary: 

IIoT is a new technology that can provide accurate condition monitoring and predict component wear rates to optimise machine performance, thereby improving the machining precision of the workpiece and reducing the production cost.   

Oxconn is a company that produces auto parts. The robotic manipulators and other automation machines on the production line have been developed at considerable cost and investment, and regular production line maintenance is essential to ensure its effective operation. The current maintenance scheme is based on routine check tests which are not reliable and efficient. Therefore Oxconn has decided to install an IIoT-based machine condition monitoring system. To achieve fast responses to any machine operation issues, the machine condition data collected in real time will be transferred to a cloud server for analysis, decision making, and predictive maintenance in the future. 

 

Dilemma – Part one – Data protection on customers’ machines:

You are a leading engineer who has been hired by Oxconn to take charge of the project on the IIoT-based machine monitoring system, including designing the infrastructure of hardware and software, writing the operation manuals, setting policies, and getting the system up and running. With your background in robotic engineering and automation, you are expected to act as a technical advisor to Oxconn and liaise with the Facilities, Security, Operation, and Maintenance departments to ensure a smooth deployment. This is the first time you have worked on a project that involves real time data collection. So as part of your preparation for the project, you need to do some preliminary research as to what best practices, guidance, and regulations apply. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: What are the legal issues relating to machine condition monitoring? Machines’ real-time data allows for the identification of production status in a factory and is therefore considered as commercial data under GDPR and the Data Protection Act (2018). Are there rules specifically for IIoT, or are they the same no matter what technology is being used? Should IIoT regulations differ in any way? Why? 

2. Discussion: Sharing data is a legally and ethically complex field. Are there any stakeholders with which the data could be shared? For instance, is it acceptable to share the data with an artificial intelligence research group or with the public? Why, or why not? 

3. Discussion: Under GDPR, individuals must normally consent to their personal data being processed. For machine condition data, how should consent be handled in this case? 

4. Discussion: What ethical codes relate to data security and privacy in an IIoT scenario?  

5. Activity: Undertake a technical activity that relates to how IIoT-based machine monitoring systems are engineered. 

6. Discussion: Based on your understanding of how IIoT-based machine monitoring systems are engineered, consider what additional risks, and what kind of risks (such as financial or operational), Oxconn might incur if depending on an entirely cloud-based system. How might these risks be mitigated from a technical and non-technical perspective? 

 

Dilemma – Part two – Computer networks security issue brought by online monitoring systems:

The project has kicked off and a senior manager requests that a user interface (UI) be established specifically for the senior management team (SMT). Through this UI, the SMT members can have access to all the real-time data via their computers or mobiles and obtain the analysis result provided by artificial intelligence technology. You realise this has implications on the risk of accessing internal operating systems via the external information interface and networks. So as part of your preparation for the project, you need to investigate what platforms can be used and what risk analysis must be taken in implementation. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

The following activities focus on macro-ethics. They address the wider ethical contexts of projects like the industrial data acquisition system. 

1. Activity: Explore different manufacturers and their approaches to safety for both machines and operators. 

2. Activity: Technical integration – Undertake a technical activity related to automation engineering and information engineering. 

3. Activity: Research what happens with the data collected by IIoT. Who can access this data and how can the data analysis module manipulate the data?  

4. Activity: Develop a risk management register, taking considerations of the findings from Activity 3 as well as the aspect of putting in place data security protocols and relevant training for SMT. 

5. Discussion/activity: Use information in the Ethical Risk Assessment guide to help students consider how ethical issues are related to the risks they have just identified. 

6. Discussion: In addition to cost-benefit analysis, how can the ethical factors be considered in designing the data analysis module? 

7. Activity: Debate the appropriateness of installing and using the system for the SMT. 

8. Discussion: What responsibilities do engineers have in developing these technologies? 

 

Dilemma – Part three – Security breach and legal responsibility: 

At the beginning of operation, the IIoT system with AI algorithms improved the efficiency of production lines by updating the parameters in robot operation and product recipes automatically. Recently, however, the efficiency degradation was observed, and after investigation, there were suspicions that the rules/data in AI algorithms have been subtly changed. Developers, contractors, operators, technicians and managers were all brought in to find out what’s going on. 

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

1. Discussion: If there has been an illegal hack of the system, what might be the motive of cyber criminals?   

2. Discussion: What are the impacts on company business? How could the impact of cyber-attacks on businesses be minimised?

3. Discussion: How could threats that come from internal employees, vendors, contractors or partners be prevented?

4. Discussion: When a security breach happens, what are the legal responsibilities for developers, contractors, operators, technicians and managers? 

 

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.

Author: Dr J.L. Rowlandson (University of Bristol).

Topic: Home heating in the energy transition. 

Engineering disciplines: Chemical; Civil; Mechanical; Energy. 

Ethical issues: Sustainability; Social responsibility. 

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

Educational level: Intermediate. 

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

 

Learning and teaching notes: 

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

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

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

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

Learners have the opportunity to: 

Teachers have the opportunity to: 

 

Learning and teaching resources: 

Open access textbooks: 

Journal articles: 

Educational institutions: 

Business: 

Government reports: 

Other organisations: 

Stakeholder mapping: 

 

Summary – Heating systems and building requirements: 

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

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

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

 

Technical pre-reading for Part one: 

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part one – Considering heat pump suitability: 

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

 

Optional STOP for question and activities: 

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

 

Dilemma – Part two – Inconsistencies: 

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

 

Optional STOP for question and activities: 

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part four – Tenants voice concerns: 

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part five – The council consultation: 

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

 

Dilemma – Part six – Recommendations: 

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

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

 

Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

 

Appendix: 

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

Task A: Impact of insulation 

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

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

Example estimation: 

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

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

 

 2. Calculate the work input for the heat pump.  

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

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

 

3. Determine the work input over a year. 

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

 

4. Determine the running cost 

For an electricity unit price of 33.8 p per kWh.

 

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

 

Task B: Annual running cost estimation 

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

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

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

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

 

Example estimation: 

1. Calculate the annual power requirement for each case. 

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

2. Calculate the annual cost for each case: 

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

 

Task C: Lifetime cost estimation  

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

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

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

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

 

1. Calculate the lifetime running cost for each case.

 

2. Calculate the total lifetime cost for each case.

 

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.


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.

Let us know what you think of our website