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:  



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:
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).



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.

Author: Professor Manuela Rosa (Algarve University). 

Keywords: Societal impact; Equity; Equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI); Design; Justice; Equity; Communication; Global responsibility. 

Who is this article for?: This article should be read by educators at all levels in higher education who wish to integrate social sustainability, EDI, and ethics into the engineering and design curriculum or module design. It will also help to prepare students with the integrated skill sets that employers are looking for. 



The Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons, adopted by the General Assembly of United Nations on 9 December 1975, stipulated protection of the rights of people with disabilities. The United Nations 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, a plan of action for people, planet, and prosperity, demands that all stakeholders, acting in collaborative partnership, must recognise that the dignity of the human person is fundamental and so the development of the 17 Sustainable Development Goals must meet all segments of society in a way that “no one will be left behind”.  

In relation to engineering, The Statement of Ethical Principles published by the Engineering Council and the Royal Academy of Engineering in 2005 and revised in 2017, articulates one of its strategic challenges to be positioning engineering at the heart of society, enhancing its wellbeing, improving the quality of the built environment, and promoting EDI. To uphold these principles, engineering professionals are required to promote social equity, guaranteeing equal opportunities to access the built environment and transportation systems, enabling the active participation of all citizens in society, including vulnerable groups. The universal design approach is one method that engineers can use to ensure social sustainability. 


The challenges of universal and inclusive design: 

Every citizen must have the same equality of opportunities in using spaces because the existence of an accessible built environment is fundamental to guarantee vitality, safety, and sociability. These ethical values associated with the technical decision-making process were considered by the American architect Ronald Lawrence Mace (1941-1998) who defined the universal design concept as “designing all products, buildings and exterior spaces to be usable by all people to the greatest extent possible” (Mace et al., 1991), thus contributing to social inclusion.  

Universal accessibility according to this universal design approach is “the characteristic of an environment or object which enables everybody to enter into a relationship with, and make use of, that object or environment in a friendly, respectful and safe way” (Aragall et al., 2003). It focuses on people with reduced mobility, such as people with disabilities (mobility, vision, hearing and cognitive dimensions), children and elderly people. Built environment and transport systems must be designed considering this equity attribute which is associated with social sustainability and inclusion. 

The Center for Universal Design of the North Carolina State University developed seven principles of universal design (Connell et al., 1997):  

1. Equitable use 

2. Flexibility in use  

3. Simple and intuitive use  

4. Perceptible information  

5. Tolerance for error  

6. Low physical effort  

7. Size and space for approach and use.    

These principles must always be incorporated in the conception of products and physical environments, so as to create a ‘fair built’ environment, where all have the right to use it, in the same independent and natural way. This justice design must guarantee autonomy in the use of spaces and transport vehicles, contributing to the self-determination of citizens.   

The perceptions of the space users are fundamental to be considered in the design process to achieve the usability of the built environment and transport systems. Pedestrian infrastructure design and modal interfaces demand user-centred approaches and therefore processes of co-design and co-creation with communities, where people are effectively involved as collaborators and participants. 

Achieving an inclusive society is a great challenge because there are situations where the needs of users are divergent: technical solutions created for a specific group of people are inadequate for others. For example, wheelchair users and elderly people need smooth surfaces and, on the contrary, blind people need tactile surfaces.  

Consequently, in the process of universal design, some people can feel excluded because they need other technical solutions. It is then necessary to consider precise inclusive design when projecting urban spaces for all.   

Universal design is linked with designing one-space-suits-almost-all, and inclusive design focuses on one-space-suits-one, for example design a space for everyone (collective perspective) versus design a space for one specific group (particular perspective). As the built environment must be understandable to and usable by all people, both are important for social sustainability. Universal design contributes to social inclusion, but added inclusive design is needed, matching the excluded users to the object or space design.  

In order to promote social inclusion and quality of life, to which everyone is entitled, universal and inclusive co-design of the built environment and the transportation systems demands specific approaches that have to be integrated in engineering education: 



Universal and inclusive co-design of the built environment and transportation systems must be seen as an ethical act in engineering. Co-design for social sustainability can be strengthened through engineering acts. Ethical responsibility must be assumed to create inclusive solutions considering human diversity, empowering engineers to act and design justice.  

There is a strong need for engineers to possess a set of skills and competencies related to the ability to work with other professionals (for example from the social sciences),  users, or collaborators. In the 21st century, beyond the use of technical knowledge to solve problems, engineers need communication skills to achieve the sustainable development goals, requiring networking, cooperating in teams, and working with communities.  

Engineering education must consider transdisciplinary approaches which make clear progress in tackling urban challenges and finding human-centred solutions. Universal and inclusive co-design must be incorporated routinely into the practice of engineers and assumed in Engineering Ethics Codes.  



Aragall, F. and EuCAN members, (2003) European Concept for Accessibility: Technical Assistance Manual. Luxemburg: EuCAN – European Concept for Accessibility Network.  

Connell, B. R., Jones, M., Mace, R., Mueller, J., Mullick, A., Ostroff, E., Sanford, J., Steinfeld, E., Story, M. and Vanderheiden, G. (1997) The Principles of Universal Design, Version 2.0. Raleigh: North Carolina State University, The Center for Universal Design. USA.  

Mace, R. L., Hardie G. J. and Place, J. P. (1991) ‘Accessible environments: Toward universal design,’ in W.E. Preiser, J.C. Vischer, E.T. White (Eds.). Design Intervention: Toward a More Human Architecture. New York: Van Nostrand Reinhold, pp. 155-180.  

Declaration on the Rights of Disabled Persons. (1975). Proclaimed by G/A/RES 3447 of 9 December 1975. 

United Nations. (2015). Transforming Our World: The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Resolution adopted by the United Nations General Assembly on 25 September 2015, New York.  

Additional resources: 


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

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

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

Topic: Ethical entrepreneurship in engineering industries.

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

Ethical issues: Justice, Corporate social responsibility, Accountability.

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

Educational level: Beginner to advanced.

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


Learning and teaching notes: 

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

This dilemma can be addressed from a micro-ethics point of view by analysing personal ethics, intrinsic motivations and moral values. It can also be analysed from a macro-ethics point of view, by considering: corporate responsibility in perpetuating inequity versus closing the inequality gap; and sustainability in terms of the local socioeconomic system.

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

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

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

Learners have the opportunity to:  

Teachers have the opportunity to:   


Learning and teaching resources: 


Foreword and suggested pre-reading for Part one:

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


Part one:

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

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


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

4. Activity: In a group, split into two sides with one side defending a profit-driven business and the other defending a non-profit driven business. Use Maria’s case in defending your position.

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


Foreword and pre-reading for Part two:

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


Part two:

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


Scenario A – Environmental impact:

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


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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


Scenario B – Unintended outcomes:

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

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


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

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


Scenario C – Public trust:

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

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


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

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


Foreword and pre-reading for Part three:

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


Part three:

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

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


Optional STOP for questions and activities: 

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

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

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

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

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



An enhancement for this case study can be found here.


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