Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 1, pp 237–258 | Cite as

Sustaining Engineering Codes of Ethics for the Twenty-First Century

  • Diane Michelfelder
  • Sharon A. JonesEmail author


How much responsibility ought a professional engineer to have with regard to supporting basic principles of sustainable development? While within the United States, professional engineering societies, as reflected in their codes of ethics, differ in their responses to this question, none of these professional societies has yet to put the engineer’s responsibility toward sustainability on a par with commitments to public safety, health, and welfare. In this paper, we aim to suggest that sustainability should be included in the paramountcy clause because it is a necessary condition to ensure the safety, health, and welfare of the public. Part of our justification rests on the fact that to engineer sustainably means among many things to consider social justice, understood as the fair and equitable distribution of social goods, as a design constraint similar to technical, economic, and environmental constraints. This element of social justice is not explicit in the current paramountcy clause. Our argument rests on demonstrating that social justice in terms of both inter- and intra-generational equity is an important dimension of sustainability (and engineering). We also propose that embracing sustainability in the codes while recognizing the role that social justice plays may elevate the status of the engineer as public intellectual and agent of social good. This shift will then need to be incorporated in how we teach undergraduate engineering students about engineering ethics.


Engineering codes of ethics Engineering education Paramountcy clause Social justice Sustainability 



A version of this paper was presented at the 2010 meeting of the Forum for Philosophy, Engineering, and Technology (fPET) at the Colorado School of Mines in Golden, Colorado. We want to thank the anonymous reviewers who considered our abstract for this conference for their constructive and helpful suggestions, as well as those who reviewed this paper for publication in this journal.


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2011

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of PhilosophyMacalester CollegeSt. PaulUSA
  2. 2.School of EngineeringUniversity of PortlandPortlandUSA

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