Science and Engineering Ethics

, Volume 19, Issue 3, pp 875–891 | Cite as

Just Sustainability? Sustainability and Social Justice in Professional Codes of Ethics for Engineers

Original Paper


Should environmental, social, and economic sustainability be of primary concern to engineers? Should social justice be among these concerns? Although the deterioration of our natural environment and the increase in social injustices are among today’s most pressing and important issues, engineering codes of ethics and their paramountcy clause, which contains those values most important to engineering and to what it means to be an engineer, do not yet put either concept on a par with the safety, health, and welfare of the public. This paper addresses a recent proposal by Michelfelder and Jones (2011) to include sustainability in the paramountcy clause as a way of rectifying the current disregard for social justice issues in the engineering codes. That proposal builds on a certain notion of sustainability that includes social justice as one of its dimensions and claims that social justice is a necessary condition for sustainability, not vice versa. The relationship between these concepts is discussed, and the original proposal is rejected. Drawing on insights developed throughout the paper, some suggestions are made as to how one should address the different requirements that theory and practice demand of the value taxonomy of professional codes of ethics.


Professional codes of ethics Engineering ethics Paramountcy clause Sustainability Social justice 


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Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2012

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Philosophy and Ethics, School of Innovation Sciences; 3TU.Centre for Ethics and TechnologyEindhoven University of TechnologyEindhovenThe Netherlands

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