Sustainability and ethical issues in mechanical engineering Essay Example

Sustainability and Ethical Issues in Mechanical Engineering

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The key issues in Sustainability and Ethical Issues in Mechanical Engineering range from protection of public interest, and safeguarding the environment, upholding the health, safety, and wellbeing of the society, as well as reporting violation of ethical codes to the right authorities. In respect to the protecting the public interest, the engineering code of ethics encourages engineering professionals to put public interest above their own. When it comes to environmental consideration, the environment is viewed as a ‘biotic community,’ and calls on the mechanical engineers to promote the stability, integrity, and health of the biotic community. It regards to public disclosure, the mechanical engineers have to take the ethical responsibility of revealing engineering incidents that may jeopardise public safety, health, and well-being to the authority.

Table of Contents



4Public interest

5Environmental consideration

6Health, safety, and welfare of the public

7Public Disclosure





Ethics consists of the customs or habits that exemplify standards of good or moral character and conducts. In engineering, it implies engineering professionals considering the wellbeing of others as equivalent to their own (Beder 1995). In a similar vein, sustainability would involve a situation where engineers assumes the responsibility of making development as sustainable as possible by making sure that the needs of the present generation are provided for without compromising the ability to protect the needs of the future generation (Beamon 2005).

Hence, engineering ethics oversee the conduct of practicing engineering professionals (Kumar et al 2006). Overall, engineering ethics is categorised into two divisions: engineering micro-ethics and macro-ethics. Micro-ethics is concerned with the moral conduct of an engineer relative to his client, while macro-ethics is concerned with the engineers’ collective social responsibility. This paper centrally focuses on macro-ethics, since it integrates sustainability and ethical issues. This report explores the sustainability and ethical issues in mechanical engineering.

Public interest

Customarily, mechanical engineers’ main responsibilities have been to design and make machineries and tools, including industrial machinery. As Beder (1995) noted, over the recent past, mechanical engineers have assumed the role of addressing the societal needs by designing and manufacturing window and solar energy technologies, smart devices, computer input-output devices, as well as biomedical devices. Within this context, upholding public interest rather than self-interest is a critical issue in engineering. Globally, engineering code of ethics encourage engineering professionals to put public interest above their own. According to Kumar et al (2006), such notion appears to be inconsistent with the market philosophy that the public interest becomes unattainable when individuals pursue self-interest. Indeed, this is what is at the centre of sustainable development, which emphasises on protecting the present and future generational interest. In a recent review by Beamon (2005), the scholar pointed to the fact that policies exemplifying environmental protection tend to encourage technological change through economic determinism. It could however, be reasoned that such policies also tend to avoid the issue of ethics. Rather, they assume that economic goals and environmental objectives are attuned (Kreiner et al 2004). Still, today’s engineers are just learning to come to grips with the ethical dilemmas created by day-to-day conflicts between the public and self-interest as well as with the economic requirements of their works (Akhtaruzzaman et al 2011).

Environmental consideration

Given the need to consider all process and product impacts, the degree of environmental consideration and the capacity of such impacts are open to analysis. As Beamon (2005) shows, ethics, and sustainability issues in mechanical engineering are geared to ensuring environmental health. Still, it can be interpreted to mean sustainability that needs due consideration of current and future generational interests. On a broader perspective, Kumar et al (2006) mention that it also draws attention to contemporary environmentalism that sees nature as being a ‘biotic community,’ and which calls on the mechanical engineers to promote the stability, integrity, and health of the biotic community.

Casali (2007) advises that for mechanical engineers to help the society in its efforts to minimise and avert negative anthropogenic effects of the technologies they create to the environment and the society, they need to have a concrete understanding of the overall implications of their decisions. Hence, it could be argued that mechanical engineers need to possess the capability to critically assess and advance their technologies they design to make them more eco-friendly while simultaneously increasing the environmental protection.

Health, safety, and welfare of the public

Beder (1995) reveals that the first step in identifying the public’s health, safety and welfare issues in engineering is gaining an insight into what the engineering codes demarcate regarding the engineer’s professional responsibility to the society and the environment. In the United States for instance, the ethical codes for engineer set out by the National Society of Professional Engineers (NSPE) and in Australia, Engineers Australia code of ethics outline these perspectives by outlining the requirements for health, safety, and welfare of the public (Engineers Australia 2010).

NSPE codes stress that engineers should uphold the health, safety, and general welfare of the society. Hence, engineers should primarily serve to promote general well-being of the society rather than their own. According to Engineers Australia, engineer’s performance should primarily involve in working towards advancing the society’s safety, health, and wellbeing (Beamon 2005). Additionally, they should be dedicated to improvement of the environment and the society to improve quality of life. Engineers Australia’s Code further specifies that engineers have to engage with the society and its stakeholders, as well as balance the welfare of the present and future generations, inform clients and employers of likely consequences of their actions, show sensitivity to public concerns and encourage involvement of stakeholders and the society in decisions (Engineers Australia 2010).

Public Disclosure

Public disclosure involves taking the ethical responsibility to reveal engineering incidents that may jeopardise public safety, health, and well-being to the authority. In Australia and the United States, the Engineers Australia and NSPE codes (respectively) highlight public disclosure responsibilities among the ethical and sustainability issues in engineering (Engineers Australia 2010). NSPE specifies that engineers who have knowledge of any alleged infringement of the code of ethics should report to the right authority, as well as to cooperate with the appropriate authority in providing the information as needed (Beamon 2005). According to Engineers Australia’s Code, engineers should be observant to the conditions that suppose may jeopardise the health and safety of the community and as a consequence, and cooperate with the stakeholders and the society in apprehending such threatening situations (Engineers Australia 2010).


From the above analysis, it is clear that the key issues include protecting public interest and the environment, upholding the health, safety, and wellbeing of the society, as well as reporting violation of ethical codes to the right authorities. Hence, the engineering codes of ethics pay much tribute to the need to ensure safety, specifying that engineers have to uphold the society’s health, safety, and general wellbeing (Kreiner et al 2004). While there is an unspoken concern that each design and product engineers have to develop has a particular degree of health and safety risk, the engineers must not expose the people and the environment to undue risks (Akhtaruzzaman et al 2011). Engineering professionals are therefore responsible for the society’s safety, as well as devising engineering decisions that do not put the health, safety, and welfare of the public at risk (Casali 2007). Hence, their decisions must be consistent with the ethical codes, and approved standards and practices. Additionally, they would be held responsible for failing to disclose any violation that would expose the society and the environment to risks.


In mechanical engineering, ethics implies consideration of the well-being of the society and the environment as well as upholding public interest. Indeed, the societal and environmental concerns are critical components of ethical practices. Within this context, the key issues include protection of public interest, the environment, as well as upholding the health, safety, and wellbeing of the society, and reporting violation of ethical codes to the right authorities. As a consequence, engineers have to design and make sustainable products to make sure that the needs of the present generation are addressed without compromising that of the future.


Akhtaruzzaman, M, Bari, S & Anwar, F 2011, «Engineers’ Obligations towards Sustainable Environment,» 2nd International Conference on Proffessional Ethics and Education in Engineering 2011

Beamon, B 2005, «Environmental and Sustainability Ethics in Supply Chain Management,» Science and Engineering Ethics vol 11, pp.221-234

Beder, S 1995, “Engineers, Ethics and Sustainable Development,» Paper presented to the 10th International Congress of Logic, Methodology and Philoshopy of Science, Florence, 1995.

Casali, G 2007, “A Quest for Ethical Decision Making: Searching for the Holy Grail, and Finding the Sacred Trinity in Ethical Decision-Making by Managers,” Social Responsibility Journal 3(3):pp. 50-59.

Engineers Australia 2010, Our Code of Ethics, viewed 2 Aug 2015, <>

Kreiner, J, Flores, A & Krishnamurthy, S 2004, «Ethical Issues Facing Engineers and their Profession,» International Conference on Engineering Education and Research «Progress Through Partnership«, pp.203-208

Kumar, V, Haapala, K, Rivera, J et al 2006, Infusing Sustainability Principles into Manufacturing/Mechanical Engineering Curricula, viewed 8 Feb 2015, <>