It's hard to shake the feeling that our engineering profession has missed something about "sustainability". Something fundamental in our society that interferes with understanding how it fits our code of ethics. I wondered if I could find our profession truly integrating "sustainability" into our engineering.

Read Leena Iyengar's piece in The community resilience reader and you get stark perspective.

We often use our individual perspectives and gut understandings to get closer to sustainability. We often green our offices. Yet are we only now, after more than forty years, beginning to apply rigorous methods to integrate "sustainability" into our actual engineering practices? Let's explore.

Modern sustainability first emerged before I was born. Perhaps Donella Meadows and Jurgen Randers first revealed modern sustainability in the Limits to Growth report, in 1972. Yet, when I attended university in Vancouver in the 1990's, our community was working on a backcast model that I would only learn about after practising engineering for more than ten years.

The Sustainable Society Project examined an important question about achieving a sustainable society. A question that we often lose when discussing "sustainable development".

What would have to be true for us to live in a sustainable society?

A deep question that demands careful reflection, to be sure. A question that includes one term that we are only now starting to truly define: a sustainable society.So, after twenty years practising engineering, I fear that we have missed something key to honouring our first ethical tenet along with a few others. Yet, at the same time, we barely understand what we must do as engineers and geoscientists to integrate "sustainability" into our practices.

Let's reflect on those parts of our code of ethics which apply.

... uphold the values of truth, honesty and trustworthiness and safeguard human life and welfare and the environment. In keeping with these basic tenets, members and licensees shall:

  1. Hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public, the protection of the environment and promote health and safety within the workplace;
  2. ...
  3. ...
  4. ...
  5. ...
  6. Keep themselves informed in order to maintain their competence, strive to advance the body of knowledge within which they practice and provide opportunities for the professional development of their associates;
  7. ...
  8. Present clearly to employers and clients the possible consequences if professional decisions or judgments are overruled or disregarded;
  9. Report to their association or other appropriate agencies any hazardous, illegal or unethical professional decisions or practices by members, licensees or others; and
  10. Extend public knowledge and appreciation of engineering and geoscience and protect the profession from misrepresentation and misunderstanding.

How? - How is a mid-career engineer or geoscientist to integrate "sustainability" into daily engineering practice?