What is the purpose of engineering? What guides our profession and ensures that our work is ethical?
Engineering is one of the world’s oldest professions. Engineers oversaw the building of the pyramids, of the great wall of China and of the aqueducts of Rome. Despite this, the sector has only recently begun to meaningfully engage with what it means to be a good engineer. The Engineering Council and Royal Academy of Engineering’s first steps are encapsulated in the publication of their Statement of Ethical Principles in 2005.
Sixteen years later, there is still no meaningful mechanism for assessing a company or individual engineer's commitment to ethical engineering.
We believe that a solution to this could be provided in the form of a badge awarded by EWB-UK, or an alternative group, to companies that have demonstrated their commitment to globally responsible engineering.
To advance this idea, we have defined globally responsible engineering (GRE) as engineering work with a clear driver in fulfilling one or more of the UN’s sustainable development goals and with no undue negative impacts on people or planet.
This certification would be made up of three key components:
Demonstration of an project or process fulfilling the above definition of globally responsible engineering
Well defined and measurable plans for practicing globally responsible engineering in the future
Evidence of learning by the company and company staff allowing for a greater understanding of GRE.
A commitment to ensuring the continued development of the sector through education of a diverse cohort of future engineering professionals.
This accreditation would allow contracting companies and public bodies to identify firms that align with their ethics and, through a forum for sharing ideas around GRE, allow firms to develop their practices in a collaborative fashion.
The accrediting company would also provide a ‘framework’ for GRE practises as well as training opportunities focussed around sustainable and inclusive engineering.
The aim is to encourage companies to adopt design processes which require engineers to evaluate their designs against several factors, such as how they may affect people from different cultures or economic backgrounds. In doing so we believe that such questions will become part of the company’s culture, this culture is then spread through to other businesses; via awareness of the accreditation scheme and by the employees they train when they migrate to other jobs.
A broadly similar process is employed by B Lab’s B Impact Assessment, who measure a business’s ability to generate value for customers, employees, community and the environment. Their assessment is completed through an interactive online tool. It is then possible to achieve B Corps status.
We envision that the assessment would take a similar form, with the addition of an inspection of a portfolio of work and interviews with clients and employees about their work. Whilst this would generate work for the company and assessor, it would also ensure that the assessment had a higher value.