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Engineering Decisions In The Context Of Sustainability: Complex Systems

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2010 Annual Conference & Exposition


Louisville, Kentucky

Publication Date

June 20, 2010

Start Date

June 20, 2010

End Date

June 23, 2010



Conference Session

Contemporary Issues in Engineering Ethics

Tagged Division

Engineering Ethics

Page Count


Page Numbers

15.479.1 - 15.479.10



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Paper Authors

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George Catalano State University of New York, Binghamton

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Caroline Baillie Western Australia

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NOTE: The first page of text has been automatically extracted and included below in lieu of an abstract

Engineering Decisions in the Context of Sustainability: Complex Systems


In the present work, we suggest that too often our views of the ethical dimension of the engineering profession may at times be unduly limited. We offer that viewing questions surrounding ethical dilemmas in the context of complex systems theory and associated ethical elements may be a way to broaden our sense of responsibility towards all of those with whom we share the Earth. We focus on one aspect of the nexus of environmental and societal concerns: issues related to sustainability. Using complex systems theory and associated ethical implications, we consider the case of the effects of tourism on the native culture of Hawaii.


Ethical issues, which confront the engineering community, can be separated into two main categories: micro-ethics that focuses mainly upon issues that arise on a daily basis and macro-ethics that more broadly is concerned with the allocation, the use and the management of societal and environmental resources. In our view, ethical education at the undergraduate level has been centered at the micro-ethics level with less attention paid to the broader ethical issues that arise when considering the impacts of engineering upon society and the environment. Our approach in the present work shall be to specifically limit our consideration of such issues to an important nexus of societal and environmental ethical dilemmas, those related to sustainability.

Engineering is a profession with an important ethical dimension.1 It is our perspective that we in engineering need to reconsider our sense of ethical responsibility towards not only the health of the natural environment but to include also the health and vibrancy of local societies in which we work in a much broader way. Far too often it seems that we have not done a very good job with respect to either. Yet we do not think it is because we are members of an unethical profession. Perhaps it is because our ethical frameworks for making decisions are too limited or confined.

Ethical issues related to sustainability seem ideally suited to complex systems analysis. Therefore an important converging goal of the present effort focuses upon examining the issues that arise in considering sustainability with not only the more traditional foundational frameworks for ethical decision-making but also those based on paradigms more in alignment with our present day understanding of complexity.

With respect to sustainability, we must be prepared to ask and answer the following questions: What is the meaning of sustainability? Who must be included in the determination of what is to be sustained? Should we be concerned not with the meaning

Catalano, G., & Baillie, C. (2010, June), Engineering Decisions In The Context Of Sustainability: Complex Systems Paper presented at 2010 Annual Conference & Exposition, Louisville, Kentucky. 10.18260/1-2--16839

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