The lifecycle of a product is one of the most important parts of engineering. Sustainable engineering requires that we create a product that does not violate the rights of others or damage our environment. Recyclable and non-toxic materials aren’t just a good concept, they are vital and necessary if we are going to be fair and respectful to people both now and in the future. If we want to afford future generations the same opportunities we have we have to conserve our environment and maintain sources of materials, energy and food. This should be a central idea in any engineer’s ethical code. The impact of ones actions do not end at the creation of a technology or the manufacturing of a product, the disposal, health, and environmental impact of that product must be considered.
If we do not put time and resources into the understanding of our products and the effects they might have on us in the future we are ignoring the fact that our actions might have ethical ramifications. This is in direct violation of our requirement to do the responsible thing when we have the chance. Ignoring an issue will not make it not go away, and in many instances could end up making the problem worse. Engineers maintain the heavy responsibility of being stewards to the world. Most of the world does not have the knowledge or the ability to prevent the issues that our engineers can, but often we overlook those issues and allow them to happen anyway.
Determining the full “cradle-to-cradle” impact of a product is the first and only line of defense we have. Trying to solve a problem after it has already taken root is not just harder, but often impossible as irreparable harm has already been done. Even with the best of intentions, unguided and misinformed actions are a violation of our responsibility and therefore against our ethical code. We must ensure that we use the knowledge and collaboration we have access to in order to ensure our choices are well understood before we make them. We must use the most powerful tools we have, our ability to reason, to prevent us from doing something rash and destructive. I personally believe that every engineer shares this responsibility even if it is as simple as warning others of the unknowns. These kinds of simple actions let us understand what kind of ethical traps we may be walking into.