Throughout the world decisions made by engineers, directly and indirectly, affect more people than simply a supervisor or a customer. In many cases, these decisions can also significantly impact the earth. How these decisions are made require both scientifically backed answers as well as ethically backed answers. This paper investigates an engineer’s ethical responsibility to sustainability while facing corporate pressures within the automotive industry. To do this, three ethical cases are discussed; the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, and the push for electric vehicles. Each case was ethically evaluated using the Act Utilitarian and Self-Defeating approaches. From examining these examples it was concluded that an engineer has a responsibility to protecting the environment over any pressures placed by a business or government. Although the environment may place limitations on engineering developments, new and innovative solutions to humanity’s problems can still be accomplished while still protecting the place everyone calls home.
Keywords: Environment; Sustainability; Automotive; Engineering Responsibility; Ethics
Up until the 1970’s much of the United States oil was imported from foreign countries, particularly in the Middle East. When the Arab-Israeli war erupted in 1973 and one of the largest oil sources for the United States was no longer available due to an oil embargo, American citizens were stranded at gas pumps (Office of the Historian, 2014). This lack of oil for American cars and energy not only caused worry to sweep the nation, but also hurt the economy. The dependence on foreign oil forced the United States government to re-evaluate whom the nation received oil from and how energy was used. Stemming from this oil embargo came the 1975 Energy Policy Conservation Act, a federal policy centered on increasing domestic energy production and supply, reducing general energy demand, and using energy more efficiently (Peckham, 2012).
In response, heavy pressure was placed on the United States automotive industry to develop more fuel-efficient cars. Advancements in automotive sustainability have directly involved the use of engineers. Some of these advancements include light-weighting technology to improve gas mileage, emissions regulation, and developing green manufacturing methods. Although cars have become a more sustainable product since the mid-1970’s sustainability and efficiency pressure continues to be placed on the industry, and therefore its engineers, to improve and reduce their impact on the planet.
Especially within the last quarter century, increased global awareness on the effects humans have on the environment has shifted engineers around the world to incorporate increasingly sustainable practices into projects. In a broad sense as defined by the World Commission on Environment and Development, sustainability or sustainable development, “Meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs” (Harris, Pritchard, Rabins, James, & Englehardt, 2014). Within the engineering field, decisions are made daily that can have a major effect on how resources around the world may be used to meet the needs of the present.
From an ethical viewpoint, engineers within the automotive industry have several duties that directly impact decisions in the development and implementation of automotive technology. Found within numerous engineering societal codes, such as the American Society of Mechanical Engineers (ASME), some of these duties include making decisions that account for the public welfare, the potential environmental impact and sustainability, and being honest and serving with fidelity to their clients and employer (ASME, 2012).
However, for an engineer, these duties often cause issues to arise while completing a project. One common example is between an engineer and their employer in terms of spending on a project versus company profits. As seen in the ASME ethical code, an engineer has a duty to faithfully serve their employer. In general, a business’ primary motive is profit. Thus, an engineer has a responsibility in making decisions that benefit the company. Yet, an engineer also has a duty to being honest and making decisions for the public welfare. The combination of these duties can often cause a major dilemma regarding decisions in the development and implementation of automotive technology. Therefore, how an engineer makes these decisions requires both scientifically and ethically backed answers.
This paper investigates an engineer’s ethical responsibility to sustainability while facing corporate pressures within the automotive industry. To do this, three ethical cases are discussed; the Volkswagen emissions scandal, the British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster, and the push for electric vehicles. For each case, two ethical models are applied in order to determine an engineer’s ethical and professional responsibility to sustainability.
The first model is the Act Utilitarian Approach, which focuses on the consequences of the actions of engineers within each case. This approach considers that an action or decision is morally right if it produces the best possible result in a given situation. The Act Utilitarian Approach is most commonly associated with the principle of utility or the phrase, “The greatest happiness for the greatest number” (Harris et al., 2014). For example, an engineer designing a light bulb that is more energy efficient and costs half the price of a conventional light bulb would be benefiting the earth, the power plants, and consumers. According to the Act Utilitarian Approach, and the known facts, the action of the engineer would be deemed ethical.
The second model applied is the Self-Defeating Approach, which focuses on determining if the actions taken by the engineers would have undermined the ability of another engineer to do the same thing. The Self-Defeating Approach can be applied by asking the phrase, “If everyone did what I am doing would I be able to continue doing what I am doing?” (Harris et al., 2014). Consider the same example of an engineer designing energy efficient light bulbs as above, but in this case, manufacturing the filament for the light bulb releases a toxic and corrosive byproduct in high concentrations into the ocean. According to the Self-Defeating Approach, the actions of the engineer would be deemed unethical because if they continued to produce these light bulbs, and other light bulb producers used the same process, the oceans would be harmed.
Case Study 1: The Volkswagen Emissions Scandal
Within the automotive industry, engineers are responsible for testing and adhering to environmental and safety standards throughout the world. In 2014, the Center for Alternative Fuels, Engines, and Emissions at West Virginia University tested three light-duty diesel vehicles under more realistic driving and environmental conditions than are possible within a laboratory setting (Schiermeier, 2015). To do this, scientists fitted cars with portable emission measurement systems to gather a continuous stream of data over a variety of US road types (Schiermeier, 2015).
Two of the vehicles chosen, the Jetta and the Passat, was from the car manufacturer Volkswagen. These tests revealed that the levels of nitrogen oxides (NOx) emitted from both Volkswagen cars were far above the US standard of 31 mg/km; for the Passat, these values ranged from 5-20 times and for the Jetta 15-35 times the standard (Schiermeier, 2015). On September 22, 2015, Volkswagen admitted to using special software in order to lower emissions from some of their diesel vehicles during laboratory testing. This announcement brought heavy scrutiny towards the automotive industry around the globe and has since caused car manufacturers to face more stringent emissions tests by entities such as the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) (Schiermeier, 2015).
Although not all drivers use diesel vehicles, these findings and admittance of deceptive practices concern the entire global population. According to Schiermeier (2015), diesel exhaust is one of the largest contributors to air pollution across the European Union. An estimated 20% of the urban population lives in areas where NOx concentrations are well above air quality standards. Moreover, a study performed by the Department of Environmental Science at Radboud University estimated health damages from this incident. Possible health damages to affected populations include heart attacks, decreased lung function, bronchitis, and asthma (Schiermeier, 2015). The results of this study indicated that the combined health costs in the US and Europe were estimated at 39 billion US dollars and would increase to 102 billion if cars were not recalled (Oldenkamp, van Zelm, & Huijbregts, 2016). Therefore, the ramifications of the actions by Volkswagen have and will affect many human beings for years to come.
Within this scandal, engineers played a key role in the events that unfolded. Undoubtedly they gave in to corporate pressures to prioritize profit and competitiveness in the global market over environmental considerations. The involvement of engineers was directly behind software that “fooled” emissions tests. For many of the engineers involved, pressure from the corporation and inflated salaries was enough motivation to commit to participating in a deceptive act (Cavico & Mujitaba, 2016). Aside from being a deceptive act, the Volkswagen emissions scandal also allowed cars to emit massive concentrations of pollutants into the air and exposed populations to harmful chemicals. According to the ASME societal code, all of the actions of the Volkswagen engineers, in this case, violated duties engineers are expected to uphold including being honest, non-deceptive, and protecting the public welfare.
Using the Act Utilitarian Approach, several negative consequences within this case resulted from engineer’s decisions under pressure from their employer. As mentioned above, diesel exhaust is one of the largest contributors to air pollution. With heavy diesel vehicle usage in places such as the European Union, any amount of pollutant over the set standard of air quality can be harmful to humans. According to a study performed by Oldenkamp et al. (2016) evaluating the disability-adjusted life years (DALY) or measure of overall disease burden expressed as the number of years lost due to ill health, disability, or early death, the combined health damages in the US and Europe were estimated at 45,000 DALYs and could reach 119,000 DALYs if cars are not recalled. Thus, by acting deceptively and disregarding the public welfare the Volkswagen engineers acted unethically under this ethical theory.
Additionally, under the Act Utilitarian Approach, consequences from the engineer’s decisions, in this case, involved the trustworthiness and image of the Volkswagen brand. As stated in several engineering ethical codes, engineers have a responsibility to their employer. Although this responsibility can often be interpreted as doing everything to help your company be profitable, it also requires that engineers prioritize the company’s general well being and public image. Any engineer involved within the programming of the software to “fool” the emission tests could have upheld a higher moral standard and tried to suggest a less deceptive option in order to remain competitive within the industry. Yet, this case shows how corporate pressures can influence engineer’s decisions and put the wishes of the company before the needs of a government or population. Hence, by allowing harm to come to Volkswagen’s trustworthiness and public image the engineers within this case again acted unethically.
In regards to the Self Defeating Approach, the Volkswagen emissions scandal also presents evidence of engineers placed in the same situation throughout the automotive industry being undermined in their own duties. One result observed from this case is that if all automotive companies acted as Volkswagen did with their emissions tests, a largely unsafe amount of air pollutants would be released every day into the atmosphere. In terms of sustainable practices, these actions would produce adverse effects on the environment.
It would also suggest that all the automotive companies would have their engineers participating in deceptive measures to make sure their cars can be sold. By falsely leading consumers to think a car they are interested in buying passes all emission or safety tests, consumers are not able to make a rational free decision. If all engineers within the automotive industry worked to deceive standard tests, adhering to sustainable practices and allowing consumers to make fully informed choices would not be possible. Thus the actions performed by the Volkswagen engineers were unethical.
In summary, the Volkswagen emissions scandal provides insight into how corporate pressures influenced engineers to “fool” emission tests and expose unsuspecting citizens around the globe to increased levels of harmful air pollution. From the Act Utilitarian and Self-Defeating Approaches, it was determined that the actions of the Volkswagen engineers were unethical for being deceptive and not accounting for the public well being. Therefore, an engineer has an ethical responsibility to sustainability while facing corporate pressures within the automotive industry.
Case Study 2: The British Petroleum Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill Disaster
Since its inception, the automotive industry would not have survived without one particular resource: oil for the fuel that powers car engines. Although there are several big players in the oil industry, British Petroleum (BP) has been largely involved in the industry for nearly as long as cars have been produced. On April 20, 2010, the BP Deepwater Horizon rig at the Macondo Well in the Gulf of Mexico exploded leaving 17 of the 126 crew members injured and 11 deceased (Ingersoll, Locker, & Reavis, 2012). When the rig sank on April 22, 2010, ironically internationally recognized Earth Day, it took with it the top of the Macondo Well and resulted in an oil blowout (Ingersoll et al., 2012). According to an investigation by Ingersoll et al. (2012), the rig burned for 36 hours and resulted in the largest marine oil spill to ever occur in US waters.
It was later found that several factors contributed to causing the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill. One factor was that in September of 2009 BP performed an audit safety check on the rig while it was at another drilling site and identified, “390 repairs that needed immediate attention and would require more than 3,500 hours of labor to fix” (Ingersoll et al., 2012). It was found after the spill that the rig had not gone to dry-dock and never stopped drilling between the audit and the spill in 2010 (Ingersoll et al., 2012). Therefore, no attempts had been made by BP to fix the known issues of the Deepwater Horizon rig prior to the disaster.
A secondary factor was that the Macondo Well had construction issues that had been negatively impacted by corporate decision-making. The largest concern that faced the Macondo Well was how the casings had been constructed. Traditionally during deepwater drilling through rock at the bottom of an ocean, a cement casing is inserted to secure the drilled area. Then drilling process continues to greater depths and the cement casing process is repeated (Ingersoll et al., 2012). In the case of the Deepwater Horizon rig, the rig had completed drilling the final section of the well and the project managers were having trouble deciding what the best way was to secure and get a satisfactory cement pour into the well (Ingersoll et al., 2012).
With having two main options to secure the well, the management kept flip-flopping on which option was best for the company. One option the project managers had was to use a long string casing, or a single and continuous wall of steel that was cemented to the formation (Ingersoll et al., 2012). The second option was to use a liner, or a shorter string of casings anchored to the higher string (Ingersoll et al., 2012). In terms of time and money, the long string casing would take less time to install and cost between $7-$10 million dollars less than the liner (Jennings, 2010).
Although more time and cost effective, original models projected that the long string casing could not be cemented reliably or safely. It should also be noted that all the members making the decisions for the last stage of the Macondo Well project were fairly new to the site, having been in their respective positions for under three months except for the Wells Manager David Rich who had been in charge for six months (Ingersoll et al., 2012). A newly assembled management team and lack of agreement during a crucial stage of the well development also contributed to the Deepwater Horizon rig disaster.
In the end, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill contributed to damages that would impact the surrounding area for years. Among varying reports, it has been projected that the incident has cost BP over $20 billion dollars since 2010 in cleanup and damages to the surrounding areas (Jennings, 2010). Aside from a monetary impact to BP alone, the spill has affected the wildlife and the industries within the Gulf Coast region. The oil slick covered 43,000 square miles of water surface and at least 1,300 miles of shoreline, drastically affecting marine life. From 2002 to 2009 oyster catch decreased 27%, while shrimp and blue crab landing declined 10-20%. After years of clean up, three tropical storms and one hurricane re-stirred oil that had settled to the bottom of the gulf, proliferating the contamination (Coco, 2016).
The events of the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill unfolded due to many decisions made by engineers. Two particular engineers involved in this case were Robert Kaluza, the Well Site Leader, and Greg Walz the Drilling Engineering Team Leader (Ingersoll et al., 2012). For the time leading up to the oil spill, Kaluza and Walz were part of the BP group tasked with ensuring the well construction was secure and completed. However, as mentioned above, this same group lacked agreement during a crucial stage of the well development for choosing the casing meant to secure the entire well. Ultimately, this engineering team decided on using a full string casing, which was a cheaper and faster design to implement within the well (Jennings, 2010). It is also important to note that around the time of the incident BP was behind schedule and being pushed to complete the project and abandon the well. This resulted in engineering shortcuts such as skipping concrete tests, choosing the quickest casing option, and not placing a final cap on the top of the well (Jennings, 2010).
With the Act Utilitarian Approach, the actions of the BP engineers had several negative consequences. One major consequence included a tremendous amount of oil lost into the marine environment of the Gulf of Mexico. Previous to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill, the largest oil spill was attributed to Exxon Valdez which allowed 0.3 million barrels of oil to spill into Alaska’s Prince William Sound (Coco, 2016). The Deepwater Horizon oil spill has been estimated at releasing 3.19 million barrels of oil out of the Macondo Well and into the Gulf of Mexico (Coco, 2016). From a sustainability viewpoint, the amount of oil allowed to enter the Gulf greatly impacted the surrounding wildlife. Moreover, it nearly eliminated the fishing industry that supplied seafood all across the globe and relied on the Gulf’s plentiful amount of marine wildlife.
Additionally, under the Act Utilitarian Approach, the actions of BP engineers resulted in the loss of 11 lives when the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded. Numerous engineering societal codes hold that the ultimate responsibility of an engineer is to public welfare and safety. By BP engineers involved with Deepwater Horizon not fixing known problems, making corner-cutting decisions, and overlooking fail-safes, they are responsible for the loss of human lives. Therefore, by allowing the environment to be severely impacted and the loss of life to occur, the decisions made by engineers were unethical.
Furthermore, by applying the Self-Defeating approach to the Deepwater Horizon oil spill situation, BP engineers are questioned if their same actions would undermine other engineers within similar positions. Simply put, if all engineers managing deep-sea oil drilling sites overlooked safety measures and decided on using low-cost options in high-risk applications then a great portion of the global marine environment would be in danger. Moreover, the likelihood of incidents, such as what occurred at the Macondo well with Deepwater Horizon, would also increase significantly. If all engineers involved at oceanic oil drilling sites disregarded the proper steps for securing well sites, the sustainability of the global marine environment would be at significant risk. Thus the actions performed by the BP Deepwater Horizon engineers, under pressures from their company, were unethical
In summary, the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill presented awareness into the actions of several engineers facing over budget projections and past deadlines on a project that resulted in the largest marine oil spill the world has ever seen. With well-known and fixable problems disregarded throughout the Deepwater Horizon rig and ever-changing decisions on how the well should best be secured, 11 lives were lost. Additionally, the Gulf of Mexico region was severely impacted by damage to wildlife and surrounding industries that relied on the marine environment. From the Act Utilitarian and Self-Defeating Approaches, it was determined that the actions of the BP engineers were unethical due to the disregard for the welfare of the Deepwater Horizon crew members and the significant environmental impact caused by the oil spill. The BP Deepwater Horizon Oil spill is the ultimate reminder to engineers that despite unrelenting corporate pressures to meet deadlines and maximize profit, engineers have the ultimate responsibility to prioritize sustainability and safety. If engineers lose sight of their ethical obligations, the consequences can be catastrophic.
Case Study 3: Electric Vehicles
As previously mentioned, a critical resource within the automotive industry is oil to produce the required fuel used to operate cars all over the globe. However, the oil taken out of the ground is a non-renewable resource that becomes increasingly scarce with every barrel consumed. In response to a nearly unsustainable practice of extracting fossil fuels, the automotive industry has begun to introduce cars that either partially or entirely run using a different energy source. The most common of these vehicles is the Hybrid Electric Vehicle (HEV) or the Plug-In Hybrid Electric Vehicle. (PHEV).
In comparison to conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engine vehicles, electric vehicles are similar in design and function with one exception; how the cars are powered. Electric vehicles, whether HEV’s or PHEV’s, often offer modes for drivers that dictate how the vehicle is powered to increase or decrease the amount of gasoline being used (Bradley & Frank, 2009). This, in turn, leads to less frequent requirements of gasoline for the vehicle when compared to vehicles solely powered with gasoline. Thus, a reduction in using unsustainable fossil fuels is achieved. Additionally, with the controlled use of gasoline power, electric vehicles produce fewer harmful emissions into the atmosphere throughout the lifetime of the vehicle (Bradley & Frank, 2009). Electric vehicles aim to offer a sustainable solution to transportation within the automotive industry over the use of gasoline-powered vehicles all while maintaining the functionality consumers are accustomed too.
One study from Hawkins, Singh, Majeau-Bettez, & Stromma (2013) investigated the lifetime environmental impact of electric and conventional gasoline-powered internal combustion engine vehicles in terms of global warming potential for the lifetime of each vehicle type. The results of this study highlighted positive and negative characteristics between car types. When considering that electric vehicles are powered by electricity from natural gas and renewable energy sources an estimated reduction of global warming potential is 20-24% over gasoline-powered vehicles and 10-14% over diesel vehicles (Hawkins et al., 2013).
This mixed use of energy resources is common throughout Europe, however in other nations such as the United States, energy primarily comes from coal-powered processes. Hawkins et al. (2013) also determined that electric vehicles charged using coal electricity increase global warming potential by 17-27% when compared to gasoline and diesel powered vehicles. Therefore, within large nations using coal electricity the sustainable intent and appeal of electric vehicles to consumers can end up having more severe negative effects on the environment.
Actions and decisions of engineers are heavily involved with the development of electric vehicles. It is the task of engineers within the automotive industry to ensure cars are functional and most importantly safe. Since developing electric vehicles requires so much innovative technology, engineers must ensure new technology is functional as well as safe. With the worldwide push for increased sustainability, the automotive industry continues to be pressured to increase average gas mileage across entire fleets of vehicles and therefore continually developing technology is required. Thus, the responsibility falls on engineers to develop innovative and sustainable technologies in order to meet these demands.
Applying the Act Utilitarian Approach, consequences from engineers involved with the development of electric vehicles have been both positive and negative while facing the complications of the push for sustainability. Engineers are trying to make a significant impact on the world by developing transportation systems that have less adverse effects on the environment. By reducing the use of nonrenewable resources, such as oil, and lowering the concentration of harmful pollutants released into the atmosphere, automotive engineers are making sustainable design decisions.
The positive consequences of electric vehicles are easy to grasp while the vehicle is in use. What is often not considered is the significant negative impact of technology on manufacturing electric vehicles. The study performed by Hawkins et al. (2013) concluded that in electric vehicles at least 35% of the total global warming potential is due to the chemicals used to create the battery cells. Additionally, Hawkins et al. (2013) confirmed that the production of electric vehicles poses, “Potential for significant increases in human toxicity, freshwater eco-toxicity, freshwater eutrophication, and metal depletion impacts.” The current practices used in the production of electric vehicles pose significant issues regarding environmental sustainability.
However, according to the US Department of Energy, the Energy Department has invested more than $115 million to help build a nationwide charging infrastructure and has committed to using greener energy generation processes (Matulka, 2014). Additionally, in recent years battery research and technology has led to more environmentally friendly manufacturing processes, cheaper manufacturing processes, and also increased battery performance (Matulka, 2014). Although current manufacturing practices of electric vehicles include un-sustainable options, by aiming to significantly reduce the impact on the environment during a vehicle’s life engineers involved with the development of electric vehicles are making ethical decisions.
Furthermore, by using the Self-Defeating Approach, the decisions made by engineers pressured to reduce the environmental impact of automobiles encourages others to do the same. Over the past decade, car manufacturers around the globe have released increasingly efficient electric vehicles in order to stay competitive in the ever-changing automotive industry. Improvements in electric vehicle’s range, weight, and even performance occur with each model year released indicating engineers are continuing to design innovative solutions. If all automotive engineers continued to develop sustainable car technology the environmental impact could be greatly reduced in both the manufacturing and the use of electric vehicles. Thus, the actions and decisions being made by engineers involved with developing electric vehicles are ethical.
In summary, the case of electric vehicle production within the automotive industry allowed for observing actions and decisions by engineers trying to develop sustainable solutions in transportation. Although present manufacturing of electric vehicles includes un-sustainable features, engineers have significantly reduced the impact on the environment during a vehicle’s life. From the Act Utilitarian and Self-Defeating Approaches, the actions of engineers pressured to develop electric vehicles are ethical. Thus, an engineer has an ethical responsibility to sustainability while facing corporate pressures within the automotive industry.
In the first ethical case analyzed, the Volkswagen emissions scandal, engineering decisions to “fool” emissions monitoring tests resulted in millions of dollars in health damages and substantial concentrations of harmful pollutants infiltrating the atmosphere. The Act Utilitarian ethical evaluation technique deemed these actions unethical on the basis that intentionally polluting the environment put the health of countless individuals at risk and that their actions hurt the Volkswagen company image. In turn, these actions negatively impacted the business and the thousands of people that Volkswagen employs. The Self-Defeating approach also found the engineers at fault for their actions ethically from the standpoint that if all other car manufacturing companies falsified their reports, consumers could no longer make informed decisions and the environment would be polluted at an unsustainable rate.
Engineer’s decisions leading up to the BP Deepwater Horizon oil spill disaster also released massive concentrations of pollutants into the environment. Similarly to engineers at Volkswagen, the engineers at BP felt corporate pressure to turn a profit and meet deadlines above their ethical responsibility to sustainability. As a result, 11 human lives and copious aquatic lives were lost and the Gulf Coast tourist and fishing economies drastically decreased. The Act Utilitarian approach found the decision-making engineers at ethical fault for the oil spill due to gross neglect of welfare for human and marine life as well as environmental sustainability, each of which should have been top priorities. The ethical fault was also placed on the engineers when evaluating their decisions under the Self-Defeating Approach. If all engineers working on oilrigs made cost-saving-corner-cutting decisions, the oceans would be in much worse conditions than they already are.
In the third ethical case, the push for electric vehicles, the importance of an engineer’s ethical responsibility to sustainability is emphasized to avoid a potential calamity. While the benefits of electric vehicles utilizing an alternative and renewable power source are obvious, engineers must toe an ethical line to ensure they are truly prioritizing sustainability. The manufacturing of batteries for electric cars can be harsh and contribute to global warming. Engineers must take initiative to ensure that the good of reducing oil dependence outweighs the potential environmental harm in creating electric vehicles. From the Act Utilitarian viewpoint, despite some harm from current battery production overall engineers are revamping the global automotive industry to be increasingly sustainable. As technology continues to develop, the negative impact from the batteries will lessen until eventually it is negligible. The Self-Defeating approach also finds electric vehicle technology development sustainable from an ethical perspective because if more engineers focus on these processes, the technology will improve at an even faster rate.
These examples of automotive industry engineers succumbing to corporate pressure and forgetting their ethical responsibilities to sustainability are not reflective of all engineers within the industry. However, it is important for engineers to remember the potentially disastrous consequences of their decisions. An engineer’s ethical responsibility to sustainability must be prioritized above pressure an engineer feels from management. Although corporate profit projections and deadlines may seem paramount, if and when engineers lose sight of their ethical responsibilities to sustainability the consequences can be more severe than falling short of corporate expectations. Innovative and sustainable solutions to human problems can be produced while protecting the Earth.