All occupations have social responsibility. The engineering profession is no exception. However, there is a wide range of views within the engineering profession about what these social obligations involve, with perspectives varying between sub-disciplines of engineering as well as across countries and cultures.
Engineers have a wide range of ethical duties to society and the environment. This area of research has recently been dubbed macroethics, yet these professional social duties may conflict with engineering's financial side. The vast majority of engineers work for companies whose primary objective is profit and corporate stockholders, rather than societal benefits. Fortunately, this is beginning to change as a result of a shift toward corporate social responsibility and the recognition that businesses may prosper while also considering social and environmental implications. Companies subscribe to concepts of accountability to community stakeholders, consumers, suppliers, employees, and investors through corporate social responsibility. Corporate social responsibility frequently incorporates sustainability concepts like as human rights and environmental concerns, as well as a chain of obligation and duty of care. Engineering's public trust mandates that it considers its effects on human safety.
Engineering has a major responsibility to preserve public safety, health, and welfare, according to the code of ethics of engineering professional associations around the world. Physical ability to function without pain is a common definition of health. Biomedical engineering has a direct purpose of improving health. Environmental and civil engineers are in charge of supplying safe drinking water and preventing dangerous pollutants from spreading through the air, water, and soil. Chemical engineering is used in the production of medications, insecticides, and other potentially harmful compounds. When assessing hazards, safety is related with being shielded from physical injury or death. Thus, civil engineering infrastructure that will be safe in the event of an earthquake, construction engineering to safeguard on-site workers, and mechanical engineering of automobiles to protect people in the event of a crash.
Engineering is a highly creative endeavor. Electric light was invented by Thomas Edison. Telephony was invented by Alexander Graham Bell. The Sydney Opera House was designed by Ove Arup. The World Wide Web was established by Tim Berners-Lee. Engineers are responsible for bringing ideas to life. Engineers are innovative both as creators of new ideas and as implementers of such ideas. Engineers create new technologies, such as the telephone or the silicon chip, and they assist in the implementation of other people's ideas, such as structural and geotechnical engineers developing technical solutions to make a building's design stand up. Engineers' inventive work is frequently hidden in the minutiae of daily living, unseen precisely because it works. Engineers are constantly innovating and improving things like car brake systems, water treatment, gas turbines, and mobile data networking to keep us safe, drive the economy, and support our modern lifestyles. Engineers have achieved great achievement in developing the intricate technical systems that enable modern existence.
Unfortunately, we have had less success anticipating and dealing with the undesirable effects of our innovations. Creativity is accompanied by a sense of accountability. Engineers have found ever more efficient means of collecting fossil fuels from the Earth and burning them for human benefit, and they must take the lead in tackling climate change's pressing challenges through energy efficiency and renewable energy. Engineers have invented and built automobiles, roads, and highways, and as a result, they must deal with the social and environmental issues of traffic congestion, urban sprawl, emissions, and rising fuel costs. Despite the fact that fresh water is a scarce resource in many countries, we have created water systems that provide an unending supply to households, and now engineers must assist people find ways to reduce water waste.
Engineers have revolutionized society and the environment by developing technological systems. While we should be proud of our accomplishments, we must also be honest about our failures. The impact of engineering and technology on society is not a one-way street. Engineering provides a wide range of technological options, and society must choose between them. Consumer preferences, such as the recent format war between Blu-ray and HD DVD, may influence the decision, as well as economic reasons. Henry Ford experimented with cars that ran on ethanol, which is now known to be a far better fuel in terms of pollution and emissions, but the low price of oil at the time led him to focus his attention on cars that ran on gasoline. Political debate can make a technology unpopular, either through direct social action, such as the boycotts that slowed the adoption of GM foods, or through laws and regulations that limit or prohibit the use of a technology, as some countries have done with the use of certain websites or social media tools.
One component of engineers' responsibilities is to reduce the harm that their goods and systems cause to communities and society as a whole. Major infrastructure projects, such as new roads or rail systems, can provide enormous benefits to a community by increasing connectivity and changing the urban landscape. However, they have the potential to harm the local landscape, as well as people's houses and livelihoods. Engineers must work to minimize negative consequences as much as possible, as well as engage with the impacted community to keep them informed and hear their concerns.