In addition to being taught that engineering practice requires assuming liability for the direct performance of one's designs; students must also be trained to consider the ethical dimensions of their indirect obligations and liabilities. The indirect effects of a product, project, or policy can be characterized and quantified using life cycle assessment (LCA), which is a formal modeling method that utilizes a comprehensive "cradle-to-grave" approach to evaluate environmental and social impacts. LCA is in wide use by designers, scientists and engineers, and businesses, primarily for use in product design and management, and is also employed in policy spheres to quantify the systemic impacts of large-scale engineering and technology decisions. While the use of LCA is widespread, the modeling structure and the interpretation of results involve ethical and value judgments that must be navigated carefully both by the analyst and by the receiver of the results. This EESE project centers on the integration of ethical training into life cycle courses and the development of life cycle-based educational materials for general ethics training in engineering and science. Hypothetical and real-world cases are being developed that address a range of life cycle-oriented ethical challenges, with relevance for multiple disciplines. Instructional materials and video footage presenting each case, as well as shorter versions for younger audiences, are also being created and hosted at the Northeastern Ethics Institute as an additional teaching resource. Case studies are being submitted to ethics, engineering, science, policy, and business case study clearinghouses as well as additional dissemination through structured tutorials at national and international conferences. One of these case studies is being converted into a three-hour workshop format at the University of Notre Dame and offered subsequently at one of its HBCU partner institutions.

This project aims to achieve broad impacts inside and outside of the classroom. Most importantly, this project directly affects the professional development of students who will carry the insights, perspectives, and behaviors instilled by this ethics training into the workforce, to the ultimate benefit of society. The cases developed address fundamental ethical principles and macroethical issues; they will therefore be of value for ethics education in the engineering classroom even at universities without existing courses in LCA or science policy, including those who have adopted a workshop approach to graduate-level ethics education. Under-represented groups are being included both as participants on the project team and in several case-based ethics workshops. While the full cases are being designed for university students, shorter versions for secondary school students raise awareness of life cycle issues and environmental ethics early in formal STEM education. Ultimately, this project advances ethics education for a diverse range of students in a way that reflects 21st century progress toward sustainable engineering and technology.

National Science Foundation (NSF)
Division of Social and Economic Sciences (SES)
Standard Grant (Standard)
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Program Officer
John Parker
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Northeastern University
United States
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