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Ethics of Sustainability


INTRODUCTION Ethics of Sustainability Class 1 Charles J. Kibert, Ph.D., P.E. Powell Center for Construction & Environment Rinker School of Building Construction – PowerPoint PPT presentation

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Title: Ethics of Sustainability

  • Ethics of Sustainability
  • Class 1

Charles J. Kibert, Ph.D., P.E. Powell Center for
Construction Environment Rinker School of
Building Construction University of Florida
  • Who we are
  • Who you are
  • The SyllabusConduct of the course
  • Reasons for the course
  • The audience
  • Brief overview of sustainability and ethics

Reasons for this course
  • Objective to learn that ethics is at the core of
  • An ethical basis for sustainability has not been
    fully articulated
  • The faculty teaching this course are
    collaborating on the development of this concept
  • Associated with a NSF project that will produce a
    course manual and materials that will be made
    widely available

The Audience
  • This course focuses on the ethics of
    sustainability as a general theme
  • Focused audience STEM disciplines
  • STEM disciplines science, technology, engineers,
    and mathematicians
  • Includes disciplines engaged in deploying and
    employing technologies such as architects and
    construction managers
  • BUT, suitable for any audience interested in

Exercise 1
  • Group up!
  • What are the major issues we face today as a
    global society?
  • Each group pick their top 10 and rank them in
    terms of importance.
  • Then..

  • Group the issues in some logical fashion
  • And diagram them, how they are related
  • What are the common denominators?

Exercise 2
  • What if the question were What are the major
    issues that American society faces?
  • Same? Different? Why?

The Challenges
  • Twin horns of our dilemma population and
    consumption growth
  • Dwindling energy, materials, and potable water
  • Pollution
  • Global poverty, malnutrition, disease
  • Conflicts resources, religious

Humanitys Global Impacts
  • Deforestation and loss of biodiversity
  • Rainforest loss 1 acre per second
  • Annual temperate forest loss 10 million acres/yr
  • Loss of 50 of all forests in the last 1,000
  • Impacts on food supply
  • Grain production 465 MT (1987) 206 MT (2008)
  • Loss of 24 billion tons of topsoil annually
  • Fisheries 100 MT (1987) 84 MT (2008)
  • Humankind moves more material than natural

  • Climate Change
  • Eutrophication
  • Acidification
  • Desertification
  • Dispersion of synthetic chemicals

Exercise 3
  • How would you define sustainability?
  • What are the required conditions for

Contemporary thinking about sustainability
  • Sustainability provides an overarching framework
    for making decisions in an ever more complex
  • General agreements about sustainability
  • it has three facets that are in dynamic tension
    and need to be balanced the economy, the
    environment, and society
  • it is concerned with the quality of life for
    present and future generations

And .
  • The environment and its functions are important
    for survival and must be protected
  • For human survival, especially the future
  • Because the non-human, living world has rights?
  • As a result the behavior of society and operation
    of the economy affect the application of

What are some minimum conditions for
  • Nature preservation of biodiversity, land area,
    elimination of toxics and pollution
  • Food preservation of soil, protection of
    fisheries, effects of GMOs
  • Clean air and water
  • Resources mineral and organic
  • Social needs the above plus..

Exercise 4 Needs vs. Wants
  • Handout
  • But are you
  • Middle class American in central Florida
  • South African laborer in Soweto
  • Russian in St Petersburg
  • Be creativepick your situation!

Ethics -Briefly
  • Ethics can be defined as reflection on the nature
    and definition of the good.
  • Individual conduct or character How shall I
  • Universal values What is the Good? What are the

Exercise 5
  • How are sustainability and ethics connected?
  • Are there some special ethical principles that
    are needed to justify sustainability?

the results of human activity are putting such
a strain on the natural functions of Earth that
the ability of the planets ecosystems to sustain
future generations can no longer be taken for
granted. Millennium Ecosystem Assessment Board
Statement, 2005
March 2, 2006
Florida 5meter, very likely unavoidable.
Expected sea level increase 21st Century 1.2
meter Courtesy PBS
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  • Meeting the needs of the present without
    compromising the ability of future generations to
    meet their needs (Our Common Future 1987)
  • Non-declining human well-being over time (David
    Pearce, London School of Economics)
  • Balancing peoples needs, economic development,
    and the health of natural systems
  • Changing how we measure success or just changing
    how we measure

Ethical Context
  • Sustainability Meeting the needs of the present
    without compromising the ability of future
    generations to meet their needs
  • Immediately calling for needs to be met, present
    and future, addresses morality
  • The foundation of sustainability is ethics, not
    ecology, not economics, not social science
  • The issue is how do we make decisions today
  • The challenge is to define ethical principles
    that underpin sustainability, a complete set that
    covers all potential decisions.

Ten Ethical Principles Underpinning Sustainability
  1. Intergenerational Justice and the Chain of
  2. Distributional Equity
  3. The Precautionary Principle
  4. The Reversibility Principle
  5. The Polluter Pays Principle
  6. Protecting the Vulnerable
  7. Rights of the Non-Human World
  8. Respect for Nature
  9. The Land Ethic
  10. Sustainable Decisionmaking versus Once-Off

Intergenerational Justice and the Chain of
  • The choices of todays generations will directly
    affect the quantity of resources remaining for
    future inhabitants of Earth, and will affect
    environmental quality.
  • This concept of obligation that crosses temporal
    boundaries is referred to as intergenerational
  • Furthermore, the concept of intergenerational
    justice implies a chain of obligation between
    generations that extends from today into the
    distant future.
  • Parental responsibility for enabling their
    offspring to meet their moral obligations to
    their children and beyond.

Distributional Equity
  • There is an obligation to insure the fair
    distribution of resources among present people so
    that the life prospects of all people are
  • Based on principles of justice and the reasonable
    assumption that all individuals in a given
    generation are equal and a uniform distribution
    of resources must be a consequence of
    intragenerational equity
  • The principle of distributional equity can be
    extended to relationships between generations
    because a given generation has moral
    responsibility for providing for their offspring

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The Precautionary Principle
  • Requires the exercise of caution when making
    decisions that may adversely affect nature,
    natural ecosystems, and global, biogeochemical
  • When an activity raises threats of harm to human
    health or the environment, precautionary measures
    should be taken even if some cause and effect
    relationships are not fully established
  • Examples?

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Precautionary Principles Four Tenets
  1. People have a duty to take anticipatory action to
    prevent harm.
  2. The burden of the proof of harmlessness of a new
    technology, process, activity or chemical lies
    with the proponents, not the general public.
  3. Before using a new technology, process, or
    chemical or staring a new activity, people have
    an obligation to examine a full range of
    alternatives including the alternative of not
    doing it.
  4. Decisions applying the Precautionary Principle
    must be open, informed, and democratic and must
    include the affected parties.

The Reversibility Principle
  • Do not commit the irrevocable. Arthur C.
  • Making decisions that are able to be undone by
    future generations.
  • Examples nuclear energy GMOs
  • Related to the Precautionary Principle but less

The Polluter Pays Principle
  • Addresses existing technologies
  • The onus for mitigating damage is on those
    causing the impacts
  • Compensation to those harmed
  • Morphing into Extended Producer Responsibility

Protecting the Vulnerable
  • There are populations, including the animal
    world, that are vulnerable to the actions of
    portions of the human species.
  • Destruction of ecosystems under the guise of
  • Introduction of technology (including toxic
    substances, endocrine disruptors, genetically
    modified organisms, nanotechnology, robotics)
  • People who are essentially powerless due to
    governing and economic structures are vulnerable
    to the decisions of those who are powerful
    because of their wealth or influence
  • This asymmetrical power arrangement is governed
    by moral obligation.
  • Those in power have a special obligation to
    protect the vulnerable, those dependent on them.

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Rights of the Non-Human Living World
  • Humans are members of the earths community of
  • All species are interconnected in a web of life
  • Each species is a teleological center of life
    pursuing good in its own way
  • Human beings are not superior to other species
  • This last concept is based on the other three and
    shifts the focus from anthropocentricism to a
    biocentric outlook
  • Earth does not depend on humans for its
    existence, on the contrary humans are the only
    species that have ever threatened the existence
    of Earth itself

Rights of the Non-Living World
  • Do rocks have the right to exist?
  • The non-living world is the foundation of the
    living world
  • If we agree that respect is appropriate for the
    non-human, living world, then surely we must
    respect the non-living world.

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Respect for Nature
  • Basis of an ethics of respect for nature
  • Humans are member of the community of life
  • All species are interconnected in a web of life
  • Each species is a teleological center of life
  • Humans are not superior to any other species
  • Same evolutionary process, governed by the same
  • Humans are utterly dependent on other species for
  • Other species are to be respected and humans
    should not compromise their survival

Nature rules
The Land Ethic
  • Aldo Leopold (1949) suggests the there should be
    an ethical relationship to the land and that this
    relationship should and must be based on love,
    respect, and admiration for the land.
  • The land ethic makes sense because of the close
    relationship and interdependence of humans with
    land which provides food and amenity and
    contributes to air and water quality.
  • Humans have tended to become disconnected from
    the land because of technological developments
    which give apparent but not actual independence
    from the land.
  • Substitutes for natural material, for example
    polyester instead of cotton, furthers the notion
    that land is not essential for survival and that
    technology can provide suitable substitutes.

That land is a community is the basic concept of
ecology, but that land is to be loved and
respected is an extension of ethics.
The land ethic simply enlarges the boundaries of
the community to include soils, waters, plants,
and animals, or collectively the land.-
Web of Life
Sustainable versus Once-Off Decisionmaking
  • The issue is examining the temporal impact of
  • Example the built environment
  • Buildings as waste or resource for future
  • Energy efficient versus less efficient
  • Life cycle analysis
  • Life Cycle Costing
  • Life Cycle Assessment

  • Sustainability is a complex issue addressing the
    sustainment of human quality of life
  • The foundation of sustainability is ethics
  • The ethical principles of sustainability provide
    a sound basis for decisionmaking but require
    courage in their application
  • The principles should be comprehensive, covering
    human and non-human worlds
  • Time horizons are crucial and must also be