Professional ethics in the environmental sciences: A comparative analysis

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Environmental science is the systematic study of our environment and our place in it. Environmental science professionals are required to be transdisciplinary experts capable of working on complex, multi-faceted societal problems, often across diverse temporal and spatial scales (Botkin & Keller, 2014; Cunningham & Cunningham, 2011). The decisions and solutions made by environmental scientists have ethical implications, and can significantly impact current and future societal norms. As societal knowledge grows, as technology advances, as human populations increase, and as demands on our natural resources deepen and diversify, flourishing societies increasingly rely on ethical environmental scientists to provide balanced expert advice and to make sound decisions and solutions. This reliance is increased as environmental science professional’s work in a largely self-regulated, competitive industry. This poses the questions: what is an ethical environmental scientist, and how can these principles be enshrined within higher education environmental science courses that are not governed by an accrediting body? This study obtained and analysed professional codes of conduct for environmental professional bodies within Australia. Comparisons were made, and similarities and differences were noted using an inductive content analysis approach. The results of the content analysis allow us to describe the interdisciplinary dialogue of ethics that are espoused by relevant environmental professional bodies, and consider how these professional ethics are integrated and taught within environmental science courses in tertiary institutions. We propose an approach to scaffolding and embedding the teaching of professional ethics into a capstone environmental science unit following the 5 goals of the teaching of ethics espoused by Callahan (1980). We consider the role of ethico-critical reflection and the need to create mental ability amongst our students in order for them to navigate the challenges inherent in the dynamic environmental sciences disciplines. References: Botkin, D.B., & Keller, E.A. (2014). Environmental Science: Earth as a living planet (9 Ed). Wiley. Callahan, D. (1980). Goals in the teaching of ethics. In D. Callahan & S. Bok (Eds.), Ethics Teaching in Higher Education (pp. 61-80). London: Plenum Press. Cunningham, W.P., & Cunningham, M.A. (2011). Principles of Environmental Science: Inquiry and Applications (6 Ed). McGraw Hill.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 04 Jul 2019
EventHigher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) 42nd Annual Conference, 2019 - University of Auckland, Auckland, New Zealand
Duration: 03 Jul 201905 Jul 2019
Conference number: 42nd


ConferenceHigher Education Research and Development Society of Australasia (HERDSA) 42nd Annual Conference, 2019
Abbreviated titleNext generation, higher education: Challenges, changes and opportunities
Country/TerritoryNew Zealand
OtherIn the last decade, Higher Education has undergone dramatic changes with internationalisation bringing a broader range of students to tertiary institutions, while requiring researchers to focus on priorities set by government. The sector continues to grapple with restrained budgets, increased student numbers, greater student diversity and government agendas requiring preparation of students for work and lifelong learning. In addition, the research environment has become more complex with funding opportunities becoming more competitive but not as plentiful.
As we enter a new decade, there will be new challenges and changes along with opportunities for the next generation in Higher Education. Within this context we have identified areas and points of interest relevant to the conference theme as captured within our sub-themes. The points beneath these sub-themes are intended to help guide thinking and potential areas of interest for research. You are however, encouraged to interpret the themes as it best suits your own institutional or national context.
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