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In the article “Volkswagen Emissions Scandal” a very interesting and important finding is reported. The issue as one can see, mainly revolve around engineering ethics. Engineers, doctors, lawyers and scientists are said to have a ‘profession’ rather than an ‘occupation’. The reason for this, is that these professions require special training and privileges, but more importantly they carry extensive responsibilities.
The National Society of Professional Engineers in their codes of ethics preamble summarizes that engineers are expected to act and exhibit the highest level of honesty and integrity.
Additionally, they must make the public health and safety protection the highest priority. (NSPE Code of Ethics, 2018), Going back to the Volkswagen scandal, this principle has certainly been put to the test when the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) raised the standard nearly to diminish emission by 94% (Klier, & Linn, 2016). Volkswagen, the world top automobile manufacturer and seller, is charged for knowingly putting the public health at risk by purposefully rigging emission control system to bypass Nitric Oxide & Nitrogen dioxide (NOx) release standard set by the EPA.
The International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT) sponsored a research study in 2015 to measure emissions. The reason for this research study was to compare the laboratory emissions testing to real-world operation levels. Prior to performing the test, it had already suspected that the reported Nitric Oxide & Nitrogen dioxide (NOx) emission levels could certainly be far greater than the laboratory reported result. Upon completing the research, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency found that Volkswagen emission were 16 to 40 time higher that their reported value but much worse was that they had actually rigged their automobile to show passing emission levels.
While other car manufactures have not been found to have violated the EPA emission standard, but other car makers such Nissan , Honda , Hyundai and Mazda have been forced to put there strategic development plans to an alt because of the new emission standards put out by the EPA. (Davenport, & Hakim, 2016). It is true and could be well argued that the case of the Volkswagen scandal does pose serious questions about moral obligation and ethical behavior, but the ultimate cause of the accusation is due to the fact that Volkswagen blatentely violated the Clean Air Act which states; it is a violation to “ manufacture or sell.. Or install, any part or component…bypass, defeat, or render inoperative any device or element of design installed on or in a motor vehicle. ..”(EPA Prohibited acts, 2013)
One important factor that must be taken into consideration is how can organization ensure that that engineers are not put unders pressure leading them in making unethical decision. Likewise, the same can be asked of engineer; what role can society play in ensuring that engineers work toward the public interest. Good leadership does start from the top down. CEO and other executives must ensure that their organizations uphold ethical code of conduct to the uttermost value. One way organizations can ensure such action is by incorporating their ethical code of conduct into their annual training and add this as a compliance training and feed the results into their annual bonus matrix . Furthermore, companies can begin to lead by example by ensuring that social responsibility is integrated into their core values.
Another important question that many may asks is whether this scandal deserves such attention. At least two questions can be examined in the quest for possible answers. We can certainly ask whether Volkswagen actions were more intuitive and unconscious or can it be discovered that they did take a more analytical and conscious approach. There seem to be quite a few evidence that points more toward the later. One article reveals that many attempts have been made by engineers and technician to inform their superiors of the current rigging activities, but all alerts were ignored.(Boston,Varnholt & Sloat, 2015). It would almost seem that managers were directed by those in higher decision making positions not to take notice of these activities. One source even mentions that there exist a third party who could be involved in the programing of the bypassing emission system. Such fleet would virtually be impossible for a few individuals to carry out on their own(Boston, Varnholt, & Sloat, 2015) and would certainly require large capital investment that would need the approval of higher up management. The management team certainly conducted intense analysis on the probability that the system could be discovered. This can certainly be seen in the care that was taken to embed the complex coding between 100 of millions of codes making it virtually impossible to detect.(Boston, Varnholt, & Sloat, 2015.)
Generally, the Law described a system of rules and guidelines which are enforced through social institutions to govern behavior, conversely, Ethics, is described as moral philosophy, is a system of moral principles which is concerned with what is good for individuals and society . However, are there are a few differences between the two. We must understand that ethics is a function of one’s awareness of what is right and what is wrong whereas, laws are written and approved by governments. So how can we ensure that engineers are more aware of such system of moral principles? We must understand that emission levels are not the issue, since the standards could change for ‘worst’ or ‘better’ at anytime. But having the knowledge of the doing the right thing is definitely key. Engineers must ask how will their actions impact society, how can we use our profession to make the world a better place? Engineers need to ask and answer these questions. Likewise, organizations need to set a clear path for all those within their organization. The world’s largest auto maker and seller certainly was the example for the industry. While Volkswagen has renews their commitment to more sustainable research which will focus on electric powered vehicles, we certainly hope that this signal has been heard far and wide not only by automobile makers but by every industry.
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