Skip menu

Professional ethics in the environmental sciences: a comparative analysis

Thursday 4 July: Conference day two, 4:15pm – 4:45pm parallel session



Room 9 – 3030-G23 MLT1



Dr Prue Gonzalez
Charles Sturt University, Australia

Phillip Ebbs
Charles Sturt University, Australia



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 professionals 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. 



Botkin, D.B., & Keller, E.A. (2014). Environmental Science: Earth as a living planet (9th 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 (6th Ed). McGraw Hill.


Presentation topic

Students – Future Graduates

Print Friendly, PDF & Email