Ethics is integral to all decisions, designs, and services performed by civil engineers. Not only the public trust but also their lives, safety, and welfare depend on professional engineers' efficient, safe, and economical performance of their duties. ASCE's ethics programs, policies, and resources are designed to assist its members in understanding their ethical obligations and incorporating them into the day-to-day conduct of their professional and business-related affairs.
In October 2020, the Board of Direction adopted its first comprehensive rewrite of the ASCE Code of Ethics in more than 45 years. The previous column, which appeared in the December 2020 issue, outlined significant structural changes to the code - most notably, its organization of ethical duties into a hierarchy of five "stakeholders"- and reviewed the similarities and differences between the new code and its predecessor with respect to the engineer's first and highest stakeholder: Society. This second of two columns on the new code continues this comparison by reviewing the duties owed to the remaining four stakeholders.
On Oct. 26, 2020, the ASCE Board of Direction approved a comprehensive rewrite of the ASCE Code of Ethics, the most extensive change to the Society's ethical code in more than 45 years. This is the first of two columns that will review the new code and highlight noteworthy areas of difference from, and consistency with, the code it replaces.
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First adopted in 1914, the ASCE Code of Ethics is the model for professional conduct for ASCE members. The Code of Ethics was most recently updated on October 26, 2020.
Members with an ethics question may call the ASCE Ethics Hotline at
Download a printable copy of the Code of Ethics.
Download the previous version of the Code of Ethics.
Members of The American Society of Civil Engineers conduct themselves with integrity and professionalism, and above all else protect and advance the health, safety, and welfare of the public through the practice of Civil Engineering.
Engineers govern their professional careers on the following fundamental principles:
All members of The American Society of Civil Engineers, regardless of their membership grade or job description, commit to all of the following ethical responsibilities. In the case of a conflict between ethical responsibilities, the five stakeholders are listed in the order of priority. There is no priority of responsibilities within a given stakeholder group with the exception that 1a. takes precedence over all other responsibilities.
a. first and foremost, protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public;
b. enhance the quality of life for humanity;
c. express professional opinions truthfully and only when founded on adequate knowledge and honest conviction;
d. have zero tolerance for bribery, fraud, and corruption in all forms, and report violations to the proper authorities;
e. endeavor to be of service in civic affairs;
f. treat all persons with respect, dignity, and fairness, and reject all forms of discrimination and harassment;
g. recognize the diverse historical, social, and cultural needs of the community, and incorporate these considerations in their work;
h. consider the capabilities, limitations, and implications of current and emerging technologies when part of their work; and
i. report misconduct to the appropriate authorities where necessary to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public.
a. adhere to the principles of sustainable development;
b. consider and balance societal, environmental, and economic impacts, along with opportunities for improvement, in their work;
c. mitigate adverse societal, environmental, and economic effects; and
d. use resources wisely while minimizing resource depletion.
a. uphold the honor, integrity, and dignity of the profession;
b. practice engineering in compliance with all legal requirements in the jurisdiction of practice;
c. represent their professional qualifications and experience truthfully;
d. reject practices of unfair competition;
e. promote mentorship and knowledge-sharing equitably with current and future engineers;
f. educate the public on the role of civil engineering in society; and
g. continue professional development to enhance their technical and non-technical competencies.
a. act as faithful agents of their clients and employers with integrity and professionalism;
b. make clear to clients and employers any real, potential, or perceived conflicts of interest;
c. communicate in a timely manner to clients and employers any risks and limitations related to their work;
d. present clearly and promptly the consequences to clients and employers if their engineering judgment is overruled where health, safety, and welfare of the public may be endangered;
e. keep clients' and employers' identified proprietary information confidential;
f. perform services only in areas of their competence; and
g. approve, sign, or seal only work products that have been prepared or reviewed by them or under their responsible charge.
a. only take credit for professional work they have personally completed;
b. provide attribution for the work of others;
c. foster health and safety in the workplace;
d. promote and exhibit inclusive, equitable, and ethical behavior in all engagements with colleagues;
e. act with honesty and fairness on collaborative work efforts;
f. encourage and enable the education and development of other engineers and prospective members of the profession;
g. supervise equitably and respectfully;
h. comment only in a professional manner on the work, professional reputation, and personal character of other engineers; and
i. report violations of the Code of Ethics to the American Society of Civil Engineers.
1 This Code does not establish a standard of care, nor should it be interpreted as such.
Under ASCE bylaws, all ASCE members are required to comply with the Code of Ethics and to report any observed violations. The Committee on Professional Conduct (CPC) reviews and investigates complaints in accordance with its rules of procedure. If the CPC finds that an ethics violation has occurred and that disciplinary actions are appropriate, it will forward its recommendations to ASCE's Executive Committee or Board of Direction for a formal hearing on the matter.
To file a complaint:
American Society of Civil Engineers
1801 Alexander Bell Drive
Reston, VA 20191
Engineering Ethics: Real-World Case Studies
, Starrett, Lara, and Bertha provide in-depth analysis with extended discussions and study questions of case studies that are based on real work situations. Important concepts such as rights and obligations; conflict of interest; professionalism and mentoring; confidentiality; whistleblowing; bribery, fraud, and corruption; and ethical communication with the public in a social media world are discussed in practical and approachable terms.
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