The role of the professional engineer is one of protecting the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Historically, two limits have always been implicit in the boundaries of our collective responsibilities. The first is a limited time frame. Our responsibility was the present or short-term - - rarely do we examine the long-term consequences of our decisions. By long-term, I mean the multi-generational aspects of our projects and products. The other boundary historically has been limited to just our particular segment of the supply chain. For example, in the case of concrete, our concern was the concrete placed in our new roadway project. The carbon footprint of the cement manufacturing process for our new concrete and the future recycle ability of the concrete roadway has never been a concern.
The times are changing - - look for "End-to-End" responsibility to become more embedded in our collective responsibilities to the health, safety, and welfare of the public. Build me a carbon neutral building requires a whole new set of discussions and approaches. Climate change and sustainability concerns will expand our responsibilities throughout the entire project/product supply chain and life-cycle. Where something came from and where something is going will give engineers broad responsibilities over suppliers and distributors. Obsolete systems of sequential processes, in which each group performed just one step, with no responsibility for what happened before or after, will give way to more integrated, simultaneous planning and management. All the various process stakeholders will have shared responsibility - - where professional engineers will play a key influence role among businesses and organizations in a collaborative business ecosystem.
This clearly is a higher standard for professional engineers - - and runs directly into the limits of "That's not my job." But a new age is approaching - - one driven by sustainability mandates and climate change requirements. Once the new performance metrics for supply chains and life-cycles are out of the box, there will be no turning back. So be thinking about what our professional obligations should be in a world of "End-to-End" responsibilities.