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21st Century Ethics

21st Century Ethics

February 2021

By Griselda Gonzales PE, ENV | Vice President, Professional Affairs
Principal Engineer, The Goodman Corporation

Howdy Texas Civil Engineers. Have you been keeping up with all things ASCE? In case you missed this update, ASCE has rewritten the Code of Ethics which was officially adopted October 26, 2020. The ethics prescribed to civil engineers sets our profession apart and perhaps a reason we continue to rank high in our profession for honesty and ethics according to Gallup polls1. We are trusted above all else to protect the health, safety, and welfare of the public through our profession.

What happened that caused the rewrite of our ethics?

From article reviews, it was needed to provide clarity, include new relevant topics and give guidance on the ethical challenges that are facing our profession this century.

This effort was taken on by Past President Robin A. Kemper PE, LEED AP, ENV SP, F.SEI, F.ASCE, who first envisioned the change in 2013. With the vision in mind, she initiated discussion on the “Code of Ethics for the 21st Century” in her first meeting upon becoming president-elect, then requested the formation of a task committee5. The effort was initially planned for one year but was completed in two by an eight-person committee and a consultant. The end result was the “most comprehensive rewrite” in more than 45 years4.

What has changed? All of it.

The format, structure, and wording have all received updates. It is a comprehensive rewrite with the intent of keeping the “heart of the code”4.  There is now a preamble which serves to guide our aspirations as civil engineers. The previous “canon model” was grouped into eight ethical guidelines which prescribed our moral obligations to the public, our clients, employers, and the profession2. The new “stakeholder model” reorganizes our ethical duties by stakeholder and order of hierarchy2,3. The stakeholders in order of hierarchy are: Society, Nature and Built Environment; Profession; Clients and Employers; and Peers. The intent is better functionality with ease of understanding to resolve ethical issues. The simplified wording captures the intent of the canons, while maintaining the ethics of our profession.  

Code of Ethics Timeline

1914 – The Society’s Code of Ethics was adopted

1975 – Adoption of the fundamental principles of the Code of Ethics of Engineers as accepted by the Accreditation Board for Engineering and Technology, Inc. (ABET)

2009 – Adopted of the definition of Sustainable Development: “Sustainable Development is the process of applying natural, human, and economic resources to enhance the safety, welfare, and quality of life for all of the society while maintaining the availability of the remaining natural resources.” October.

2017– Amended on July 29

2020 – Rewrite of the Code of Ethics


This condensed summary is taken from a series of articles by Tara Hoke, as well as posts by Ben Walpole and Ben Fogleson explaining the new code of ethics.

  1. Reinhart, RJ; Gallup, Politics; “Nurses Continue to Rate Highest in Honesty, Ethics”; 2020, January 6; https://news.gallup.com/poll/274673/nurses-continue-rate-highest-honesty-ethics.aspx
  2. Hoke, Tara; Civil Engineering Magazine, 39; ASCE Adopts New Code of Ethics; 2020 December
  3. Hoke, Tara; Civil Engineering Magazine, 26; ASCE Adopts New Code of Ethics: Part 2; 2021, Jan-Feb
  4. Walpole, Ben; ASCE Source; “ASCE installs new Code of Ethics”; 2020, November 10; https://source.asce.org/asce-installs-new-more-clear-and-concise-code-of-ethics/
  5. Fogleson, Ben; ASCE Source; “ASCE’s new code of ethics guides civil engineers”; 2021, January 2; https://source.asce.org/asces-new-code-of-ethics-guides-civil-engineers/

Digital versions of two-part series found here:

Additional Reading

An interesting read on the previous “canon model” can be found here. I cannot confirm it is an ASCE endorsed guide on the previous code of ethics but I found it to be an interesting read for understanding it.

ASCE Members with an ethics question may call the ASCE Ethics Hotline at 800-548-2723 x6151.

Ethics Violations

Source: ASCE; Code of Ethics; https://www.asce.org/code-of-ethics/; Accessed 04 Feb 2021

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