Technological advancement can bring two distinct outcomes. It can bring benefits to society such as improved health, transportation, entertainment and communications but at a cost in terms of the release of damaging pollutants and the resulting degradation of the environment. At the turn of the 21st Century the world community is grappling with the impact of 150 years of mostly unrestrained industrialization.
According to the Commission for Environmental Cooperation (CEC), pollutant releases and transfers in Canada for the year 2005 totalled 1,948,855,594 kg, with 73 percent collectively produced by the mining, quarrying, and oil and gas extraction and production industries.
Industry is not the only contributor to environmental degradation in Canada. General disposal of waste creates problems in terms of disease, contaminated ground water and unsightly landfills. The burning of fossil fuels for heating and transportation creates air pollution that in turn affects the health of humans, animals and plant life through a number of physical and chemical mechanisms.
And while the industrial, transportation and other sectors may contribute substantial amounts of pollution to the environment, there is also the steady trickle of road salt, fertilizers, pesticides, petroleum-based products and other toxic substances that are added to the environment by municipalities, businesses and individual citizens.
The environment is a communal asset, shared by a population that has the responsibility to protect it. Most Technology Professionals are in some way connected to the health of the environment through their work. Its central importance to the well-being of the public is reflected in the Code of Ethics.
Typically, members are to "…hold paramount the safety, health and welfare of the public, the protection of the environment and the promotion of health and safety within the workplace."
This principle must be considered the most significant in the Code of Ethics. Realistically any project undertaken involves some risk to safety, health and welfare and may have some impact on the environment. To 'hold paramount' is to emphasize the need to give diligent regard to this principle and to rank it ahead of expediency or economic gain to either the client or the individual.