Ethical Dimensions of Renewable Energy and Sustainability Systems

Part 3 - Broader Impacts


Part 3 - Broader Impacts

Broader Social, Political, and Environmental Impacts

Coupled Energy and Environment Systems present significant challenges and opportunities to questions concerning the broader impacts on societal (economic, political, cultural) and environmental (ecological, biological, land-use) domains. This is where ethical considerations become more specific to the content and context of energy and environment systems research as it extends to and applied in the world outside of the laboratory.

Broader Impacts Criteria

The NSF broader impacts criterion (i.e., the second merit criterion) poses many similar questions in the area of extrinsic ethics, and provides a useful framework for beginning to think about how the research applies to societal and environmental concerns, particularly in the formulation of research agendas and in thinking about the implications a specific line of research may imply for policymakers, regulatory agencies, and civil society organizations (CSOs).

Further considerations of issues around the distribution of benefits and harms of energy and environment systems need to also be taken into account, to assure, for example, that the output of systems benefits only all sectors of society.

Issues to consider about ethics concerning broader impacts

  • What are the public policy and/or legal implications of research?
  • Are there questions around intellectual property?
  • Is the research potentially transformative of society and/or economy?
  • Are there dimensions of social justice that need to be considered?
  • Are there educational dimensions to the research?
  • Does the research take into account underrepresented groups?
  • Are there issues about privacy that need to be considered?
  • Are risks to health and environment being adequately considered in a precautionary manner?
  • Have long-term considerations about future impacts been taken into account?