The EWA Code of Ethics
: The original wording and the Code's implementation by the national EWA member associations.
The Role of Professional Ethics in Water Management
By Claus Hagebro and Peter Matthews, The European Water Association (EWA)
Ethics in society -
The recent legal case in South Africa between the SA State and 39 international medical companies producing AIDS medicine gave reason to a lot of publicity and discussion of moral and ethics. Well knowing that these companies are acting within a free market economy it suddenly became a problem for many people that the companies would not allow production of cheap copy-medicine. Because it was a question of seriously sick people who could not afford to buy the expensive medicine the companies were supposed to act according to moral principles and accept an income loss.
The reason to this change in attitude towards companies and institutions may be the result of the situation after the collapse of communism in Europe. Marxism was opposed to the free market economy/capitalism and provided criticism. After its disappearance the market economy was left alone and after some time many people found out that market economy also have some negative side effects. In this way a New Criticism of the market economy has developed. At the same time society has become very complicated. It is difficult to identify or understand all conditions in relation to e.g. a medical production. The public relates to simple messages. Therefore ethical principles are becoming increasingly important. We judge the company on the image and the way it introduces itself and on how it is presented in the press.
Some time ago an article by William Warner (1) discussed the influence of religion on wastewater treatment. The article described by means of examples how religious beliefs can direct behaviour relating to health and hygiene. The author stated that the number of people infected by faecal-related diseases continues to grow and he asked if hygiene is controlled better under the myths of religion than the facts of science. His own answer was: probably not - but he added that if all religions commanded: wash your hands after being in the toilet such a single disciplining taboo would have a major positive impact.
Trust of experts
The communities at large no longer automatically trust experts as they used to do. Environmental professionals are no exception. There is a general development that organisations have to become environmentally certified and demonstrate responsible governance, indeed ethical governance. Environmental ethics is not just the subject of academic study, it is the stuff of newspaper editorials as demonstrated above. Most people have an instinctive view that water is a human right and that its supply should probably be free. However, it is recognised that water service charges can be levied for the cost of treatment and carriage of water and wastewater. There is a powerful element of trust, when these policies are provided by utilities. When the service fails or the resources are misused, not only do customers suffer, but also they feel that the trust has been broken.
From the above it seems that there is an increasing demand for simple messages or rules to guide our general behaviour in relation to e.g. water management. Such rules could help to make the statement "make water everybody’s business" from the World Water Vision come true. It seems that one success factor would be ethical behaviour at corporate and personal level in water management
At the Water Associations Worldwide seminar at the World Water Forum in The Hague the European Water Association (EWA) introduced the idea of ethical behaviour of water professionals. At the seminar we presented some generally accepted basic principles formulated as "Ten Commandments" which could serve as the foundation on which new water ethics could be developed. Furthermore, it was suggested to introduce an oath to be taken by individual members when they enter the water management profession. Finally EWA offered to take the lead on behalf of the Water Associations Worldwide for the further development of these ethical principles.
Since The Hague a small task group developed the idea of a Code of Ethics for the European Water Association and its national member associations. It worked in conjunction with a similar working group in the Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management (CIWEM) which serves UK and Eire. A number of changes have been made:
- The Code is now one which can be adopted by a professional body and its individual members which would be expected to comply with it
- It is less evangelical and more practical
- There is the possibility to broaden the issue to include all environmental activities to allow for the diversity of our organisations and to state the commitment of water professionals to the wider environment. However, the Code is very easily expressible in water terms and that version will be presented here.
There is some merit in adopting the same wording throughout all organisations to ensure harmony across Europe but it is recognised that, in practice, there may be variations. For example, some may wish to express the principles in a paragraph rather than ten bullet points; others may wish to choose a slightly different form of words to aid understanding - for example, the words ‘ensure’ and ‘promote’ may replace each other just like some may wish to replace ‘water’ with ‘environment’ to emphasise the focus of their organisation. So at the heart of the acceptance of the Code of Ethics by the water associations is acceptance of the principles.
The Code of Ethics
The following text is the Code of Ethics in the "water version". As mentioned above the text can easily be broadened to cover "environment" in a general way.
"Individual Members of the Professional Association will be expected to use their influence to the fullest extent and to behave to the best of their ability to maintain a sustainable water environment in the following way:
- Promote that the use of water resources is fair, equitable and sustainable and takes account of the needs of a diverse environment
- Never knowingly or deliberately over-exploit water resources
- Never knowingly or deliberately cause the water environment to be damaged or nuisance to be created by the discharge of unacceptable quantities of any substance or energy in any form
- Recognise that in contributing to the provision of water services they provide an important contribution to human well-being
- Promote that the uses of the water environment do it no harm or to the life within it and wherever possible enhance it
- Embrace the needs of the community
- Promote the concepts of integration of the management of the wider environment.
- Use their wisdom in serving the community and constantly strive to learn more
- Serve as an example to others for responsible environmental behaviour
- Never engage in corrupt practice and maintain a high standard of professional behaviour, which will serve as an example to others."
The task group reported to the annual Council meeting of the European Water Association held this year (2001) in Vannes, France. The Council adopted the Code of Ethics as a set of principles and agreed that the 29 national member associations should report to the Council meeting next year in Germany on if and how they would implement the principles at national level.
As one would expect, there has been a great deal of debate about the commitment, which is going to be required from the associations and their individual members. The association members will now deliberate over the next year. Some may want to shorten it; others may want to express it in broader terms embracing the wider environment in order to reflect the role that water has in an integrated environment and the practical fact that many associations have members in sectors other than water. In the very end what has been agreed is what the EWA has always expected from its members. It is just that these expectations have now been articulated and recorded more clearly. It is very much an aspiration and a clear signal to the wider community about the behaviours which modern professional (water) environmentalists must adhere to.
Finally, it should be added that several of the EWA National Associations are already working on the implementation of the Code. CIWEM has acted as the pathfinder and adopted the Code at its Council meeting already in April. Also, Germany is very active and has engaged professional assistance for the final formulation and presentation to its members.
The European Water Association promised in The Hague to take the lead on behalf of the Water Associations Worldwide. The result of the last year’s work has now been presented and continued discussion and implementation is on the way in Europe. It has been an interesting project for those of us taking part in the discussions. It has been a useful process trying to formulate and agree on these ethical principles which after all do not bring very much new ideas but first of all bring down on paper formulation of some commonly agreed guidelines for good professional behaviour. It is believed that the contribution of learned, skilled and dedicated individuals is crucial to the achievement of a healthy environment and thriving community. Our behaviour as water professionals should serve as example to the community as part of our contribution to a sustainable environment.
The other member associations of the WAW are invited and encouraged to take on this process and discuss it back home in their organisations.
(1) William S. Warner (2000): The influence of religion on wastewater treatment: a consideration for experts. WATER 21, August 2000.