Adam Donnan
February 2018

What’s the point of a code of conduct?

When a new member joins the IES they sign up to the Institution’s Code of Conduct. Members are bound by this Code for the duration of their membership and the expectation is that they are familiar with, and understand, its content and implications.

There is a mechanism by which individuals can make a complaint against an IES Member for breaching the Code. As and when they arise, the IES holds professional conduct panels to investigate these complaints, which sometimes lead to us setting up a disciplinary panel.

However, I am very keen that members do not consider the Code of Conduct simply a ‘stick to beat them with’, as this is not its purpose.  This blog seeks to explain the role of the Code for the three main groups it seeks to serve: the Institution, its members and the public.

For the IES
Codes of conduct are rooted in a long tradition of self-regulation by professions operating in pluralist democracies. The establishment of a code of conduct is now considered an integral part of the membership package of a professional body.

The Code of Conduct and associated disciplinary procedure attempts to minimise inappropriate behaviour by members, which whilst often not of legal significance, might damage the reputation of the Institution and the profession as a whole. 

Finally, and significantly, the Code also serves as a public statement of our values. Any professional body exists to serve not just the needs of its members, but also the public interest. As many environmental scientists are drawn to the discipline by a desire to make a difference to people and the environment, that mission is particularly clear to us at the IES. Our Code of Conduct is a formal reflection of our commitment to this mission.

For members
The Code sets a common standard for members, so they know what is expected of a professional working in the environmental sciences. It represents an ethical foundation, preventing a ‘race to the bottom’ by ensuring universal standards.  As a 2015 report from the CIOB, Understanding the Value of Professionals and Professional Bodies states “It does not matter how skilled and experienced a person is or becomes: if they behave dishonestly and without regard for the rights of others, they are not a professional.”

It is important that members view the Code of Conduct as a defensive tool that they can use in their professional lives.  If they feel under pressure from a manager or client to behave in an unethical way, they should contact the Institution to determine whether this would result in the breach of the code.  The IES has a confidential panel to offer help to members seeking advice on ethical matters. As your first port of call you should contact myself via +44 (0)20 7601 1920, or via email. All conversation will be treated with the utmost confidentiality.

If the Institution agrees that a particular course of action would lead to a breach, this gives you a powerful tool to argue that not only you, but your professional body, view a particular course of action as unethical.  You can have the weight of the profession behind you.

For the public
At the heart of any professional code of conduct is a commitment to act in the public interest. This builds trust in the profession and individual environmental scientists.  Public trust is necessary for the profession to operate effectively. 

At the core of our organisational strategy is the impact that we seek: to sustain “an environmental science profession that is informed, trusted, and a positive contributor to a healthy, sustainable society”. The Code of Conduct plays a vital role in this mission.

The IES Council will be reviewing our Code of Conduct over the summer.  If you have any comments about the current code, please email them to