Geoethics is the branch of ethics which relates to the interaction of human activity with our physical world in general, and with the practice of the Earth sciences in particular. The International Association for Promoting Geoethics (IAPG) is a multidisciplinary, scientific platform for widening the debate on problems of Ethics applied to Geosciences ( A general statement of adherence to geoethical principles was produced at the 35IGC in Cape Town in 2016 (Download, PDF).


Professionalism rests upon three pillars namely; Registration, Professional Norms and Behaviour and Continuing Professional Development.

Registration in the Geosciences, as practised in South Africa, is an internationally normalised practice involving two separate, but closely related organisations, namely the South African Council for Natural Scientific Professions (SACNASP1) and the Geological Society of South Africa (GSSA). For engineers, the statutory body is the Engineering Council of South Africa (ECSA2) and the professional body is the Southern African Institute of Mining and Metallurgy (SAIMM3). For surveyors, the relevant bodies are the South African Geomatics Council (SAGC4) and the Institute for Mine Managers of South Africa (IMMSA).


It is, in essence, a process whereby the qualifications of an applicant are confirmed to be true, valid and relevant to the field of practice specified. SACNASP registers all Natural Science practitioners within South Africa. It is illegal to practice as a geologist within South Africa unless registered with SACNASP. Fundamental to this registration is a process of registration in terms of the Natural Scientific Professions Act whereby qualifications and experience are evaluated. Registration as either a Candidate or Professional Natural Scientist (Pr. Sci. Nat) arises. Geoscientists are registered within the Fields of Practice of Geological Science or Earth Science. The public are able to confirm the registration and Field of Practice of a scientist by means of accessing the SACNASP website. There is no professional practice examination currently required for registration purposes in South Africa

Professional Registration with SACNASP and membership of the GSSA is recognised by International organisations such as CRIRSCO, as professional registration for purposes of Competency as regards Resource and Reserve Reporting. This currently represents the most common and successful application of the Professionalism regime in South Africa.

SACNASP Document download box here

Professional norms and behaviour are measured against a Code of Ethics by the GSSA and by a Code of Conduct by SACNASP. Each organisation has a Complaints and Disciplinary System (sub-committees) which investigate and rule on complaints brought to them by the public at large and by fellow professionals. These processes allow for confidentiality, separation and independence of investigative and ethics ruling stages, as well as appeal processes. The GSSA process requires that severe breaches of ethics be referred to SACNASP for ultimate sanction. Sanctions range from simple admonishment to de-registration and the possible loss of the right to practice.

SACNASP, ECSA and SAGC manage a Continuing Professional Development system and promote career long development as an imperative. This aspect is the least mature part of the system but is steadily evolving.


Two of the professional/ethical issues related to CP/CV’s are:

Only write reports for which you are qualified.

The SAMREC Code defines “Competence” and “Responsibility” in clauses 7-11 (see also Clause 2.1.3 in SAMVAL and Clause 2 in SAMOG). Anyone writing a report in terms of any of the SAMCODES must satisfy themselves that they are competent in terms of these clauses. In addition, they need to be able to satisfy their peers that they are competent as well.

Don’t take on work within an unrealistically constrained environment.

One issue often identified is that the brief from the client may have aggressive timelines but limited budgets. Even given some tight constraints, some companies/individuals will accept commissions, but have to compromise on the extent and quality of work done. The result is incomplete reporting, even misrepresentation.

CP/CV’s need to be aware of the scope of the work and make sure that they spec it in terms of time and budget etc. and consider carefully the implications of not doing this with due consideration. They should also be aware that to under-spec a proposal in terms of time/cost and, subsequently, have to add time and cost to the project to make it commercial, is not considered ethical. While probably guaranteeing that the individual obtain the contract, it does not necessarily lead to the best outcome, for the consultant or the project owner.

It is well appreciated that individuals may feel that their financial circumstances are such that work under less than ideal circumstances is better than no work at all. However, it is important to realise that it is the CP/CV who has to face the disciplinary procedures of the relevant professional/statutory body, which may result in one or other sanction which may include de-registration and the possible loss of right to practice. It may also result in the failure of the project and even bring the entire geoscientific community into disrepute.