Sustainability and Project Management

Jan 14 • Featured, Greg Balestrero • 3445 Views • No Comments on Sustainability and Project Management

As part of IPM Day this past November, IIL hosted a keynote webcast with Greg Balestrero and Nathalie Udo titled “Organizational Survival: Double Meaning of Sustainability.” 

Dozens of questions were submitted during the post-keynote Q&A session. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough time to answer them all so we will be responding to your remaining questions via a series of blog posts.

Part II of this series features your questions on sustainability and project management — How are they related? Why should project managers care about sustainability? How can ethics be addressed in projects? Greg Balestrero responds.

Part I: “Embracing Sustainability: 5 Critical Changes for 2014”  

1.  (I am) Having trouble associating this (sustainability) lecture with Program/Project management. – Mike C., United States

There are many reasons why sustainability applies to PPM, but they sort out into two categories: career path and PPM practice.

With regard to career path, leading companies preparing for the challenges of the mid-21st century recognize that enterprise risk management is crucial to success, as well as an ability to build a risk radar through activities like scenario planning. To maintain the vitality of your own career, it is crucial that you build those very same competencies into your own skill portfolio or you will find yourself limited in your own career growth.

With regard to PPM practice, you must expand risk management beyond the execution of a project and look outside the project domain to external factors that could impact the company and the program in which your project resides. Also, the success metrics for any project will begin to expand to include the four pillars of sustainability. In particular, ethics, social impact in global supply chains, policing supply chains, and greenhouse gas emissions will be new dimensions which will expand the number and value of success factors.

2.  How should ethics be addressed in project work? – Shar O., United States

Ethics should be addressed at the very beginning of a project, as part of the project team formulation. Team leaders should build in a discussion that embraces all processes of the project work, from reporting to personal conduct, to the impact the project will have on all stakeholders (including the customer, the company, and communities outside the organization). As difficult as this may seem, it should start with a review of corporate values and how they apply to your work.

In some cases, it is helpful to have the executive sponsor of the project to address corporate values, ethics, and how this can be developed within the boundaries of the project. There should also be a process established to allow quick attention when any team member anticipates or witnesses a breach of ethics, so that it can be addressed. Even with virtual teams, tools such as Skype or GoToMeeting software can bring the team together to discuss ethics and review the concepts firsthand.

It is also critical to have full knowledge of the supply chain and any code of ethical performance or behavior which the company embraces and has circulated to its suppliers. Early in the project, the team should be aware of what is expected of the suppliers and understand the policing process for ensuring that the suppliers are held accountable.

3.  What can companies do to incorporate strategies you have laid out here in project work? – Shar O., United States

Frankly, this should be addressed from the top and integrated into the company’s strategic plans, in advance of any regulations which may force an organization to comply. The reality is that companies are moving slowly in that direction in bits and bytes. But that kind of change is as important as those who build an integrated strategy into their future.

The best way to embrace these strategies is to first establish a “risk radar” system (such as through scenario planning) where the company can begin to see what kind of world they will be facing in the next 15 years. They should compare their current strategy with that “potential world,” using the four pillars of sustainability as lenses to determine if their strategic plan is viable in those different scenarios. If it isn’t, then it is time to adjust their strategy to accommodate the four pillars.

This assessment often brings the work to a halt and makes the organization realize that they need to carefully define their own “lenses” to make sure that they can change their plans and adequately prepare for the future. This isn’t about “green project management” but rather an integrated strategy that addresses all work—whether it is new project work or ongoing operations—throughout an entire supply chain with the same principles, strategic measures, and metrics.

4.  Thank you for the perspective on green project management. We (EarthPM) advocate that there not be a separate certificate, but rather it be, as you said, “integrated” into the discipline so that the PM adds that sustainability lens to his or her quiver of tools. – David S., United States  

I don’t want to diminish or devalue the efforts to help teams manage in a more sustainable way. To the extent that project team leaders have the freedom to make changes that are friendly to the environment, society, and to the range of stakeholders, by all means they should do it. But the real change will occur only when project teams are operating within the umbrella of a sustainable organization whose values drive the behavior, rather than the behavior being a one-off response.


Watch a snippet of Greg and Nathalie’s IPM Day keynote: 

All full-length video presentations from IPM Day 2013 are available for purchase through the IIL website.





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