Project Sustainability Management: when project management meets sustainability

sustainable project management

In today’s day and age, it’s tough to spend a day without hearing or seeing some messages about sustainability, and in this regard, Project Sustainability Management is picking up steam.

For project managers, this means seeing a project with a new perspective, and making the right decisions for the company, its people, and society as a whole.

Basically, it’s all about doing the right thing.

Successful project management is already challenging enough in itself because it revolves around balancing three constraints: cost, time and scope.

The integration of sustainability adds even more complexity to the mix.

Let’s explore why sustainable project management is important and how you can do it in this article.

What is Project Sustainability Management?

The 71% of the world’s leading 500 companies are publicly disclosing their GHG emissions alongside several other energy metrics.

Sustainability has become a corporate goal for all industries, and organizations now recognize that it is just irresponsible not to tackle the issue.

Moreover, the pandemic has brought to light new challenges and emergencies, revealing that sustainability is the only way forward.

Boston Consulting Group reported that 70% of people have become more aware of the impact that human activity has on the climate since the Covid-19 outbreak.

However, sustainable project management isn’t just a matter of being green and tackling climate change.

Being responsible is about ensuring that resources are used wisely, that people are treated equally and paid a fair wage, and that communities are factored into business decisions.

A great way to make sure the project continues to be sustainable is to have this goal in mind from the outset of the project.

Once it is built into the project vision, it cannot be forgotten.

Just having sustainability relevant in all areas of the project will ensure that environmental damage is at a minimum.

As a result, project managers working in this area must take a holistic approach, weighing environmental, social, and economic factors.

The four aspects of Project Sustainability Management

Specifically, sustainability involves balancing four different areas that include:

  • Environment, such as climate change
  • Economy, such as accessibility
  • Society, such as community
  • Management, such as health and safety

Taking them all into account is the key to building truly sustainable projects.

Let’s explore them in more detail:

Environmental sustainability means employing sustainable resources, preventing pollution, and reducing climate change impacts. This involves assessing equipment, resources used for a project, industry standards, and purchasing practices. Fair trade is one of the best options to ensure sustainability as it is an agreement designed to help producers in growing countries achieve fair trade relationships.

This is connected to economic sustainability, by thinking beyond  return on investment and ensuring that the project fits into the overall strategy of the organization by analyzing how much it adds and how feasible it is in the long term.

Beside the environmental and economic areas of an organization, the less debated, but equally important, are the social and managerial elements. Ensuring that the organization is socially sustainable means assessing how sustainable its culture, structure, and human resource practices are. The organization must ensure that it provides fair working conditions and have sound health and safety measures in place. This part is often tied to HR, which is why they are often considered the sustainability agent in certain organizations. The HR department must ensure that there is no discrimination against vulnerable groups and that civil and fundamental rights are met. They are also responsible for employee training and skill development and overall community engagement, both of which are significant social areas.

project sustainability management

How do we place sustainability at the very core of every project?

Project Managers have the responsibility of overseeing the project delivery and support processes.

Both will strive to ensure that the client is satisfied while motivating their team to provide excellence.

This is the essence of a project management job.

By leveraging benchmarking tools such as the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM), project managers can compare the impacts of their plans.

The idea underlying the use of benchmarking tools is to integrate sustainability throughout the entire project lifecycle.

Therefore, project managers can ensure that any development improves, or at least preserves, the environment and the livelihood of those who inhabit it.

Project Sustainability Management requires a more holistic approach.

It takes into consideration how resources are used, climate change mitigation, property rights, community involvement, and human rights.

The project manager’s goal is to create value and deliver a project both on time and on budget, but also to execute it in an ethical and fair manner.

Part of the complexity of sustainable project management lies in its intertemporal nature.

Therefore, a sustainable project’s lifecycle should not end at the completion stage; environmental and social impacts must also be monitored and controlled afterwards.

Managers must therefore arm themselves with new indicators for monitoring and overseeing these environmental and social aspects, e.g. ISO, SA and others.

Bottom line, projects are a medium to achieve change, provide new products and services, and thus shape society.

As such, sustainability should not just be an afterthought, but rather should be one of the key goals for every project.

New targets, a new way of working.

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