Sustainable Project Management Unravelled

First let’s clear up some confusion. People very often use sustainability and green throughout each other. However Sustainability is more than just green. When talking about sustainability we often talk about the 3 Ps, People, Profit and Planet. Or in other words People is social sustainability, Profit is economic sustainability and Planet is environmental sustainability. It is important to understand this concept because if we would only focus on Green then we might not pay enough attention to the necessary balance between the three Ps.

Let me explain. People, Profit and Planet are interconnected and influence each other. True sustainability only exists if all three aspects are taken care of. A company that makes huge negative effect on one both others. Therefore true sustainability is understanding and managing the impact on all Ps and having the skills to balance them.

Sustainability most often comes into the picture when we are looking at end products or operations of an organization. Sustainability in combination with managing projects is still very much an unexplored area.

As an example let’s explore the installation of solar panels on the roof of an office building. Although you can argue about the economic sustainability, there is little discussion that solar power is good for the environment and most probably also a positive measure from a social point of view. So the conclusion is that from a sustainability point of view, solar panels are great.

But now let us look a bit closer at the solar panel project. What if:
• The solar panels are manufactured on a different continent and need to be transported more than 10,000 kilometres.
• The solar panels are shipped in disposable polystyrene packaging.
• The manufacturing process of these solar panels require using certain chemicals that are toxic and extremely bad for the environment
• Some parts of the solar panels are manufactured in countries where working conditions are poor and child labour is tolerated.

Of course this ‘What If’ scenario is a bit farfetched but it allows us to examine an important point. It is not only the end result that counts. It is also the way you get there! And that is the area that Sustainable Project Management focusses on. It combines the sustainability of the end result with the sustainability of the road to the end result. Or in other words it looks at the sustainability of the total life cycle! Also sustainable project management looks at every step and deliverable of the project and how it ranks in regard to the 3 Ps. It will include the complete supply chain and all vendors and sub-contractors.

All in all Sustainable profits but abuses its staff and ruins the environment is obviously not sustainable. But a company that is completely focused on doing everything green to the maximum, might lose its economic sustainability. Banning all use of fossil fuels might be very good for the Planet aspect, but it will be disastrous for the Profit and People aspects.

This balancing act between the 3 Ps makes sustainability much more complex than if we only focus on the Green or Planet aspect. Very often a positive effect on one aspect results in a

e-Project Management is the perfect addition to the traditional project management frameworks. It will surely make future projects better managed from a sustainability point of view.