Sustainable Project Management - the underlying truth

In my last post 'How sustainable are the projects of today?', I spoke about sustainability and its undeniable significance in Project Management. But what does sustainability truly mean? Is it just what it looks to be? Or does it actually start where it seems to finish?

Consider the definitions of sustainable development; the most commonly used being taken from the World Commission for Environment and Development (WECD) “Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”. Another one from The International Institute for Sustainable Development (IISD) defines sustainable development from a business perspective as “adopting business strategies and activities that meet the needs of the enterprise and its stakeholders today while protecting, sustaining and enhancing the human and natural resources that will be needed in the future”.

A sustainable project management framework is essentially an attempt towards marrying these two definitions (project and sustainable development) to a common cause.

Sustainable project management is a response to the present project framework which does not focus on environmental issues but focuses only on increasing the shareholders’ value. The project sponsors/developers generally would be constrained by short term economic gains and demands for high returns on investments.  It is always too easy to focus on these and forget what we are leaving in place for our future generations, hence the need for sustainable project management.

Sustainability is not about installing solar panels or using renewable energy, but is fundamentally thinking about the project life cycle and beyond. Project managers today need to be aware of the full impact of every project decision and what those decisions will mean to the business, community and the planet.

Inevitable ‘sustainability’ will find its way into project management methodologies and practices in the very near future to tilt the balance from only thinking or achieving profits to thinking about people and planet. (Triple bottom line concept, John Elkington)

Many feel the role of the Project Managers has merely been to implement the vision of the project stakeholders. The truth is that they are the flag bearers for adding value to the projects, and drive the requirements towards sustainable projects. The Project Manager has to take on this responsibility for convincing and educating project stakeholders to accept and sponsor sustainability and impact the environment in a positive way, though it may cost a little more in the short term horizon in terms of profit.

The real challenge is convincing sponsors to accept a longer term investment/payback profile/plan for the future generations. Who better than Project Managers to take this role?  

No more should we look at EIA, LEED Certifications as just statutory approvals to start work or marketing tools. These must be adopted in full spirit, bringing in all the collective knowledge and skill to reduce the impact of our developments and be able to contribute socially, environmentally and economically in every small or big way we can.


About the author

Mohit Kanwar, Operatios Head (North & East), Colliers International India is a qualified Civil Engineer and Masters in Construction & Management. He is a LEED ® Accredited and PMP (USA) professional. Having walked through 15 years in the real estate ecosystem, he has had hands-on experience in project control/ management of commercial, residential and institutional real estate assignments.

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