Posted on: Nov 08, 2023
What comes to your mind when you think about sustainability? When we talk about “sustainability” we think about environment protection, reduction of carbon emissions and other ways of keeping our ecosystem in the balance. In short, by protecting ecological and human health, promoting innovation and not compromising the way of our life, sustainability defines how we should live today if we want to live in a better tomorrow. As the trend for expecting sustainability from business is constantly increasing, the process of implementing environmental, social, and economical aspects into business became a strategic priority for many organizations.
Defining Sustainability in Project Management
The demand for sustainable products is rising and the desire to support our environment is one of the primary reason why consumers seek sustainable products and brands. It is crucial to adhere sustainable principles into the DNA of business strategy and focus on sustainability in project management process.
Project aligned with sustainability mindset considers creating or recreating plan for making a profit whilst keeping people and environment protection, having in mind that short-term decisions can benefits long-term goal for sustainability. Thus circular businesses models, which are designed to retain materials are considered as a core of organization’s value (recycling, reuse, proper product disposal, sustainable delivery chain solutions and more). In short, by implementing sustainability in the project management, there is a need to change project manager’s mindset from focusing only on idea and final project implementation, to taking responsibility for project’s result like the long-term consequences of manufacturing or disposal. The new vison of project manager is to deliver a project both on time and on budget, but also to execute it in an ethical and fair way.
There are a three pillars of sustainability that many organizations aspire to achieve: environmental, social and economic.
The Integration of Sustainability in Project Management
Being a manager of sustainable project is to have sustainability goal in mind and sustainable life cycle mentality from the beginning of the project to its end. Consideration of environmental impact, social and economic aspects is relevant in all project steps, by planning, monitoring, evaluation and supporting project delivery.
The first step of considering sustainability in project management is to define project goal and objectives focusing on sustainability. This stage of the project takes into account core questions like project impacts on the environment, economy and society, correspondence to organization’s vision and mission and being in line with the Global Sustainable Development goals.
- What is the desired product and its impact on the environment, society, and economy?
- Is it in line with organization’s vision and mission and corresponding to sustainability development goals?
The second step is about identifying sustainable project strategies and sustainability risks and opportunities assessment. Having defined project goal and scope, budget, project schedule and quality, this stage of the project takes into account the process of assessment risk and opportunities in relation to sustainability aspect. In this project phase project manager evaluates any potential positive and negative effects on the environment, society, and economy.
- How to minimize potential negative effects?
- How to maximize opportunities?
- How to add sustainability criteria into procurement processes and contracting processes?
The third step is about incorporating sustainability standards into the project. In this phase it’s important to define the way of implementation environmentally friendly practices throughout the project lifecycle and to define the way of execution and monitoring sustainability actions.
- How to apply sustainability goals and practices to project lifecycle – design, development, delivery and closure?
- How to you control and measure sustainability performance?
- How to report sustainability results?
The last step is to assess sustainability outcomes and impacts after project completion. It’s relevant to evaluate final impact on the environment, society, and economy, to verify if sustainability goals and objectives are met and to find possible way of improving sustainability practices.
- How the product affects the environment, society, and economy?
- Does product meet sustainability goals and objectives?
- How to improve practices / processes having sustainability in mind?
Benefits of Sustainable Project Management
Sustainability assumes, that requirements of current generations must take into account all needs of future generations. The concept of sustainable development and working on sustainability in project management process is not only about reducing negative environmental and economic impact, but also about driving positive implementations that will benefit in the future. So what kind of benefits should we aim to achieve?
Tools and Frameworks for Sustainable Project Management
The process of measuring sustainability in project management context requires continuous monitoring and assessment. It is important to regularly evaluate current situation and make adjustments if needed to remain sustainable. There are several tools and frameworks designed to help organizations measure the sustainable construction of any project. Frameworks are prepared as a set of standards and guidelines for businesses on how to perform sustainably and responsibly. Each framework or tool is designed with its own reporting needs or metrics and it can be confusing to decide which one the best suits organization’s vision, thus it’s important to develop key indicators or key factors, which will be reported and then decide what type of framework will best support it.
The most commonly used tools and standards include:
- GRI Standards – The Global Reporting Initiative Sustainability Disclosure Database: this standard represents global best practice and large universal set of sustainability performance indicators used to measure the sustainability of a project.
- SDGs – The Sustainable Development Goals: this framework was developed by the United Nations and contains 17 global goals and 169 targets that should be aimed to protect the environment, end poverty and ensure peace and prosperity now and in the future.
- SASB – Sustainability Accounting Standards Board: this industry-specific standard contains set of sustainability issues most relevant to financial performance in 77 industries, developed based on companies’ feedback.
- The Carbon Trust Standard for Carbon, Water, and Waste: this is a framework for companies to calculate and reduce carbon emissions, water usage, and waste generation.
Except available frameworks and tools, there are many different approaches or methods to measure project sustainability. It’s crucial to collect all data throughout the project’s lifecycle, by regular monitoring and tracking over time and understand that sustainability of the project doesn’t end with project closure, but has long-term consequences, that should be constantly monitored and reported.
One of methodology for measuring sustainable practices in project management is to:
- Identify key sustainability goal/s of the project (it may concern any of environmental, economic or social impact)
- Define KPI that will be used to measure key sustainability goal
- Collect data on the KPI (regularly gathering from variety of sources)
- Analyze the data and compare results with similar project’s performance (internal or external results)
- Develop project sustainability improvements (new technologies, different sustainable stakeholders, new practices, different targets).
How to overcome obstacles in the way of implementing sustainability goals? What are the challenges the business faces when driving towards sustainability? As transformation process is not an easy task and concerns vide range of areas like employee’s mindset, culture, planning, metrics, governance and reporting, there are few main challenges to overcome to successfully implement sustainability program in the DNA of any organization.
One of the challenge to overcome is the lack of awareness and lack of understanding the strategy of sustainability by staff / employees level. This challenge comes from unclear or not defined internal standards, lack of sustainability KPI measurement system and not well communicated sustainability targets. It’s crucial to engage employees at all levels with sustainability, to fix communication standards and to ensure, that employees contribute to sustainability strategy in their day-to-day activities.
Moreover, the sustainability success story might be limited by the resistance to change within the organization and to obtain some of sustainability goals it’s required to change the organization way of operating. This transformation may seems to be harmful, expensive and require a cultural shift. How to overcome it? Sustainability is not only a requirement, but it’s also an opportunity for organizations to grow, develop and become successful on the market, as the demand for sustainable brands is constantly growing. To overcome this resistance, build a new capabilities, redefine organizational policy and culture, develop employees skills internally and provide adequate tools or measurement systems. Furthermore, on the way to transform business model, ensure that all employees understand the importance of sustainability, define their role in the change, and focus on few environmental and social key metrics easy to measure. Include sustainability in the company’s vision.
Another challenge to overcome can be balancing sustainability with project constraints. Limited resources or other budget constraints can negatively impact on sustainability implementation in the heart of a project. How to find a balance? How to balance project cost, time, quality with sustainability requirements? The most important is to define from the beginning what sustainability means in this project and integrate it into project plan and project budget, then monitoring it by using tools dedicated to control project performance against cost, time, quality, and sustainability subject. This factor shouldn’t be just an additional not important subject to evaluate, but should be one of the project success delivery factor.
The final step to overcome sustainability challenges is to cooperate and learn from others. As the process of overcoming with sustainable challenges is not an easy task, it might be required to involve stakeholders, that can help identify opportunities, mitigate risk and implement solutions. Stakeholders engagement can help implement sustainability strategies and create a value on company’s way to sustainability.
Measuring and Reporting Sustainability
On 31 July 2023 The European Commission formally implemented the European Sustainability Reporting Standards (ESRS), as the final step in the project of aligning corporate sustainability and as a part of the Corporate Sustainability Reporting Directive (CSRD). Current EU law requires large companies and listed companies to regularly announce reports about risks and opportunities they face on social and environmental aspects and about the impact of their actions on people and the environment. Moreover, the report requires information how companies improved their performance in the matter of sustainability management. It’s evident, that the ESRS aims to promote sustainable development transparency and accountability in business. As ESRS report and ESRD indicators are mandatory, companies must place a much greater obligation on their sustainability performance. The overall goal of reporting standards is to provide all stakeholders a view of company’s sustainability level by creating transparency and accountability on their practices.
How is sustainability measured? What are the KPI for sustainable projects? Traditional business reporting frameworks consisting of economic aspects should be redesigned to adhere social and environmental performance. In short, these three principles are the core of sustainability measuring. However no one of them provide a KPI measurement system, thus organizations are working on organization-specific tools (designed internally or by adopting available frameworks) to verify key performance indicators and provide proper reporting standards for their sustainable practices. Having specified KPI, organizations can track project’s impact on the planet and continuously seeking improvements in sustainability performance. It is important to understand, that measuring project’s sustainability performance is an ongoing practice and should be continuously monitored.
Some of the most commonly KPIs for sustainable projects includes:
- Tracking supply chain waste (controlling the amount and quality of waste)
- Monitoring recycling rate (materials used throughout production)
- Tracking carbon footprint (greenhouse gases from company vehicles and facilities)
- Measuring energy consumption (kWh)
- Tracking process improvement (improved work quality)
- Monitoring water usage (% of water used during production, % of water reused, % of water unpolluted)
The Future of Sustainable Project Management
Sustainable project management approach are nowadays fundamental pillar for the business and it’s one of the most important factor of project success. It’s important to admit, that the scenario of sustainable development and its approach for the future and generation’s habits is related to The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) established in 2015 as part of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda includes 17 goals, valid for countries of the world, defined by the three pillars of sustainability.
There is no doubt about the enormous role of sustainable project management in a changing world. The future of our planet lies in qualified management by incorporating projects with a more holistic approach, creating a value in accordance with SDGs policy. Moreover the future lies in the implementation of new trends and innovations at the heart of each project, as well as by changing our daily habits like zero-waste philosophy or The Five R’s policy (Refuse, Reduce, Reuse, Rod, Recycle), changing purchasing habits and implementing circular business models.
The world faces with environmental degradation and it is evident, that business has a crucial role to play in creating a more sustainable future. Concept of sustainability shouldn’t be just a modern practice, but should be one of the main goal in project management, moreover sustainability aspects should be implemented at the heart of every project. It is also important, that management understands that projects, which do not provide a financial return are as important as investments projects. The future of sustainable project management lies in new approaches and innovations of the way how people use and disposal materials. Meaningful action toward sustainability, zero-waste policy and the drive toward circular business models have the power to save our planet.