How Project Managers Can Lead the Way in Sustainability

Sustainability is a critical business focus and a key driver of change in the way that organizations operate, and in the way, that project managers approach their work. Projects that were previously managed in isolation from things like organizational strategy and corporate governance and at a distance from the wider world of society and the environment, must now be aligned with all of these things. 

This presents the project manager with huge opportunities to drive sustainable thinking in project management and become instrumental in achieving sustainable outcomes. But there are challenges. A project manager is tasked with taking a client brief and executing it to the best of their ability, however, unless it is specifically mentioned in the brief, it isn’t always clear what the client expects in terms of sustainability.

Bruce Bratley is the founder and CEO of First Mile, which provides recycling services and business consultancy on product sustainability. He says: “Project managers are responsible for managing a particular project to completion within cost, time and other constraints, which often include standards around delivery without causing adverse impacts on society and the environment. All stakeholders in a project will have a clear understanding of project standards. It is the project manager’s responsibility to ensure that these are adhered to by everyone involved within the project, and this is done by making sustainability one of the key project tolerances.”

There are proprietary methodologies that project managers can use to get to grips with sustainability, including the Projects Integrating Sustainable Methods (PRiSM) approach, established by the GPM Global network to help projects align to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The P5 Standard is a tool that supports the alignment of portfolios, programs, and projects with an organizational strategy for sustainability. It focuses on environmental and social elements, as well as profitability, economics, and capital deployment, all of which are necessary for a project to be truly sustainable.

But in practical terms, the amount of influence that project managers themselves have in pushing sustainable practices within a particular project largely depends on the organization. Some have company-wide policies around sustainability, which means project and program managers start out with the buy-in and advocacy from the team and senior management for all projects.

However, where this isn’t the case it usually falls to the project manager to identify mutual benefits that support project objectives and goals in addition to the sustainable practices they want to deploy and employ, for example, reducing the carbon footprint of the team through a reduction in travel to face to face meetings.

Another challenge stems from the fact that projects can involve a broad range of stakeholders, with who the project manager must interact to achieve sustainability objectives. Here effective stakeholder management skills, particularly when large numbers of stakeholders are involved, are key.

Nimisha Brahmbhatt is the lead project manager for the electric vehicle rollout for Centrica in the UK, a project with sustainability at its very heart. At any one time she has to manage the communication channels and expectations of up to 60 stakeholders who have a vested interest in the success of a project within the program of projects. 

She says: “The key lies in exceptional communication, relationship building and finding common ground amongst stakeholders. I have worked on teams with over 100 stakeholders,

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