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Driving Sustainability through Project Management: A Holistic Approach


Published: 3rd November 2023

In the current climate, there really isn’t a day that will go by without reading or hearing something about the topic of sustainability.  Sustainability, and the idea of creating a world where everyone is doing their part to increase sustainability and improve the planet for future generations is becoming increasingly important. The big question is what exactly does sustainability mean in the world of project management?

What is project management sustainability?

In simple terms it is all about taking a look at your project through new eyes. For a project manager this can mean making those decisions that are right for the company, its employees and society in general. It really is just about doing the right thing.

Initiatives for Net Zero are just one way in which the world is trying to become more sustainable and any project manager who has gained all the relevant qualifications like APM ChPP who also has a significant interest in enhancing and protecting the environment may well find themselves with plenty of job opportunities as building a career for a sustainable future becomes an increasingly attractive prospect. Those considering training for project managers would be wise to get on board sooner rather than later to harness the likely opportunities open to them.

Lets have a look at why sustainable project management is so important and how it is possible to achieve this in a more holistic manner.

project sustainability

What is sustainable project management?

Sustainability has become an increasingly important focus for all businesses in recent years as they have come to the realisation, alongside the rest of the world, that it is not a responsible option to take a back seat in this respect. It is widely established that of the top countries across the globe just over 70% of them are in a position where that have been able to disclose not only their greenhouse gas emissions but also other important energy metrics.

Unfortunately, sustainability within project management is not just as simple as tracking climate change and being green. It is important to ensure that the use of resources is done in a responsible manner, that individuals are treated equally, as well as being paid a fair wage, and that the wider community is factored into any decisions. Any project manager who works in this field will do well to take a more holistic approach, that allows them to properly assess the environmental, economic and social factors. They will need to work alongside a range of other individuals including, hydrogeologists, environmental planners and geotechnical engineers who are all experts in related field that are having a significant impact when it comes to finding ways in which the world can be redesigned for the better.

Sustainability progress has been “fast-tracked” as a result of the pandemic

If the pandemic did one thing for us, it was to bring to light new urgencies and challenges and show just how important sustainability is for the future. Governments, and business leaders realised just how much of an impact human activity had on the climate as a result of everything that took place during the pandemic.

Crisis made the world turn to innovation, and the world economic forum declared that a sustainable infrastructure needs to be the key when it comes to the rebuilding of a post pandemic world that has a much stronger economy and more sustainability.

The question facing every project manager is how can they place sustainability in the centre of every project that they undertake?

There are benchmarking tools that project managers can use in order to take a look at the impact that their plans might have. These include the Building Research Establishment Environmental Assessment Method (BREEAM). One of the reasons using benchmarking tools can be a good idea is that they can help to incorporate sustainability across the entire build environment lifecycle, from the first points in the design cycle. Because of this a project manager can make sure that any developments within a project are there to enhance the environment and therefore the wellbeing of the individuals who live in it.

Building sustainability into your project plan

It is the role of the project manager to oversee the delivery of a project and also the support process. Both of these have the aim of ensuring that the client will be satisfied which they are motivating their team in order to deliver excellence. This is the essence of any project management job.

Any project manager who has sustainability in the forefront of their thinking is more likely to take an approach that is holistic. The are likely to factor in how not only how they might use resources but also things like climate change mitigation, community involvement, property rights and even human rights. It might be considered to be a multifaceted job; however it is one that can have a significant societal impact when done right. The vision of a project manager is always to create something that has value, whilst also ensuring that they complete their project on budget and on time but through execution that is both fair and ethical.

The protection of natural resources is something that everyone needs to be involved with, from the most junior member of a team to the highest levels within any organisation. The protection of the environment is something that everyone is responsible for and making sure that a project is a sustainable one is something that needs to be a team effort moving forward.

We may only in the early stages of beginning to achieve sustainability goals, and there are certainly a significant number of goals that stand in the way of project managers and the organisations that they work for but when the business works together it is possible to make at least some small changes. These small changes over time can become more significant ones and this can in turn have a greater impact on society and the environment around us.

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