Is it time to build sustainability into every new project?


In recent years, the idea of sustainability has become an increasingly important one. However, it has recently been pushed closer to the top of the agenda as a result of the report on climate change that was produced by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change ( IPCC ) in October 2019.

The report suggested that the world was heading towards an increase in global temperatures of around 3°C. The report then went on to suggest that if we wanted to keep temperature increases on target to rise by only 1.5°C then it would need rapid, far fetching and drastic changes in all areas of society to take place.

If these changes are to be made, then it is absolutely vital for all areas of industry to take a look at practices within their industry and discuss what changes could be made – this includes the fields of construction and engineering. This in depth look at how businesses work should include a look at conserving resources, ensuring work is done efficiently and building for the future. We also look at what the project manager needs to know about building sustainability into their projects.

What is sustainability?

Sustainability in any organisation is when responsibility is taken for the impact that the activities of the organisation may have on its employees, shareholders, customers, the wider community and the environment as a result of all aspects of the operations that they perform.

Unfortunately, being able to work in a sustainable manner isn’t as easy as giving up something like bottled water or deciding if you really need to use the photocopier for something. It goes much further than that and requires the organisation to consider their wider impact in terms of the following:

  • Labour Practises – including health and safety, conditions of work, and training and development
  • Human Rights – including civil rights, fundamental rights and principles at work, discriminations of vulnerable groups
  • The environment – including pollution prevention, sustainable resource use and climate change mitigation
  • Fair Operating Practises – including fair competition, respect for property rights
  • Community Engagement and Involvement – including wealth and income creation, employee training and skills development and community involvement
  • Consumer Issues – including dispute resolution, fair marketing and fair contractual practises

Whilst it may seem like these areas of concern really have little to do with managing a project, they are in fact core issues that are vital for those project managers looking to undertake a sustainable project. Putting these sustainability issues into practise as part of your project may take all of your project management skills.

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Strategy in organisations

When we consider the idea of sustainability within an organisation, the first thought is that this is only an operational concern. Something that takes into account turning off lights when they are not necessary and being conscious of the amount of paper we might use for the photocopier, for example. But this is simply not the case. Projects are, in fact, where a company reaches strategic objectives, changes and evolves. These are the actions that are most crucial to the work of a company and it is this area where any sustainability ideas need to be implemented.

It is important however to acknowledge that direction from the top, in particular in respect of any policies that might be in line with the corporate strategies of a company will play a particularly important role. Sustainability within a company does not just lie with the senior executives; it is incredibly important for the project manager to also play their part. This means being instrumental in achieving any strategic goals because they are part of the path to a successful execution of the project. This will allow the project manager to play an important part in the role of sustainability within any project.

It is, therefore, important for the project manager to be familiar with details of the day-to-day execution and operation of a project. They are in a good position to analyse relevant issues that senior management may not be aware of.

Implementing sustainability

For those project managers who have not had the opportunity to look at the idea of sustainability within their recent projects, it may well be worth looking for additional help with the best way to implement the relevant changes.

Sustainability is something that you can look at when creating the plans for your new project. It is important to consider the broader picture of the project and not simply view each part independently. It is also vital to consider the human resources implications. There may be a larger impact for the duration of the product that your project is looking to create.

Unfortunately, the human resources element of any project is all too often short on attention from a project manager. To some extent this is partly because project teams can be so spread out. This means that team members do not always report directly to the project manager themselves. Project managers can address the issues of human resource management via other means. Recognition and rewards, team building, and even professional development for members of the team are options.

For long-term sustainability, it is important for project managers to look at these elements in respect of individual team members. This might mean looking at whether work life balance is being achieved. Or it could be training, enhancing the working environment, and social inclusion.

This can create additional work for a project manager, much of which is outside their usual remit. However, if a project manager is aware of some of these issues they can raised with the relevant management individual.

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