Becoming a Sustainable Project Manager: A Guide to Green Project Manager Certification

If projects are the vehicles for business strategy, project managers are the drivers that help businesses get to where they want to go. But how do you make sure your project managers are prepared and qualified to get your team to the metaphorical ‘sustainable finish line’? We’ll walk you through what it takes to become a sustainable project manager and how to get officially certified as a green project manager.

Why do we need Sustainable Project Managers?

As businesses begin incorporating sustainable practices into their processes, some may ask, ‘Is it even necessary to have ‘sustainable’ project managers? Aren’t normal project managers meant to cover these responsibilities?’. 

To a certain degree, we agree. We hope we get to the day where we can remove the ‘sustainable’ moniker and every project manager is already actively practicing and ingraining sustainability into their everyday responsibilities. But that day is not yet here.

Running projects sustainably is no easy feat. Environmental standards, legislations, and compliances are growing by the day and the bulk of the burden has fallen on the shoulders of project managers, many of which have just learnt of these new concepts and are trying to adapt as they go. Not only do they have to keep the ‘iron triangle’ of project management (time, cost, and scope) at bay, project managers now have to consider the environmental and social impact of all their activities. 

Project managers are having their responsibilities expanded from merely ‘doing what they’re told’ to now taking responsibility over their project’s sustainability efforts. They now have to identify sustainable measures, ensure they are being implemented and report back to senior management, often in frameworks that work against the new sustainable focus.

Project managers are bearing the weight of transparency and accountability without the proper tools, knowledge, and frameworks. And this is setting them, and organisations, up for failure. In fact, surveys showed that in 2016 only 2% of sustainability programs were successful.

If project managers are the key drivers of sustainability, they need to be equipped with the right knowledge and frameworks. In the near future, the role of the project managers will need to develop themselves as sustainability specialists and their personal ethics, transparency and knowledge will play a significant role in their duties. If you want sustainable projects, you need sustainable project managers.

What is a Sustainable Project Manager?

Though there is no specific agreed upon definition for a sustainable project manager, we can loosely define them as project managers that apply sustainable project management philosophies and approaches. 

If we adapt Silvius and others’ definitions of sustainable project management, a sustainable project manager:

‘plans, monitors and controls the delivery of a project with consideration of the environmental, economical and social aspects of the life-cycle on the project’s resources, processes, deliverables and effects. They aim to realize benefits for stakeholders, perform in a transparent, fair and ethical way that enables proactive stakeholder participation.

Now that definition may sound and feel a bit clunky and depending on the sustainable project management framework they apply, the definition could be further expanded or minimized. No matter the choice of framework, there are five general characteristic of a sustainable project manager: 

  1. They apply the Triple Bottom Line perspective that actively considers people and the planet in addition to profit.
  2. They apply sustainability principles throughout the entire project life cycle,
  3. They actively engage and collaborate with stakeholders with the aim of accommodating their needs rather than simply managing expectations.
  4. They take responsibility for all project-related actions towards society and the planet.
  5. They consider both short-term and long-term implications of all project activities and outputs to the greater planet and society.

Traditional Project Manager vs. Sustainable Project Manager

The prior mentioned definition and characteristics are broad and overarching. But how do the responsibilities, activities and approaches of a sustainable project manager differ from their traditional counterparts? How does applying sustainability philosophies actually impact the day to day activities of project managers? 

Though not limited to the ones mentioned below, we have listed down a few key ways traditional and sustainable project managers differ in their project processes and practices.

Why should you become a certified sustainable project manager?

Though you do not require certification to get started with ingraining sustainability into your practice, being a certified sustainable project manager has its benefits. These include:

  • Setting yourself apart from project managers in the market
  • Increasing job mobility and choice in the future
  • Entering an established international register of certified project managers
  • Providing proof of your skills and knowledge in your application of sustainable methods in projects
  • Demonstrating to senior leadership that you are aligned with the organisation’s sustainability strategy

How to get certified: Green Project Management Certifications

There is currently only one official sustainable project management certification in the market and it is accredited by GPM Global (Green Project Management). It’s various certification programs are crafted and awarded by a board of project management professionals and sustainability experts in the field. 

The Green Project Manager © (GPM, see more here) programs are all built in compliance with ISO 17024 and GAPPS standards (more information here), meaning that you can have confidence that your certification will be relevant, valuable and internationally recognized. To top it all off, the GPM program is available in various languages for various countries to make sure no one misses out.

The three types of Green Project Manager Certifications

All GPM © certifications are built upon the PRiSM method and the P5 Standards for Sustainability in Project Management. However, they come in three different levels, each with varying degrees of complexity, knowledge and expertise required. The three types of certification include: GPM-b (Basic), GPM-s (Specialist), and GPM-m (Masters). We break down the type of certification, prerequisites for entry, and costs for each type.

  • GPM-b (Basic)

This is the most foundational certification offered by Green Project Management ©. It is a largely knowledge-based certification that enables individuals to demonstrate their knowledge in delivery projects through sustainable practices and philosophies.

It aims to give individuals the knowledge to maximize sustainability efforts within the project lifecycle, improve the construction and delivery of project deliverables, and to implement measurable standards that account for the holistic environmental and social impacts of project activities.

As a foundational certification, there are no prerequisites to entry, though specific prior credentials and learning can be granted. Make sure to check whether you can get prior learning recognized here. To achieve this certification, you must pass a 150 multiple choice question examination with a three hour time limit.

Finally, the GPM-b certification application costs USD 199.

  • GPM-s (Specialist)

This certification is an expert-level international certification that not only recognizes an individual’s knowledge, but skills and competence at putting that knowledge into action. This certification can be earned by individuals that have exemplified technical competency in sustainable project management by meeting the prescribed standards of performance.

Unlike the prior level of certification, GPM-s has specific experience requirements. If you possess a Bachelor’s degree, you will require an additional four years or 6000 hours of experience working in the role of Project, Program, Manager or Director in the past twelve years. Without a Bachelor’s degree, the required experience increases to five years or 7500 hours.

To achieve this certification, individuals will be assessed through a written case study and must achieve a minimum score of 35 using GPM’s Management Complexity Rating worksheet. Additionally, assessors may require a video-interview to get additional evidence to make their final decision.

The certification is also time bound and is valid for five years. The GPM-s certification costs USD $499 for GPM members and USD $699 for non-members.

  • GPM-m (Master)

This is the highest credential you can achieve and is catered to PMs and directors that want to gain internationally recognized certification for their accomplishments in sustainable project management. As a master’s level certification, it comes with the most stringent experience requirements and prerequisites.

Firstly, to apply for GPM-m an individual must hold either GPM-b or GPM-s certification. In addition to that, a Bachelor’s degree or the equivalent from an accredited college or university is required with also having earned at least 200 continuing education points. Finally, there are the experience requirements. These are extensive so we’ve listed it down below:

  • If you have a Bachelor’s degree, you will require eight years of work experience in a project, program, manager or director role, with at least four of those being in the past twelve years.
  • If you have a Master’s degree, that experience prerequisite is cut down to six years or 9000 hours, with at least four of those years being in the past twelve years.
  • If you have a Doctoral degree, the experience prerequisite is further reduced to four years or 6000 hours, with at least three of those years being in the past twelve years.

This certification is also valid for five years. GPM-m application costs USD $999 for GPM members and USD $1,199 for non-members.

Next step: Building a Sustainable PMO!

Sustainability cannot simply be in the hands of a select few individuals and project managers. It needs to be an organisation-wide initiative. And who better to get things changing and moving in an organisation than the Project Management Office? In fact, our CEO Laith Adel has written an amazing piece on why the PMO needs to be at the sustainability frontlines. Make sure to check out that article here.

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