The 7 Processes of Sustainable Project Management

As the world moves towards a more sustainability-focused future, project management will also experience fundamental shifts within their processes. In this blog, we uncover the 7 processes of sustainable project management and how they are ingraining sustainability throughout the entire project lifecycle.

What is Sustainable Project Management?

Gilbert Silvius and others defined sustainable project management as:

.. the planning, monitoring and controlling of project delivery and support processes, with consideration of the environmental, economical and social aspects of the life-cycle of the project’s resources, processes, deliverables and effects, aimed at realizing benefits for stakeholders, and performed in a transparent, fair and ethical way that includes proactive stakeholder participation.”

It is a broad umbrella term that has been adopted by a range of methodologies and frameworks that aim to bring sustainability to the core of project management practices. Though there are several variation and approaches to sustainable project management, they are characterized by five general characteristics:

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

Recommended reading: Sustainable Project Management Explained

7 Processes of Sustainable Project Management

While there are emerging frameworks and approaches to sustainable project management, from PRiSM to Green Project Management, de la Cruz Lopez and others have banded together to identify the key processes that make sustainable project management stand out from traditional project management.

The emphasis of their article is that sustainability should not be an afterthought added onto current project management processes once they have secured project scope, time, and costs. Sustainability objectives must be ingrained in every process throughout the project lifecycle to truly be sustainable. In what they have labeled Project Sustainability Management (PSM), they aim to set sustainability objectives for seven core project management processes

1. Planning the project’s sustainability management

A foundational sustainability management plan (SMP) will be produced and applied to the project plan alongside other project objectives such as scope, time, cost, quality, and more. The SMP describes how the sustainability objectives will be achieved and are based on requirements set by both the project manager and stakeholders. The main content of the SMP include:

  • Management methodology
  • Internal procedures
  • Assessment methods
  • Sustainable certifications (when applicable) such as BREAM or LEED for construction projects.
  • Sustainability consultants or organisations involved
  • Project precision levels
  • Project estimations and contingencies
  • Monitoring and controlling activities

2. Establishing a Sustainability Breakdown Structure

You may have heard of a work breakdown structure, now apply it to sustainability! Sustainability objectives cannot be achieved through a blanket strategy, it needs to be broken down into manageable chunks throughout the project lifecycle. Some certification systems like BREAM and LEED have their own assessment models that assist your sustainability breakdown structure (SBS). Depending on the type of project, you can build the SBS based on project-related analysis methods.

However there are two key considerations when establishing your SBS:

  • The sensitivity of your selected analysis method.
  • Conserving how each subsystem or sub-project can become made more sustainable.

3. Defining the sustainability objective

Leading on from the SBS, every project needs a clear end sustainability objective. These objectives can be in quantifiable form (ie. maximum CO2 emissions) or in qualitative forms (ie. BREAM’s scale rating from Fair to Exceptional). These objectives should be realistic but also should aim to challenge above what a client would expect. 

4. Identifying the project alternatives to achieve the objectives

It is important to note any different ways of designing your product or service that can achieve your sustainability objectives. Identifying these alternatives helps broaden perspectives and adapt to future challenges when they arise. Something as simple as choosing to host virtual meetings over face-to-face meetings can have varying impacts environmentally, socially and economically.

5. Defining the sustainability strategy

Once the alternatives have been identified, they are compared and evaluated to pre-existing plans and structures. Prior plans can be further optimized and reviewed to consider extended variables and measures of feasibility. The best plans are selected for the final sustainable strategy while remaining options can be allocated as reserve alternatives for potential project changes.

6. Implementing the sustainability strategy

Pretty straight forward here! Once all your planning is complete, it’s all about just doing it. If you have a robust strategy with proper contingency, most hiccups that come along the way can be accounted for and control processes, which we go into in the next process, will come into action.

7. Monitoring and controlling sustainable projects

Throughout the monitoring and controlling process, a sustainability index is often used to evaluate the current conditions, potential risks and changes that occur during the project delivery process. The sustainability index is an instrument used to measure the level of responsibility an organisation has on an environmental and social level. As projects change and unexpected things occur, project managers need to take decisions on the most feasible and appropriate course of action.

In the article, they suggest that final SI projections should be conservative and any assumptions that raise the value of the SI should be avoided as they jeopardize the entire sustainability objectives of the project. In this case, project alternatives identified prior can come into ation. 

At the project completion, final sustainability assessments will be made that consider the sustainable practices and whether they have been properly implemented throughout the entire project. Often, this monitoring and controlling process continues all through the lifecycle of the product (until its eventual decommissioning) and all throughout the SI is assessed and reported to the appropriate authorities within the organisation.

Get started as a Sustainable Project Manager!

Project management is changing fundamentally and so is the role of project managers. Project managers are becoming a critical force for sustainable change in organisations and their responsibilities will only continue to grow. 

Only those who are properly equipped and prepared will be able to flourish in the near future. Don’t get left behind. Make sure to check out our guide on how to become a sustainable project manager to get started on your journey!

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