The Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK) presents a set of standard terminology and guidelines for the science of getting things done. It is arranged in a manner that presents the reader early on with essential project management concepts. Within the first few pages we are introduced to the definition of a project and within that same paragraph it speaks to projects far outlasting the project manager. As such project managers are obligated to assess social, economic and environmental impacts; early on we are also presented with constraints! The concept of sustainability, managing this triad of essential resources now and for the future, also described as the triple bottom line of people, profits and planet is intricately tied with project management. Also within the current fifth edition we learn how the disciplines of Portfolio, Program, Project and Organizational Project Management relate and more specifically this version of the PMBOK references sustainably practices such as green building requirements, among organizational policies requiring the project manager to also understandably assess.
Agreeing with the bold premise that all strategic change happens by way of programs and project management I am still trying to figure out if project managers have not embraced the need to recognize and assess the sustainability triad of impacts over multiple time horizons, how we can get businesses to align with the triple bottom line while this opportunity is still a possibility. Certainly progressing sustainability is about risk management and risk management requires an open mind and willingness to confront the boundlessness of reality, admitting not knowing, but doing something to shed more light on such apparent uncertainty. Is Climate Risk a good example? Ignoring the impact of this risk behaves much like all other risks, it increases costs, in this case the costs of dealing with increasingly higher concentrations of CO2 such as health impacts, economic damages, and drought. Yet there is significant opposition around proposals to confront and manage this risk even as these costs are by and large not allocated at the source, but rather externalized. Can it be that the payee is really so willing to keep paying the payer?! One wonders what great ruse convinces even project managers that they can afford these broadly allocated long term costs instead of investing in inherently lower cost solutions today incurred at the source; if not contingency at least include these costs within management reserves!
So what are we going to do about this quandary? I propose we take time to explore the guidelines for sustainability and consider where project management can and does play a role in advancing an agenda that far outlives the project itself. Realizing and moving beyond risk management, we see that we can influence purchasing decisions from policy to individual consumption. Buying locally sourced materials where possible reduces transport costs and increases economic activity. Reducing packaging also saves on waste removal costs. (Have you been following the debate on where NYC should put their trash?!) Green building certified via 3rd party standards such as ENERGY STAR certification is an investment in quality that results in a more durable and efficient built product; spending 5% more upfront can save over 20% over the life of the building. Attending to Indoor Air Quality contributes to healthier homes. You know that dollar store smell, it’s making you sick for a reason: VOC’s! I look forward to exploring and experiencing these concepts and solutions together and using project management to deliver results and sustain value for this and generations to come. – Robert Flach