This is the fundamental question we are asked, and we enjoy answering each time we write a post on our blog EarthPM. Whether the subject of the post is about garbage powered garbage trucks, or an environmental disaster of epic proportions, we are really answering the question “What is green project management?” The fact that we are always answering that question may be a stretch, but our posts do have a common theme: managing scarce resources. That is what green project management is all about.
We think it’s important for us to tell you at this point that we can easily substitute the word sustainable for the word green and get “sustainable project management.” Is that better? That’s really the message: integrating sustainability thinking in project management is at the core of our philosophy and our recommendations.
Considering sustainability when making any and all project decisions is what green project management is all about. Greenality, a word we coined, is the “degree to which you consider the environmental (sustainable) factors that affect projects throughout the entire project lifecycle and beyond.”
Importantly, your project does not have to be the commissioning of a wind farm or a new effort to protect or save a rare species of spider. Green Project Management is not a new knowledge area to be added to the project management literature, with its own inputs, tools and techniques and outputs. Instead it is sustainability thinking intertwined with all the processes in the project management knowledge areas. For instance, when thinking about the communications plan, the plan includes: who to communicate with, what those communications are, when they will be communicated, and how that message will be communicated. The “how” not only includes the method of communications, but also considers the most “sustainable” way to communicate. Rather than use paper reports, consider electronic reports. Rather than having team members carry paper documents, consider issuing tablet computers to the team so they have all the documents electronically, and schedules are updated and viewed dynamically, rather than statically on paper. This is a very specific instance of sustainability PM thinking. Let’s bring it up a notch.
Consider your project in the context of its program and or portfolio. Now, think about your organization’s mission/vision/values. The high-level component of sustainability thinking is to connect your project’s sustainability goals to the enterprise’s sustainability goals, or even ask, do they exist? As a project manager interested in sustainability, the project will have those goals, but does the organization? If so, are the project goals in alignment with the organizational goals, and vice versa?
“My project doesn’t need sustainability thinking because there is nothing about my project that can be green. After all, it is just a new software release.” We’ve heard that one before. Our answer is that your project, no matter what it is, falls somewhere within our “spectrum of green.” Your project may be a wind farm or implementing a solar energy solution. That is a “green by definition” project and the implications are rather obvious. Your project could be The Big Dig and will definitely be “green by project impact.” There will be disposal of earth from excavation or an evaluation of the roadway surfacing material that considers the long term environmental impacts.
Your project may be green by product impact. If you were a project manager on the Keurig Coffee maker, whose parent company is Green Mountain Coffee, a company very much concerned with sustainability, shouldn’t you at least consider the huge environmental impact of the K-cups, used as a single-service dispenser of the coffee? If your project is a new release of a music CD, wouldn’t it be environmentally responsible to consider the packaging? We’re not saying that every CD cover should be compostable and contain wild flower seeds and planting substrate like Big Kenny’s CD, The Quiet Times of a Rock and Roll Farm Boy, but at least the impact should be considered.
So you see that no matter where your project fits on the spectrum of green, there is a sustainability aspect, a green project management aspect if you will, to it. You will always be managing limited resources. That is the nature of project management. Whether it is done during the upfront processes, planned in, or during project execution, where it will be “inspected in.” is your choice. There is always a cost to greenality, a cost of good greenality, your planning efforts, and a cost of bad greenality, scrambling to design a new K-cup and potentially losing consumer confidence because of the contradiction between a green company and one that puts 8-9 billion non-recyclable containers in already scarce resources, landfills.
We simply assert that just as sustainability efforts have helped businesses meet their enterprise goals, they can help you manage your project and use scarce resources more effectively.
We also assert that there is gold to be mined from going green. Simply put, going green makes “cents.” One of the examples we use in our book, Green Project Management, is from Interface Global, the carpet manufacturer started by Ray Anderson. Unfortunately, Mr. Anderson passed away this year, but his legacy of moving a fossil fuel intense company to be fully sustainable by 2020, lives on. In the first three years of focusing on waste reduction by reusing everything from carpet scraps to industrial effluent, Interface added $60 million dollars to its bottom line. Another example of mining some of the gold is from Green IT, by Tony Velete, Anthony Velete, and Robert Elsner, McGraw Hill, 2008. It shows that Dell’s Energy Smart products can reduce power consumption as much as 78%. For example, while their server may cost $100 more to purchase, it can save $200 per year in energy costs. Multiply that by the number of servers that some providers need, and the savings are significant.
Project Management is where the “rubber hits the road”, where ideas become reality. Using Green (Sustainable) Project Management not only helps the project manager and project team do the right thing, but also helps to mine some of that gold.
© 2011 allPM.com
In 2009, David and Richard founded EarthPM, and their blog at http://earthpm.com as a way to focus on the environmental and sustainability aspects of project management. Their book, Green Project Management, was published in August of 2010.