SDG 14 Life Under Water and Project Management

Sustainable Development Goal 14. “Life Under Water and Project Management”

This installment in our series on the SDGs focuses on #14 of 17, conserve and sustainably use the oceans, seas and marine resources for sustainable development, “Life Underwater”.

This SDG has seven targets which you can read in detail. The short version is to protect the water and life that depends on it. Everything from the economic growth of island nations, to vibrant biodiversity, depends on healthy oceans and waterways. The problem is that we don’t and all life is suffering. In some organisms, water is 90% of their composition, in humans, it is 60%.  It, therefore, goes without saying that water is life.

We are killing our waterways and need to stop it… yesterday.

I read something recently to put all of this into context.  The earth is 46 billion years old (roughly…)  Scaling down to 46 years humans have been here for four hours. The industrial revolution began 1 minute ago and in that time, we have completely polluted our oceans. Boo!!!

Why did I use the word completely?  The vast amount of plastics in our oceans is pretty well-documented but have you ever stopped to consider that you might be eating particles of plastic whenever you sprinkled sea salt on your food? A study in Scientific Reports outlines how researchers studied 16 brands of sea salt from eight countries from all over the world and found traces of microplastics in all but one brand.  There is no coast on earth that doesn’t have plastic washing up onto it.  The well-documented Great Pacific Ocean Patch is one of many accumulation points where human-made plastic debris collects and it is scary.

Plastic was invented in the 1860’s and started to boom in the 1940’s.  Think back to the scene in The Graduate where Dustin Hoffman gets his career advice.


We need to reduce our dependency on convenient plastic.  From beer can tabs to milk containers, soda, bottled water, and of course plastic shopping bags.  Some places have created laws to address this and some, like where I live in Michigan prohibits local ordinances from “regulating the use, disposition, or sale of, prohibiting or restricting, or imposing any fee, charge, or tax on certain containers,” including plastic bags, as well as cups, bottles and other forms of packaging. This means individual cities and municipalities are not allowed to ban plastic bags or charge customers a fee for using them. Outrageous!!

The good people at Ocean Crusaders say that “it is now believed that there are 5.25 trillion pieces of plastic debris in the ocean. Of that mass, 269,000 tons float on the surface, while some four billion plastic microfibers per square kilometer litter the deep sea.” You can see some horrifying stats here.

What can Project Managers do to protect our water and biodiversity?

Our P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management (which can be downloaded for free) speaks to specifics.  Much is what we covered in our post about clean water and sanitation las August.  It bears repeating though that in terms of water quality from a project impact perspective is the impact on water quality that the project and or the project’s product will have on the habitats and species (biodiversity) affected (throughout the total asset lifecycle).

There is a great example of a brewery that has developed Edible Six Pack Rings.


As a project manager, we have the absolute responsibility when reviewing the project’s business case to ask “Is this the best way to realize the intended benefit? What are the impacts?  If there are potential impacts to life under water we MUST document the risk and costs and recommend a better solution.  (By costs, I am not just referring to dollars but natural capital.)

If we do not change our way of thinking and behavior, we will continue to destroy our oceans, waterways, the life that depends on it and eventually find its way to your dinner table in some way.

We can also do nothing and continue with business as usual.  You will have to get used to saying “Please pass the salt… I mean, the plastic” though…  


Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni is a highly respected expert in sustainable project management. He is a graduate of Ball State University and holds a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment. He has over 25 years of experience in project management, including government, finance, consulting, manufacturing, and education. He is a frequent speaker at conferences and events related to project management and sustainability and has worked in more than 50 countries. In addition to serving as President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in the United States and being a member of the Global advisory board, Dr. Carboni is also the founder of GPM (Green Project Management) and a visiting professor at Skema Business School. He is also the GPM representative to the United Nations Global Compact, where he was a founding signatory of the Business for Peace Initiative and the Anti-Corruption call to action and a contributor to the development of the UN 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development (SDGs). Dr. Carboni is the creator of the PRiSM™ project delivery methodology and the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management and has written training programs on Green and Sustainable Project Management that are offered in more than 145 countries through professional training providers, business associations, and universities. He is the lead author of the book "Sustainable Project Management."

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