The Risk of Inaction (ROI)

Investopedia explains Return on investment (ROI) as a performance measure used to evaluate the efficiency or profitability of an investment or compare the efficiency of a number of different investments. ROI tries to directly measure the amount of return on a particular investment, relative to the investment’s cost.  This post is not about that.  I am here to talk about the Risk of Inaction, a different kind of ROI.

One of the first exercises done during the pre-project phase of a project is to determine to proceed, analyze alternatives or assess what happens if we do nothing. I found this to be just a ‘tick the box’ exercise early in my career. I started managing projects in the late ’90s. In all my years in the field, it was more common than not that by the time a project reached my inbox, the decision to proceed was a foregone conclusion.  

As I sit here typing this, I can recall several times when a project core team was first assembled to plan, and the discussion would begin. It would often go something like this:

Me: “Are we all clear on the business case?”

Team: “Uh-huh” [Heads nod while looking at each other for reassurance]

Me: “What are the alternatives?”

Team: [Blank Stares]

Me: “What if we do nothing?”

Team: [Blank Stares]

Me: “Ok then, we proceed.” [Proceeds to tick the box and mutters to myself “alternatives assessed”]

Today though, the notion of “doing nothing” has a much different meaning, depending on how you look at it. When an opportunity to develop a project is presented, high-level planning is conducted to get the ball rolling. There are a thousand ways from an approach standpoint to begin. In PRiSM, the first significant step is for the Project Manager and Project Sponsor to be selected. Then the process continues as shown below.


The GPM PRiSM Pre-Project Phase.


One of the activities that we encourage is a P5 Impact Assessment. Note that this is a free tool that we offer. 

The P5 analysis is conducted at a high level when alternatives are being analyzed to assess the impact on the environment, society, and the economy (macro and micro) based on the high level business case. Once this is conducted, it helps frame the “do we proceed” discussion as there is more information available to make an informed decision. 

When deciding to proceed, the decision must consider the risks, opportunities, and benefits. No one would argue that (except maybe a few people on LinkedIn who love to quarrel about everything.)

Looking back at my career, not once did I hear the words, “If we proceed, we must ensure that we take all measures to safeguard biodiversity ensure we are mitigating or at the least offsetting CO2 emissions while ensuring that we are being socially and economically responsible.” Why? I could say we didn’t know any better, but we did. We were either not paying attention, didn’t care, or felt that it was someone else’s problem. Maybe it is a combination of all three.  Normally, the emphasis was placed on a needs analysis, available budget, time and resources and social/environmental considerations were only given to the extent of not breaking any laws or staying within bounds… 

We recently published research that among 30,000+ respondents from 94 countries that 38% of projects are being adversely impacted by extreme weather events related to human-induced climate change. This was up from only 4% a few years prior. 

This number should frighten you. Without a stronger commitment to start practicing project management in a manner that ensures biodiversity gains to combat climate chaos directly, our Risk of Inaction will exacerbate the problem and life as we know it will look nothing like it does today for our children.

According to the WEF, Respondents to the Global Risks Perception Survey (GRPS) 2021–2022 rank “climate action failure” as the most critical threat to the world in both the medium term (2–5 years) and long term (5–10 years), with the highest potential to severely damage societies, economies and the planet. Most also believe too little is being done: 77% said international efforts to mitigate climate change have “not started” or are in “early development”.

Unfortunately, we can no longer bury our heads in the sand. The Risk of Inaction or “ROI” is too significant.

For more, download the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management or take a short course on the subject at


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."

One thought to “The Risk of Inaction (ROI)”

  1. Outstanding post! This type of ROI ought to be ranked with Very-High probability and impact especially for medium-to-very large/megaprojects (tactical-to-strategic ones), the latter type being the most impacted by the most critical threat “climate action failure”. Consequences arrive with severe issues to be solved in such cases and risk response plans should be tailored in special ways for such issues/problems.

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