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Where should sustainability fit within the realm of projects, new products and service delivery? 

Truthfully, it should be near the top. But sustainability encompasses so many facets, and knowing where and how to start can be challenging. Historically, in the corporate world, sustainability is a word that has often been used to describe business programs, products, and practices related to environmental and social considerations.

Until recently, sustainability was viewed as a luxury investment. In the past ten years, this notion has evolved, and what was once a “nice to have” is now a “must-have”. It isn’t enough.

Figure 1. [Adapted] Carboni, J., Duncan, W., Gonzalez, M., Milsom, P., & Young, M. (2018). Sustainable Project Management: The Gpm Reference Guide. GPM Global.

While corporate sustainability efforts have gained significant momentum in the last 10 years, the factors that drive them range considerably. Ideally, an organization’s approach to sustainability is purpose-driven or altruistic in practice. Sometimes, the journey can be jumpstarted by unexpected external events or motivated by fiscal or regulatory pressures or reporting requirements as depicted in the figure above.

Whether an organization’s sustainability strategy is driven by risk mitigation or the desire to be an industry pacesetter, a key driver for success is to what degree they can clearly define their sustainability objectives, align them to the business, establish a supportive culture, and achieve success using portfolio, program, and project management as the delivery method.

Project Management is the key to delivering on business objectives and Driving Sustainable Change

Leading companies pursue sustainability because it has a positive financial impact, and for most companies, sustainability is usually somewhere on the corporate agenda. There are often problems with execution, even for the most committed companies.

GPM research found that 97% of executives believe that projects and project management are integral to sustainable development. At the same time, PMI Research shows that almost 40% of organizations report significant barriers to improving social impact, with just 33% of projects delivering improvements for the environment.

Removing the barriers of improving social and environmental impact will require organizations to strategically align organizational sustainability objectives and product and service delivery through project management.

We often think about project management as a specialized function that is designed to achieve business goals, strategies, and objectives within constraints. It should be known however, that sustainability and projects are not a new concept. 

Impact focus – Adapted from the GPM P5 Standard 2.0

In 1697, well before the industrial revolution, English author Daniel Defoe wrote about projects as a way of solving societal challenges, such as medical care, improving educational opportunities for women, or general welfare.  (A special thank you to Dr. Reinhard Wagner for turning me on to this…)

In figure 2 (right), the triple constraint has been augmented to include increased business considerations as well as the impacts of Time, Cost, Scope to society, the environment, and prosperity to our products and services and the approach taken to deliver them.  This shift in focus alone can create a ripple effect in how we view the alignment with projects and sustainability.

PMI Research indicates that The global economy needs 25 million new project professionals by 2030. 

In order to deliver on global challenges such as climate change, bi-diversity loss, overconsumption, gender inequality, and aging/ineffective infrastructure, while achieving business success in the 4h industrial revolution, we must provide these new project managers with the tools to achieve business results—while at the same time—regenerating bio-diversity by leveraging Nature Based Solutions (NBS) to promote nature as a means for providing solutions for societal challenges.

What are your thoughts?


Dr. Joel Carboni

Dr. Joel Carboni has over 24 years of experience in project, program, and portfolio management, having led Aerospace, Finance, Government, and Technology initiatives. He has a Ph.D. in Sustainable Development and Environment, is a Certified Senior Project Manager (IPMA Level B®), and Certified Green Project Manager (GPM®). He is the founder and president of GPM Global and the President Emeritus of the International Project Management Association USA (IPMA-USA) He is a medal of honor recipient from Universidad Autonoma Lisboa, AI Media's Leading Advisor Award 2017, the 2015 World CSR Congress Leadership Award, 2014 HRD Leadership & Training Award, and 2013 IPMA Achievement Award. He has lectured on or taught sustainable project management in 50 countries worldwide.

One thought to “Where should sustainability fit within the realm of projects, new products and service delivery? ”

  1. I see an increasing demand of “Sustainable Performance” Project Managers who are knowledgeable, practical and responsible.

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