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Ethics and Decision Making as a Foundation for Sustainable Project Management Practice

Ethics is paramount to sustainability. It is the underlying theme that ties everything together. This is why our 2nd Principle for Sustainable Project Management is Ethics One of these principles is “Ethics & Decision Making,” which involves supporting organizational ethics and decision-making with respect for universal principles. Project managers must identify, mitigate, and prevent adverse short and long-term impacts on society and the environment when making decisions.

I want to explore this principle more and provide examples of how project managers can apply it daily.

First. What is Ethics & Decision Making?

Ethics & Decision Making is the principle of identifying, mitigating, and preventing adverse impacts on society and the environment. This means that project managers must lead while taking into account the potential short and long-term adverse effects that their decisions may have.

For example, a project manager might consider ethical and environmental factors when deciding which suppliers to use for a project. They might choose a supplier that has a strong track record in ethical and sustainable practices, even if it costs more than a supplier that does not.

By making ethical decisions during a project, project managers can ensure that they are creating positive social and environmental impacts, which is valuable not only for the stakeholders involved but also for the reputation of the business.

Why is it important?

Ethics & Decision Making is important in sustainable project management because it helps project managers make decisions that support universal principles. By doing so, they can ensure that the project does not have adverse impacts on society and the environment.

Incorporating this principle into project management practices can also help create a positive reputation and strengthen stakeholder relationships. If a project is seen to be ethical and sustainable, stakeholders are more likely to view the project positively and may even support additional projects in the future.

Examples of Ethics & Decision Making in Project Management

Choosing suppliers based on ethical and sustainable practices.

As previously mentioned, project managers can make decisions that support universal principles by choosing suppliers that have a strong track record in ethical and sustainable practices. For example, a project manager might choose a supplier for construction materials that uses sustainable materials or has a low carbon footprint.

Use of a P5 impact assessment (P5IA)

The P5 3.0 Ontology

Before starting a project, project managers can conduct P5 impact assessments to identify any potential short and long-term effects that the project may have on the environment. They can then use this information to make decisions that minimize or mitigate these impacts.

Project teams conduct a P5 impact assessment before starting a project, when change is introduced and at each phase. By doing so, they can identify potential impacts as we have 245 ways to assess sustainability using 49 Elements (23 for People, 21 for planet, and 9 for prosperity) from five different lenses (Product Lifespan and Servicing and Process Effectiveness, Efficiency, and Fairness).  This assessment is comprehensive and provides the team with the impacts that must be addressed and ability to score and prioritize them with support for the project sponsor.  It also provides materiality for ESG disclosures and Sustainability Reporting.

Download the P5iA template here

Use of a Sustainability Management Plan (SMP)

A P5IA provides the what and an SMP provides the how.  It establishes how sustainability will be addressed during a project. The P5 has an integral role in developing an SMP as P5 identifies the subjects to be addressed. An SMP is a living document that should be incorporated into the project management plan suite of documents.

Download the SMP template here

Together, the two are a powerful one-two punch.

Balancing stakeholder interests

Project managers must take into account the interests of all stakeholders when making decisions. By doing so, they can ensure that the project meets the needs of all stakeholders, not just the needs of one group.

For example, a construction project that involves building a road through a natural habitat may adversely impact biodiversity. In this case, a project manager might work with environmental groups to identify measures that can be put in place to mitigate the impacts while still achieving the objectives of the project.

Ethics & Decision Making is a vital principle and practice for sustainable project management. By taking into account the potential short and long-term effects of a project on society and the environment, project managers can make decisions and take action that drives benefit while supporting universal principles.

Summing it all up.

Sustainability is impossible without ethical decision-making. The principle of Ethics & Decision Making in sustainable project management is essential for project managers to make decisions that support universal principles, mitigate negative impacts of their actions, and create positive social and environmental impacts in the short and long term. By incorporating this principle into project management practices, project managers can build a positive reputation and strengthen stakeholder relationships, leading to sustainable business practices and a better future for society and the environment which is critical!

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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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