The Origin of the Project Sustainability Management Plan

Every hero has a great origin story, defining their journey and the impact they make on the world. Superman, an alien from the planet Krypton, was sent to Earth as a baby and grew up to become a symbol of hope and justice. Batman witnessed the tragic murder of his parents, which drove him to fight crime and protect Gotham City as a masked vigilante. The Hulk, a brilliant scientist named Bruce Banner, transformed into a powerful green giant after a gamma radiation experiment went awry.

Similarly, the Project Sustainability Management Plan or (SMP) has its own heroic origin story ok, maybe not heroic… but it is rooted in a need to bring sustainability to the forefront of project management. As more and more organizations adopt it, standards and systems refer to it, and methods integrate it, I thought it would be fun to tell the story of where it originally came from.

The Background

I grew up in scouting and spent my childhood outdoors, camping once a month regardless of the weather. I have always felt at home in nature and have been conservation minded. In 1994, I became the ecology director at the Anthony Wayne Scout Reservation, where I taught environmental science and forestry, among other subjects. This passion for the environment has stayed with me throughout my career and project management had always been a challenge for me with the amount of resources we consume and little regard for the impacts we have. When I found the opportunity to do something about it, I took my shot.

From 2006 to 2013, I worked in project management for Allen County Government in Indiana, USA. It was here that I witnessed firsthand the need for sustainable practices in managing projects. In 2008, I began working on the formation of Green Project Management (GPM) in my home office during evenings and weekends, believing the name was cool and knowing we would be tackling sustainability.

(If I could go back in time, I would probably have called it Sustainable Project Management, but oh well…) One of my colleagues, a buddy in my local PMI chapter, told me more than once, “That will never work,” and “Are you still playing with that idea?” I still keep in touch with him, and I’m sure he’ll read this and get a chuckle. By 2011, GPM was officially incorporated, marking the beginning of our journey in promoting sustainable project management.

At that time, we had a portfolio of wide-ranging projects that spanned both city and county governments, involving stakeholders from all three branches of government and the communities they served. It was a project manager’s dream if you liked complexity and a great place to grow. I was working on an initiative that spanned eighteen different remits, offices, departments, and boards. Committees and boards were established with oversight, as the project aimed to redefine how economic development would be conducted in the largest population center in the northeast part of the state. “No pressure.”

We had a project method, which I consider to be the building blocks of GPM’s PRiSM, called P2 or Process and Prioritization. After some discussion with a consultant brought in for the project, it was agreed to implement the Sustainability Management Plan and start using PRiSM, which I had just completed the first iteration of, anchored by the P5 concept. The SMP was introduced as a new addition to the project plan at a core team meeting in late 2010. The core team was comprised of department heads and a few elected officials. They weren’t the project sponsors, but their departments collectively went to the council to request the budget, so they played a critical role in the project’s success.

As you can see below, the Sustainability Management Plan isn’t much different from many other project documents. It outlines specific sustainability issues identified during the planning process and proposes changes to mitigate environmental, and societal impacts. using the early sustainability impact assessment using P5 which had just been created as a concept.

The first Project Sustainability Management Plan - Joel Carboni
World’s 1st Project Sustainability Management Plan (note – I received permission to use this document in 2013 and removed specific data in order to post it in this format online).


Since that time, over 200,000 people have learned how to use this tool through us and our partners. We have certified thousands of project managers as GPM-b (knowledge), GPM-s (performance), all with the SPM as part of the process and the P5 Standard which explains the SMP has been downloaded over a million times in 13 languages! so I would say that it has worked!

Some business owners frame their first dollar and hang it on the wall; I have kept my first signed SMP from back in 2011. It might not mean much in the greater scheme of things, but to me, it is priceless. It is our hope that the idea that started with some initial pushback of “that will never work” will continue to reshape global practices as a cornerstone of how project management is done along with the other impactful work that is part of the GPM Ecosystem such as the P5 (Sustainability) Impact Analysis, new P5 for Business standard, and competence standard for sustainability leadership.

A Sustainability Management Plan (SMP) describes how sustainability will be addressed during a project.

SMP should generally include:

  • Purpose
  • Approach
  • Roles and Responsibilities
  • Budget
  • Key Performance Indicators for Sustainability
  • Impact of Scope Exclusions on Sustainability
  • Reviews and Reporting
  • P5 Impact Analysis

Learn more about it from our standard , get the SMP template , or learn how to deploy it in our online training course here.  After 15 years, we will keep pushing the boundaries of what is next and lead the way forward for the profession in sustainability.  A movement that started as an idea with some pushback is full steam ahead.

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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