The Essential Guide To Sustainability in Project Management

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In recent years there has been an evolution in project management. Where previously the focus was solely on the economic aspects of a project, sustainability has become more prominent in issues as climate change and environmentalism have become front of mind.

Understanding the impact of a project and its overall sustainability has become critical. In this guide, we will be exploring the changes that sustainability has made to project management, and how the focus has transformed from a solely monetary focus to exploring the impacts on people, place, and environment. We’ll also consider what the potential futures of sustainability in project management may be and how the completion of a Master of Project Management may help you make the sustainability decisions for tomorrow’s major projects.

What is Sustainability?

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Sustainability is an approach where businesses and individuals balance the environmental, social, and economic aspects of a project such that current and future stakeholders are not overburdened with the impacts of the project in future. In 1987, the United Nations put its position on sustainability quite bluntly – simply put, sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”.

Sustainability was not an area actively considered in decades past. Previously a project such as a coal or oil power plant may have been openly developed. However, as public awareness of pollution and climate change has developed, there has been a greater need for improved standards in development. As a result, there has been a transformation from high-polluting and high-impact projects to sustainable and renewable energy options such as hydro solar, and wind power.

This focus on sustainability is transforming how we consider project work. No longer are we solely considering what society needs, but we’re also considering how these planned projects impact the environment.

New Standards in Sustainable Project Management

As sustainability has transformed how we think about project management, there’s been a series of paradigm shifts. Consider this – in years past, there has been a shift away from solely considering the economic benefits of a project.

This shift away from solely monetary benefit has been a shift in scope. As a result, many projects are now being considered on what they bring to the community, from a social and environmental lens.

This change in scope has also triggered a paradigm shift. This has encouraged businesses and individuals to take on a more holistic approach when considering sustainability in their projects. In the past, a company may have simply considered its carbon emissions when building a higher-intensity project. However, in recent years, this has transformed – now, businesses are considering things such as the impact on the labour market, the environmental impact on endangered local species, and also how past impacts such as toxic waste materials can be handled, in order to mitigate any risks that may be present for future generations.

Finally, there has been a shift away from solely corporate thinking. Sustainability is about more than just what the business can do – it’s upon all of us as individuals to bring up our concerns with organizations and to consider sustainability as a responsibility that we all share.

The Balancing Act – Managing Sustainability Concerns

Sustainability can be considered in a range of different ways. These include the impacts on the environment, society, or human impacts as well as economic, or monetary impacts on a business. These form the four pillars of sustainability. Depending on the position of a stakeholder, these concerns may represent varying levels of significance.

Consider this – a local conservationist may consider the environment and social needs of a project to be paramount, especially when a project is in an area that is environmentally sensitive for local flora and fauna. Alternatively from an economic perspective, a corporation may wish to reduce the level of risk that is present within a project, notably by not pursuing projects that are considered morally or ethically inappropriate within a local community. A business administrator may wish to consider the way that resources are being used in a project in order to mitigate the environmental impact.

It’s important that businesses really consider how they manage sustainability concerns across different stakeholders. It is now paramount that businesses involve the community in decision-making. It doesn’t have to be every decision, however, both corporate and government projects need to consider the impact that they have on people in their communities.

How Will Sustainability Transform Future Projects?

Sustainability is having a transformative impact on projects that are happening right now. Consider the words that come out of property developers where projects are praised for their environmental standards and their improved energy efficiency ratings. Modern buildings may have air conditioning but it’s not as prevalent as one may think, notably because businesses are starting to really take on the ideas of energy management, to improve environmental sustainability.

Future projects will really consider all facets of sustainability – perhaps even some issues that are not currently present in projects. Hopefully, we will see projects that bring out the best in our communities while not having a significant cost on the lives and livelihoods of the next generation. It’ll be fascinating to see where sustainability goes in project management in the future.

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