Making Sense of Sustainability

Sustainability is a buzzword that people associate to in many ways. For some it is a state of self-actualisation, a fashion statement for few, some do it for regulatory purposes; whereas very few understand that it is key to survival. The capitalist world has been running a race to doomsday, and the day is not that far provided we break the status quo.

Sustainability in true sense means the Ability to Sustain, i.e. a state wherein we consume our Income, and not Capital.

Why Sustainability

The world population is set to touch nine billion by year 2050. Natural resources, as essential as fresh water, is depleting. Air quality is going from bad to worse. Food production is reducing and wastage is as high as ever. Global temperature has been on a rise causing a threat of melting of ice that can lead to submerging of land surfaces. Our biodiversity is threatened and several species are on the verge of extinction. This ecological imbalance ultimately is impacting the production and supply of consumables for businesses and consumers, leading to an economical impasse and a breakdown of structures. There is panic all around, with millions and billions of dollars being spent on mending the damage done, yet we are far from reimbursing what we continue to harm by each passing day.

More than a dozen guidance from the UN, and other similar institutes, are releasing warnings, guidance, recommendations, benchmarks, and regulations etc urging business to adopt a changed approach. Even if people and businesses want to adopt this changed approach, they are confused as to what all to do! The choice is difficult.

Everybody Knows Something

There are dozens of conferences held to highlight this concern and emphasize that we should do ‘something’. Btw, no one tells what is that something and how it can be done. Some may have figured out, while others just believe in signing cheques for charity. Moreover, how much of the world has really committed to an environment friendly approach? And how many are actually doing it? Okay, time for some stats –

There are about 250,000+ organisations across 150+ countries that have an ISO 14001 certification, which defines guidelines and policies for Environment Management at an enterprise level. But, most of this has been acquired in the last five years only. ISO 50001 is a newly launched Energy Management standard that is getting popular now.

There is quite a backlog of non-sustainable practices and impact to be cleared before we can even imagine of attaining the tag of being sustainable!

What The World is Talking About

India has shown leadership and made it mandatory for businesses, under the Companies Bill 2012, to set aside a 2% of their income to spend on sustainability and report as a part of corporate governance. This makes organisations think as to what is the business advantage that they can derive out of this investment, and how.

Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) is changing shape to become Corporate Shared Value (CSV) thus making it an important business function. “The world has reached a tipping point now,” Steve Fludder, vice president of ecomagination at General Electric, says in the report. “We’re beyond the debates over whether addressing sustainability is something that needs to be done or not—it’s now mostly about how we do it.”

Companies are no longer looking at just maintaining profitability, but the focus is on Triple Bottom Line i.e. People, Planet, and Profit. ‘The pressure on companies to broaden its reporting and accountability from economic performance for shareholders, to sustainability performance for all stakeholders has increased’ (Visser, 2002).

Proactively or reactively, companies are looking for ways to integrate ideas of sustainability in their marketing, corporate communications, annual reports and in their actions (Hedstrom et al., 1998; Holliday, 2001).

At the 22nd World Congress of the International Project Management Association (IPMA) in 2008, IPMA vice-President Mary McKinlay stated in the opening keynote speech that ‘the further development of the project management profession requires project managers to take responsibility for sustainability’ (McKinlay, 2008).

If organizations ‘put their money where their mouth is’ on sustainability, it is inevitable that sustainability criteria and indicators will find their way into project management methodologies and practices in the very near future (Silvius et al, 2009). A 2010 survey by Accenture found that a full 93 percent of CEOs said successfully addressing Sustainability issues will be critical to the future success of their businesses (PMI 2011).

In some of the first publications on sustainability and project management, Carin Labuschagne and Alan Brent of the University of Pretoria link the principles of sustainable development to project life cycle management in the manufacturing industry (Labuschagne and Brent, 2006). It suggests that the future-orientation of sustainability implies that the full life cycle of a project, from its conception to its disposal, should be considered. Elaborating on this life cycle view, they argue that when considering sustainability in project management, not just the total life cycle of the project (e.g. initiation, development, execution, testing, and launch) should be taken into account, but also of the “result” the project produces, being a change in assets, systems, behaviour, etc.

Way to Sustainability

Taking a lead in this area, out of the 60+ Project Management associations around the world, Green Project Management (GPM®) committed itself to integrate Sustainability with Project Management and define a robust process of managing Projects integrating Sustainable Methods (PRiSMTM). The methodology provides a definitive standard process of integrating sustainability into projects by blending best practices from:

  • ISO 9001 – The Quality Management Standard,
  • ISO 14001 – The Environmental Management Standard,
  • ISO 50001 – The Energy Management Standard,
  • ISO 21500 – Guidance on Project Management, and
  • ISO 26000 Guidance on Social Responsibility along with
  • 45 elements for project management competency development from IPMA® International Competency Baseline (ICB 3.0)

Within just three years of its release, the PRiSMTM method has reached 50+ countries and is gaining a lot of popularity. Practitioners are viewing it an innovative method to integrate Sustainability with Project Management thus ensuring a more proactive approach to save the environment and its inhabitants.

PRiSM has several features that are new to the professional project management field which easily distinguishing it from other project management methodologies. Its true strength lies in its ease of use, and straight forward approach. PRiSM’s features supplement what each body of knowledge provides, through a practical, environmentally conscious, and repeatable approach. One of the most significant of PRiSM’s features is the method of analyzing the Project’s impact using the P5 analysis for calculating risks, and developing a Sustainability Management Plan (SMP). The SMP when executed also contributes to the overall sustainability reporting of the organization.

It is not just a ‘good to know’ method, but a ‘must know, and follow’ method for organizations and project managers to show they CARE!

About the Authors

Suchitra Rautela Joshi is an expert in the field or Project, Programme, and Portfolio Management. She has also led and managed several CSR initiatives in the Asia-pacific region in the area of forests, water, education, and HIV. Having over fifteen years of professional experience, Suchitra is a socialist by heart and an improvement oriented business-person by head. She currently runs BizQ Solutions, a Management Consulting firm and has been the first and only one to bring PRiSM to India. Suchitra can be reached on director@bizqsolutions.com

Dr. Pranab J Patar is an environmental researcher by training, and holds a M.Sc. on Environmental Science and a Ph.D. in Management science. He has progressively and responsibly worked for more than ten years in the development sector on issues related to environmental sustainability, water, natural resource management, biodiversity conservation, eco-tourism, and CSR. His association has been with some of the best names in the development sector, like Earthwatch Institute, The Energy & Resources Institute (TERI), Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), Centre for Environment Education (CEE), Bharati Vidyapeeth Institute of Environment Education & Research (BVIEER), etc. He is an avid birder and a nature photographer. Pranab can be reached on pranab.patar@gmail.com

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Suchitra Rautela Joshi is an expert in the field or Project, Programme, and Portfolio Management. She has also led and managed several CSR initiatives in the Asia-pacific region in the area of forests, water, education, and HIV. Having over fifteen years of professional experience, Suchitra is a socialist by heart and an improvement oriented business-person by head. She currently runs BizQ Solutions, a Management Consulting firm and has been the first and only one to bring PRiSM to India. Suchitra can be reached on director@bizqsolutions.com

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3 thoughts on “Making Sense of Sustainability

  1. Wow this is a very interesting article to read. UAE is becoming more sustainable but you are right. Way to go. 🙂

  2. Nice article about PRiSM !! Great initiative taken by Organizations & Govt. Bodies. Time has come to think about Planet beyond the ideas to generate maximum profit. Because, if the Planet will be sustained, we will work for years to come, loads of projects & Profits.

    • Dear Mani
      Thanks for your comment. Glad to know that you liked the article. Triple-bottom-line approach to business is an urgent need of the hour for companies worldwide and India should take the lead.
      Best wishes
      Salman Zafar
      Founder, Cleantech Solutions

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