The power of a sustainable touch


In our first book, Green Project Management, we wrote about GreenTouch – a consortium of telecom service providers and equipment vendors, developers, programmers – many of whom directly compete with one another for business – working together on a focused goal to reduce the energy consumption of ‘the network’.  That is, everything between your eyes and my keyboard, and the stuff that stores and transmits the bits and bytes as I type this blog post.

GreenTouch recently announced that their astounding target of 1000x reduction (not a 10% or a 25% reduction, but a one-thousand times reduction, was not achieved.

(pregnant pause)

What was achieved instead was a TEN THOUSAND TIMES reduction.  This is pretty impressive.  Let’s put it in automotive terms: this is like taking 3.6 million cars off of the road.  Forever.

And it makes a point – I would say an exclamation point – about what we’ve been saying for years about project management, technology, energy, and the ‘triple bottom line’.  The point: you don’t have to be in the electric utility or petroleum industry to make a difference in sustainability.  You don’t have to be in the pharmaceutical business or the food industry or the agricultural area to make a difference on toxins or nutrition.  You have to think long-term.  You have to think beyond your project’s outcome – or in this case, work on a project that has a focused long-term goal.

These guys made changes in software protocols – SOFTWARE PROTOCOLS – for example, to make huge differences in how optical amplifiers turn on and off and that ‘little change’ had far-reaching positive consequences.  They worked on metering and dashboard tools for network managers, and so on.  These types of changes were (as you can see by the results) were highly effective.

Have a look at this non-profit’s press release and video.  I hope it inspires you.  It inspired us and is one of the reasons we wrote the follow-up book, “Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success“.  Enjoy.

 NEW YORK, June 18, 2015GreenTouch™, the global consortium dedicated to dramatically improving the energy efficiency of data communications networks, today announced its final results and unveiled new tools, technologies and architectures to improve the energy efficiencies of communications networks in years to come. During a celebratory event in New York, GreenTouch revealed that its new approaches can improve energy efficiencies of mobile-access networks by more than 10,000X – an achievement far exceeding the original goals of the working group.

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The Project Pope Statement


No, that’s not a typo.  You probably thought we’d be talking about a Project Scope Statement.  But here, we really are talking about the Pope and his recent encyclical, “Laudato Si'”.  This is Pope Francis’ writings and ‘policy statements’ if you will, regarding climate change.   You can download the entire encyclical here.

It’s long.  And it was popular.  The Vatican web page crashed with the volume of requests for downloads when it was first released.

We found a 10-point summary of the encyclical here from America (The National Catholic Review).  And then we did something interesting for you – we took 8 of those 10 points where we found the greatest intersection with project management principles, and share the points with you for your consideration.  Our comments are in italics just under each of the points made by the journal referenced above.

Here you go:

The Top 10 takewayays from Laudato Si’

This blog post draws from an article in America (The National Catholic Review), which goes through the top 10 takeaways from the Pope’s recent encyclical on the environment, also called “Laudato Si’.

We’ll provide a project/program/portfolio perspective on this using extracts from this review (which in turn is a digest of the (fairly large) encyclical itself. We cover 8 of the 10 points from the article.


1)    The spiritual perspective is now part of the discussion on the environment.

The greatest contribution of “Laudato Si” to the environmental dialogue is, to my mind, its systematic overview of the crisis from a religious point of view. Until now, the environmental dialogue has been framed mainly with political, scientific and economic language. With this new encyclical, the language of faith enters the discussion—clearly, decisively and systematically. But in its systematic spiritual approach, this is a groundbreaking document that expands the conversation by inviting believers into the dialogue and providing fresh insights for those already involved.

We aren’t suggesting to add ‘spirituality’ as a new constraint for project managers. However, we can use this ‘spiritual perspective’ to underline the ethical aspects we already rely on, and to process our decisions with just slightly more thoughtfulness.

2)    The poor are disproportionately affected by climate change.

The disproportionate effect of environmental change on the poor and on the developing world is highlighted in almost every section of the encyclical. Indeed, near the beginning of “Laudato Si,” the pope states that focus on the poor is one the central themes of the encyclical, and he provides many baneful examples of the effects of climate change, whose “worse impacts” are felt those living in the by developing countries.

Again, it’s a matter of thinking through decisions – project decisions, and, we’d assert, decisions that go through the deployment of your project’s product, including, how it serves people of various countries and populations. Have you thought, for example, about disposal of the final product (especially electronics and rare-earth minerals) and how that disposal affects people in countries where those materials are recovered?

3)    Less is more.

Pope Francis takes aim at what he calls the “technocratic” mindset, in which technology is seen as the “principal key” to human existence. He critiques an unthinking reliance on market forces, in which every technological, scientific or industrial advancement is embraced before considering how it will affect the environment and “without concern for its potential negative impact on human beings”.

As project managers we are used to focusing on CPI and SPI (project spending and schedule efficiency) so we are quite familiar with doing more with less. But here, the Pope is talking more about CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility, or perhaps you could call it Triple Bottom Line (TBL) thinking. Have you thought about those bottom lines on your projects?

5)    Discussions about ecology can be grounded in the Bible and church tradition.

Wisely, Pope Francis begins the encyclical not with a reflection on Scripture and tradition (the two pillars of Catholic teaching), which might tempt nonbelievers to set aside the letter, but with an overview of the crisis—including issues of water, biodiversity and so on. Only in Chapter Two does he turn towards “The Gospel of Creation,” in which he leads readers, step by step, through the call to care for creation that extends as far back as the Book of Genesis, when humankind was called to “till and keep” the earth. But we have done, to summarize his approach, too much tilling and not enough keeping The insights of the saints are also recalled, most especially St. Francis of Assisi, the spiritual lodestar of the document. In addition to helping nonbelievers understand the Scripture and the church’s traditions, he explicitly tries to inspire believers to care for nature and the environment.

This is admittedly pretty far from project management. But this idea – of grounding discussions about climate change and ecology around the Bible and church tradition – does provide support for those project managers who want to try to convince stakeholders who are strongly aligned with the Church to look to their own leaders for inspiration and to bring them on board for sustainability-oriented project thinking.

6)    Everything is connectedincluding the economy.

One of the greatest contributions of “Laudato Si” is that it offers what theologians call a “systematic” approach to an issue. First, he links all of us to creation: “We are part of nature, included in it, and thus in constant interaction with it” (No. 139). But our decisions, particularly about production and consumption, have an inevitable effect on the environment. Pope Francis links a “magical conception of the market,” which privileges profit over the impact on the poor, with the abuse of the environment (No. 190). Needless to say, a heedless pursuit of money that sets aside the interests of the marginalized and leads to the ruination of the planet are connected “Profit,” he says, “cannot be the sole criterion” of our decisions (No. 187).

We’d just comment there that as silo-busting project managers, we know more than most about this concept of ‘everything being connected’ – or at least we know that things work better on our projects when they are connected. But the message for us is in the last line: “Profit cannot be the sole criterion of our decisions”. This is an important piece of CSR or TBL thinking.


7)    Scientific research on the environment is to be praised and used.

Pope Francis does not try to “prove” anything about climate change in this document. He frankly admits that the church does not “presume to settle scientific questions” (No. 188). And while he clearly states that there are disputes over current science, his encyclical accepts the “best scientific research available today” and builds on it, rather than entering into a specialist’s debate (No. 15). Speaking of the great forests of the Amazon and Congo, and of glaciers and aquifers, for example, he simply says, “We know how important these are for the earth…”

As project managers, we know that we must be unbiased and to base decisions on facts. These points made by the Pope remind us that the science of project management is better served when we rely on the science of facts and the facts that science brings us.   Yes, we use ‘gut feel’ and manage by experience and other soft skills – but don’t ignore what the science is telling you.


8)    Widespread indifference and selfishness worsen environmental problems.

Pope Francis reserves his strongest criticism for the wealthy who ignore the problem of climate change, and especially its effect on the poor. This affects not simply for those in the developing world, but also in the inner cities of our more developed countries, where he calls for what might be termed an “urban ecology.” In the world of “Laudato Si” there is no room for selfishness or indifference. One cannot care for the rest of nature “if our hearts lack tenderness, compassion and concern for our fellow human beings” (No. 91).

We use this point just to refresh and re-charge the idea that the bottom line of a project includes ecological and social aspects. Further, we can take the Pope’s last point as a reminder to deal compassionately with our project teams. In our experience we’ve seen “successful” projects which have left a trail of bruised and bloodied project team members (well, maybe bunt-out is a better description). These folks won’t want to work on our projects ever again. So if we localize these thoughts and even bring them into our project teams, we have a net benefit. But clearly the Pope is talking about a larger problem. We can make a difference locally and globally as project managers.


10)    A change of heart is required

At heart, this document, addressed to “every person on the planet” is a call for a new way of looking at things, a “bold cultural revolution” (No. 3, 114). We face an urgent crisis, when, thanks to our actions, the earth has begun to more and more like, in Francis’ vivid language, “an immense pile of filth” (No. 21). Still, the document is hopeful, reminding us that because God is with us, we can strive both individually and corporately to change course. We can awaken our hearts and move towards an “ecological conversion” in which we see the intimate connection between God and all beings, and more readily listen to the “cry of the earth and the cry of the poor” (No. 49).

We use this point as a high-level summary for us as project managers. The phraseology ‘individually and corporately to change course’ struck a chord with us. Maybe it will with you as well.


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A busy intersection!



When we began EarthPM in 1845 (okay… it was a little later than that), our tagline was “at the intersection of green and project management”.  We’ve since changed that to “at the intersection of sustainability and project management“, realizing that our efforts were not limited to ecological sustainability but rather the Triple Bottom Line of ecological, economic, and social long-term thinking for PMs.

That intersection used to have a general store, a small hat shop, and a 4-way stop sign.  Now, it seems to more like the traffic circle at the Arc de Triomphe in Paris.  It’s busy, it’s active, and it’s a little confusing – and even dangerous.

Now, one of the global leaders in project management training and consulting, IIL (International Institute of Learning), has made sustainability the theme of its popular International PM Day event.  And we’re proud to be part of it.  EarthPM (Rich Maltzman, PMP, in this case) will be one of the featured presenters, in a conference focused at this intersection of project management and sustainability.  We highly recommend that you reserve your place now in this year’s virtual conference, which will earn you 20 PDUs.

The event is not until November.  And there is a  small fee this year.  But as a good project manager, you know that sometimes you have to invest a little to get a lot.  And you also know that you should start with your end-date and work backwards.  In this case, blocking off this time and making your reservation is not only a good idea, it’s a sustainable one!

For the past 11 years, International Institute for Learning has brought you the greatest thought leaders, storytellers, movers and shakers – people making a difference in the field of project management and in the world. Join us at EarthPM as we are honored to be selected one of the presenters for the 12th annual virtual conference: IPMDAY 2015: Ensuring a Sustainable Future Aside from our talk, you’ll be able to access the latest insights, trends and best practices surrounding project management, sustainability, organizational performance and corporate social responsibility.

Last year this event had 65,000 registrants. We invite you to be one of them this year, when IIL brings you even more impactful content and speakers. You’ll come away with real-world knowledge, actionable ideas, videos, white papers, case studies, templates, and to:

  • Experience amazing content: keynote webcasts with live Q&A and 25+ on-demand video presentations
  • Earn up to 20 PMP®/PgMP® Professional Development Units (PDUs)
  • Network and chat with speakers and fellow attendees
  • Visit virtual booths from IIL and event sponsors
  • Access the full program for 90 days post event
  • Plus get complimentary registration for 3 on-demand courses (valued at more than $1300.00 USD):
    • Agile for the Non-Agile Practitioner
    • Grateful Leadership™
    • Foundations of Organizational Sustainability

Check it out – make a sound, sustainable decision today!

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What is a Lighthouse?


Photo by Chirs Costello – MassLive

This blog post has everything. It is, quite literally, a cliff-hanger. It has the salty smell of the sea.  Crashing waves.   Churning, swirling sea foam.  Poets. Rolling lighthouses. Millions of dollars. Controversy. Collaboration. History. Did we mention rolling lighthouses? Climate change. Project management. Sustainability.


Read on.

People often get poetic about lighthouses.

Henry Wadwsorth Longfellow wrote a poem called The Lighthouse. In it, he writes:

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!

But as Longfellow claims, is the lighthouse truly immovable?

Should the lighthouse be immovable?

Turns out – if it is truly immovable, it may fall into the sea, because climate change and sea level rise (or if you deny this – the effects of erosion) have caused one of the most famous lighthouses, the one on Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard, to be moved.

So – why are we talking about lighthouses in a blog dedicated to project management and sustainability?

Think about it. What is a lighthouse? For sailors, it’s a risk trigger. Remember risk triggers? They’re anything that make you think that a threat (usually a threat, we suppose it could be an opportunity) is about to happen or has already happened. Smoke is a risk trigger for fire. A “heat” indicator on a stove-top is a risk trigger for a burn that you will NOT get because it reminds you that the surface is hot.

Indian cricketer and Member of Parliament, Navjot Singh Sidhu says, “A fallen lighthouse is more dangerous than a reef”.  In this case, the loss of the lighthouse would not only be a danger in terms of the loss of its all-important beacon, but because a lovely piece of history would be forever erased. That was a risk that the stakeholders in this story were not willing to take.

Whether or not the cause for the erosion is climate change is a bit controversial. However, for your consideration we include this extract from a recent post from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The coast of Martha’s Vineyard, with its exposed bluffs, barrier beaches and ponds has always been in a dynamic relationship with the sea, but the changes that human-driven climate change are bringing have no parallel in the recent past. Global average sea level has risen about 8 inches between 1880 and 2009, while the rate of increase has markedly increased, especially since 1993, and is still accelerating. Due to a variety of local factors, the stretch of the East coast of the United States from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina up to Maine has some of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the world.
In addition to sea level rise, the Northeast has experienced a greater increase in extreme precipitation since 1958 than any other region of the country, with more than a 70% increase in rainfall during the heaviest events. The National Climate Assessment also recently concluded that there is a growing risk of stronger storms in the Northeast. All of these changes are contributing to the rate at which the Gay Head Cliffs are eroding. The combination of sea level rise and storms can be particularly lethal, bringing higher waves and more wave energy crashing against the shore.

The post makes convincing arguments. But whatever the cause, there is still an intersection here of sustainability and project management; the idea is to sustain the lighthouse and the way to do it is with a unique, time-and-resource-limited endeavor with a well-defined outcome. Certainly, without any controversy, we can agree that this is a project. It’s a project that involved the collaboration of many stakeholders, and it’s an interesting one. Using an odd combination of ancient techniques going back to the Egyptians as well as new technology, the team was able to lift and roll the 400-ton Gay Head Light 135 feet inland from where it stood for 150 years and safely away from the threat of eroding cliffs.  We suggest you read through the front-page story of the Cape Cod Times and have a look at their “On The Brink” graphic (below), and a video clip we also include which shows how the move was accomplished.


Take the lighthouse metaphor here to heart. There is an intersection of project management and sustainability. At a minimum, the area of risk management and understanding threats (and opportunities) is loaded with triggers from climate change and sea-level rise. We ask that as you sail through your projects, that you be ever vigilant for the risk triggers of ‘sustainabilty risk’ by calling forth the words of Longfellow:

Not one alone; from each projecting cape
And perilous reef along the ocean’s verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
Holding its lantern o’er the restless surge.

Here’s a whole list of poems just about lighthouses!

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Sweet Spot for Sustainability Success!


As a fan of assuring that project managers have the proper skills and competencies to do their work, I was very happy to see a paper which reviews the literature on sustainability competencies.

Of course, for the past 8 years, EarthPM have been big proponents of combining these ideas. We assert that the skills and capabilities of project managers, combined with the elements of a long-term view, and consideration of social aspects of project outcomes, make for a much more capable project manager, a more satisfied project team, and an outcome which satisfies a broader set of stakeholders for a longer time.

So we were very pleased to recently review a summary of research provided by Coro Strandberg, which identifies five key competencies for sustainability leadership. You may not even believe that project managers need these competencies. It’s the intent of this blog post to convince you otherwise.

Coro actually identifies three skills –System Thinking, External Collaboration, and Social Innovation – and two knowledge areas – Sustainability Literacy and Active Values.

Taken together, here are the five competencies:

1. Systems thinking
2. External collaboration
3. Social innovation
4. Sustainability literacy
5. Active values

The first two, I believe, don’t need much elaboration for us as project managers. I hope most of us would agree that Systems Thinking and External Collaboration are representative of what we need to be good at as PMs.

It’s the next few I’d like to touch on in a little detail.

Social innovation is the “ability to generate and enable business model, organization, and system level innovation to advance both business and social value. It shifts the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future with stakeholders”. Doesn’t that sound like “quality”? Doesn’t that evoke the idea of really well-done requirements management so that the outcome of the project isn’t just ‘cool’ but works for the people who care?
Yes, there is an element here, we admit, that we may not be used to as project managers – that idea of thinking of social value along with business value. However we’d assert that doing this would be truly best for an enterprise if they just look up to the enterprise’s mission/vision statements which likely state that the enterprise intends to serve not only as a means to generate profits but also to satisfy community and social needs as well.

Sustainability Literacy – here we want to simply assert that as employees who want to stay employees, it’s too your advantage to become literate about sustainability. Agree or not with the premise(s) involved in the drive for sustainability, the hard fact is that many organizations – and their customers (your customers, perhaps) are mobilizing to think along the lines of Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s only logical that those who can speak the language and understand what this is all about gain an advantage in the employment market.
“Active values” is a bit esoteric. It includes the ability to “develop and pursue higher purpose within self, teams and business – to practice ‘mindfulness’, and to foster and enable personal and organizational transformation (change)”. Yet esoteric as it is, it has a very real benefit to you as a project manager because it’s been shown over and over again that project teams that feel they are working for a higher purpose do better. Don’t believe me? Check out the excellent TED video by Dan Pink, which covers Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose as the key motivators of teams that do anything other than routine mechanical work.
If this doesn’t hook you in, look at the skills/competencies upon which these five sustainability leadership competencies are built. Tell me they don’t look familiar:

System Thinking: Problem-Solving, Analytical Thinking and Strategic Planning
External Collaboration: Internal Collaboration,
Relationship Building and Conflict Resolution
Social Innovation: Change Leadership, Creativity and
Sustainability Literacy: Business Acumen and Financial Leadership
Active Values: Diversity, Integrity and Self-Management

This means that not only are these important, but they should be easily learned by us as project managers. The competencies you see above – I’m sure you recognize them in yourself, or at least you aspire to excel at these competencies. For sustainability leadership, you just need to adapt them and expand on them in more meaningful ways.
By doing so, you can hit a really key “sweet spot” (see figure below) to not only make your projects more successful, but to improve your career and your personal success. And that’s something on which we all can readily agree!


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