Lessons from our millennials


A recent story about the so-called millennial generation – those born between 1982 and 2000 (ish) recently caught our eye.

The story was about how millennials – who actually care quite deeply about the environment – do not want to be called environmentalists.  The part that really enchanted us about this story is that these sentiments are exactly what we at EarthPM have been all about for the past 5 years or so.

And that’s simply the fact that you don’t have to take a political stance or be an “environmentalist” to understand that (for example) corporate social responsibility (CSR) simply … makes sense (and cents).

Take, for example, this extract:

Young people have been the life blood of the environmental movement for decades. There could be trouble on the horizon though, and it all comes down to semantics.

To explain, it’s helpful to use the example of Lisa Curtis, a 26-year-old from Oakland, California.

Curtis comes from a long line of environmentally-conscious Americans. Her grandmother, Sis Curtis was an avid hiker and at 84 remains a Sierra Club and World Wildlife Fund member. Lisa’s 55-year-old mother, Barb Curtis drives a hybrid car, roofed her house with solar panels, and avoids using plastic except as a last resort.

Although they aren’t the types to flaunt it, both women would call themselves environmentalists.

However, it’s Lisa Curtis, the youngest of the three, who truly sets the bar for sustainability in this family. She started her high school’s recycling club, she traveled to Copenhagen in 2009 to observe international climate talks and she nearly experiences physical pain when she’s forced to throw away food scraps in a regular trash can rather than a compost bin.

“It just feels wrong,” she says.

But unlike the Curtises before her, Lisa refuses to call herself an environmentalist.

“I think the term has been sort of corrupted… politicized,” she says.

This is the difference when it comes to millennials, 18-33 year-olds. Young Americans, including staunch environmentalists like Lisa, may be turning away from the word “environmentalist.” A Pew Research Center poll earlier this year asked participants if they felt the term “environmentalist” describes them very well. Over 40 percent of respondents said yes, except when it came to millennials. Just 32 percent of them agreed. That might not seem substantial, but Pew says it’s statistically significant.

The Pew Research Center didn’t ask participants for their for reasons why. But Lisa Curtis has a theory: the word “environmentalist” has become outdated.

“It’s starting to be used more in a derogatory way,” she says. “Oh you’re such an environmentalist. You’re not in touch with the real world.”

This is particularly important to us as project managers for a reason that’s increasingly important: these millenniums are your new project team members, your new project managers – perhaps even your new bosses.

They integrate sustainability thinking into their life – so much so that they don’t want the label or the connotation of environmentalism.  It makes sense – and it makes sense for us as project managers.

We don’t need a separate knowledge area in the PMBOK(R) Guide… we need an increased sense of holistic and long-term thinking when we make project decisions.

Learn from this.  The millennials have a meaningful and important message for us.


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Expresso yourself


EarthPM is proud to have been an invited speaker to the IPMA2014 World Congress in Rotterdam, The Netherlands.  The event took place on 29, 30 September and on 1-October.  So in other words, yesterday was our event.

Thanks to Menno Valkenburg and many others who helped plan the Congress, there was a Sustainability “stream”, and also thanks to Menno, we were able to arrange our presentation to be done without travel from the US to Europe and back , which (as you’ll see from the description below) was no easy task.  However this arrangement reduced our own carbon footprint and preserved commitments that the travel time would have blasted away.  So, there was a bit less gezelligheid (look it up!) but it was a net win-win.  Thank you, Skype!

We chose to engage the audience in the World Cafe format.  And, we decided to do it in a way that honored coffee – since I know from personal experience that there is a pretty strong Dutch coffee (koffie) culture.  Further, we really didn’t have time to do the proper World Cafe treatment, so we did an “Espresso” version.  Two 15 minute rounds at four tables.

Each facilitated table was named after a coffee producing country (we somewhat randomly chose Vietnam, Panama, Brazil, and Kenya) and was tasked with brainstorming ways in which Project Management and Sustainability intersect.

Below we share with you our (Copyrighted, use with permission only) format for the discussion, which yielded brainstormed ideas we’re still processing, but which help fuel even further the depth of the sometimes unexpected connection between these two disciplines.  Sit down, have an espresso, and if you think of any ideas while the caffeine does its thing… let us know, won’t you?  Bedankt!


The “Expresso” format used at IPMA-2014 in Rotterdam/Boston











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Up, up and away!

Back in the day,  a song by a group called The Fifth Dimension called “Up, Up, and Away” was everywhere – on the radio, on TV… you could hardly get away from it.

Come back and watch it after you’ve read the post.  It’s nice.

We bring this “up” (excuse the pun) because after our first Workshop with the ECOCAR3 faculty, students, and with General Motors and the US Department of Energy, we’re feeling “up” and most importantly for this post, we’re more convinced than ever that the place at which project management has to integrate sustainability is at the program and portfolio level.

The thing adding more momentum to this upward move?

We had a chance to hear directly from General Motors Executives, leaders at Argonne National Labs (part of the Department of Energy), and of course faculty and students of the 16 North American universities (see below) which are participating in the ECOCAR3 program.

EcoCAR 3

We were working on the creation of the all-important charter for their project – which is to take the iconic Chevy Camaro and turn it into a still-powerful, still-iconic hybrid electric vehicle.  As we did this we continued to reaffirm that the “golden thread” between an individual project and the mission/vision/values of an organization is critical.  Break that thread, and the purpose of the project becomes detached, and is much less likely to contribute to the goals of the enterprise, instead sub-optimizing and accomplishing only smaller, disconnected pieces of work.

As we work on out next CRC Press book, Sustainability in Projects, Programs and Portfolios, we see more and more evidence that it’s increasingly important to do this, we’re also collecting more and more examples – from more and more diverse types of organizations, which we’ll be able to include in this book.

It’s uplifting and motivating for us.  And soon – for you, too.

So in early 2015, when the book comes out, you can fly in our beautiful balloon.

Here are the participating universities:

  • Arizona State University
  • California State University – Los Angeles
  • Colorado State University
  • Embry-Riddle Aeronautical University
  • Georgia Institute of Technology
  • McMaster University
  • Mississippi State University
  • Ohio State University
  • Pennsylvania State University
  • University of Tennessee, Knoxville
  • University of Alabama
  • University of Washington
  • University of Waterloo
  • Virginia Tech
  • Wayne State University
  • West Virginia University
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Innovation through Dialogue (and koffie)


We like that theme.  We like it a lot.

And that is the theme of the 28th IPMA World Congress in Rotterdam.  From their home page:

‘The 28th edition of the IPMA World Congress will be held from September 29th to October 1st in the City of Rotterdam, The Netherlands under the main theme: “Innovation through Dialogue”.
Over 120 speakers in three days filled with the latest experiences and insight about Innovating the world through dialogue. Dialogue within projects, dialogue between projects (portfolio’s), dialogue over time (programs) and dialogue outside projects, with project-owners, users and stakeholders. And of course the dialogue between the business and academic world.’

We’re making up a small percentage (around 1.5%) of the speakers.  EarthPM will (of course) be in the Sustainability stream, and (of course) will attend by electrons versus jet fuel to reduce the carbon footprint of the presentation; we’re going to experiment with running a World Cafe event via local facilitation and remote orchestration.  It’s a true test of “think globally, act locally, but also globally” – a clumsy but true mantra for this session.

We’ll be fully buying into the theme.

Instead of lecturing, we’ll be discussing.  Instead of transmitting, we’ll mainly be receiving.  Instead of conveying existing information, we’ll be generating and transferring new knowledge and wisdom.  We’ll do this using the World Cafe method, worth looking into if you are a project manager.  Bottom line: it’s a facilitated and active discussion method.  We’ll animate this by having tables (named after coffee-producing countries!) which will focus on each of the major touchpoints between sustainability and project management.  And yes, there are indeed several major touchpoints between project management and sustainability.  The Dutch word for coffee is koffie, and we know from experience how important it is to gezelligheid (look it up – learn something today!).

Here’s a link to the Day 3 program.  We’re proud to be part of the IPMA2014 World Congress and we’re excited to involve the PM community quite directly and actively in generating new (and lasting) wisdom in this important area.


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Michael Porter makes our point (sort of)

Many of you – especially those who took any courses in Marketing since 1980- will know of Michael Porter.

Even a short visit to Porter’s page on Amazon yields a wealth of recognized books on important economic and international topics.


Most of you will recognize Porter’s Five Forces.

From Wikipedia: Porter’s Five Forces

But this is not about economics or market entry.  It’s about a person of Porter’s status recognizing the intersection of business and sustainability in a way that is in alignment with what we know as project managers to be true: that there are always multiple stakeholders on projects and that focusing too much on any one, although it may temporarily yield great results, may fail to align with the enterprise’s mission, and may yield very poor long-term results – economic, ecological and social.

In the video below, Porter goes over his “Big Idea” of Creating Shared Value (CSV), and differentiates it from Corporate Social Responsibility.  He gives the example of ‘fair trade’ as a CSR principle which, while well-intentioned, actually isn’t sustainable itself and can only help “patch” a larger problem.  CSV, he insists, will get to the root problems that the farmer is having and will equip that farmer for sustainable success rather than slightly increasing their income per kilo of product sold.

Further, and most importantly, Porter devotes a huge amount of time in this interview on the “beyond-the-altruistic” reasons that doing things that are environmentally sound are actually straightaway good business, plain and simple.  This has been a point we have been making since the inception of EarthPM, borrowing from Green to Gold and other books of about 8-9 years ago and earlier.

Watch Porter, for example, at about 5:10 into the interview.   Listen to him talk about how the environment an business intersect.  It doesn’t take too much imagination to extrapolate what he says there to the slew of projects that would be triggered to garner the savings and gain the benefit Porter discusses.

This video (just click below to play it) is taken from a World Economic Forum interview.  If you are interested in the role business plays in sustainability, you’ll find this very interesting.  And if you are willing to challenge your thinking about CSR, listen to the critique that Porter has for it with an open mind.


Any comments or feedback?  After all, it’s about creating shared value!

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