“Enough” “Already” with the “Quotes”


George Will, the conservative columnist for the Washington Post, has “outdone” himself recently with an “editorial” in which he goes after the activists trying to have their universities divest themselves of carbon-intensive industries.

It’s titled, “‘sustainability’ gone mad on college campuses”.  Those are quote marks around the word sustainability.  You can read it as George intended, with a heavy sigh and a dose of distaste and dismissal.  Because that’s what he meant to do with those little marks – we’re quite sure of it.

We tend to stay away from politics, and will attempt to do so in this post, but what we would like to do is to take issue with the cavalier attitude that Will takes in terms of the science of climate change and the minimizing of fact-based, quantitative decision making, something we (I hope) treasure as project managers.  If you are interested in a more political take on George Will and his tendency to get things wrong on climate change, visit this blog post.

Here’s Will’s post (click here) you may want to read it for context first.  We recommend that you do.

Will is no dummy.  He’s a Pulitzer Prize winner, after all.  He makes some very good points about the effectiveness of the divestment effort.  The Boston Globe also recently had a front-page story about Harvard and MIT and their issues with this divestment challenge.  It’s not as clean (excuse the pun) an issue as it may seem.

Our point of contention with Will is around the disrespect he (and many of his ilk) have around science – and the propensity to accuse those who get behind the science of being nearly ‘religious’ zealots.  This is a hugely ironic model, since it is religious extremism which held (and in some cases, still holds) that:

  • the world is flat
  • the sun and planets revolve around the Earth
  • witches cause disease
  •  giant flying dragons eating the sun comprised the reason for eclipses

Luckily, in most cases, science prevailed and we worked from real and clear facts available to anyone willing to listen with an unbiased ear – and we determined that indeed, the Earth and planets revolve around the sun, that the world was in fact (nearly) spherical, that witches have almost no effect on disease, and that almost no dragons were involved in solar eclipses.

Infuriatingly, Will even puts the word sustainability in quotes, implying that it doesn’t exist.  Sustainability for him is clearly a leftist, socialist plot.  The concept of climate change, perhaps because some of the alarms were set by people like Al Gore, is distasteful and shady.  I’m not going to discount what George says because he’s, well, he’s George.

But George.  George, George, George.  Remember: sustainability just means durability and the ability to withstand and last.  It relates to the triple bottom line of ecological, social, and economic (yes – ECONOMIC) success in the long term.  There is no way that it should be in quotes.  The word “money” and “wealth” don’t appear in quotes in your columns, and neither should the word sustainability.  In fact, true conservatives should be “all in” when it comes to the science and art of sustainability because the root word of conservative is “conserve”.   And indeed one has only to look at Republican president Teddy Roosevelt for an example of someone who would cringe at the use of quotes around the word sustainability.  Roosevelt’s legacy included 4 National Game Preserves,  5 National Parks,  7 Conservation Conferences, 18 National Monuments,  24 Reclamation Projects, 51 Federal Bird Reservations, and 150 National Forests.

Dear George.  You do yourself and your readers a tremendous disservice when you berate and diminish science and a craving for facts.  Project managers, in particular, who work in the uncertain area of projects (which, by definition, involve activities never before done) need to have facts and have to watch out for bias and need to base decisions on fact, need good science as a basis for their planning.

To us it was also interesting to explore the 1,300-plus (wow!) comments to this article.

Here are two extremes, from the loony to the sane (you decide which is which):

“Surely this is not some universal theme. When I got my engineering degree, many of my professors had been practicing engineers before becoming faculty. Now, after 45 years in business and industry, I teach project management in college, in Iowa, in my retirement. And yet, I believe in Climate Change. Why? Because as an engineer, I accept the power of scientific measurement and respect scientists that specialize in various fields of research such as energy, material science and, yes, even climatology.”

“More warmist hoaxsters and progressive nonsense among the Lib elitist at “top-tier” colleges and universities. Virtually all of them worshipers at the God-less altar of Gaia-ism. When will they ever learn? ”

Let’s go back to respecting science and those who convey facts to us for good decision making.  Avoid the temptation to “diminish” “things” that are true and known by “putting quotes around them”.  It’s “below you”, “George”.

Oh.  By the way, if you want some facts on Climate Change, and you don’t “trust” “liberal” “universities” because of their “leanings”, you can go to the US Navy, which has assessed this in what we think is a fair and unbiased scientific way.

Sail off to this site for some facts.

And enough already with the quotes, George.  Keep it real.

Hey, I have an idea.  You want to use quotes?  Try this one, from Teddy Roosevelt:

“There can be no greater issue than that of conservation in this country.”

T. Roosevelt, August 6, 1912


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If a picture is worth 1000 words, how much is a little video worth?

Our new book?

A little video says more in a few minutes than we can writing about it here.

Besides.  We wrote a whole book… enough writing already!


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Our new book, Driving Project, Program, and Portfolio Success: The Sustainability Wheel is at the publisher.  This post is not meant to be a plug for the book (okay…maybe a little) but more of a recognition that we were on the right track.  Again and again, we see references in business and PM literature and discussion groups to an expanded version of project success – a major theme of our first book (Green Project Management) but even more so in this new one.  And just as we celebrated getting the manuscript over to the publisher, PMI delivered its technical journal “The Project Management Journal(R) to our door.

Featured both in the “From the Editor” section and in one of the principal articles is this theme of a broadened, more holistic view of project success.

From one particular article, “The Relationship Between Project Success and Project Efficiency (Serrador and Turner, 2015), we have this quote:


The importance of broader success measures for projects is now the norm. A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide)– Fifth Edition, as an example, no longer just mentions the triple constraint (Project Management Institute, 2013) and now includes project constraints such as scope, quality, schedule, budget, resources, and risks. It also refers to stakeholder satisfaction as well as other constraints that are not mentioned but may impact project success.
Now that the most recent edition of the PMBOK® Guide (Project Management Institute, 2013) recognizes stakeholder satisfaction as an additional measure of project success, it is timely to ask what the correlation is between that and project efficiency. Thus we see there are two competing measures of success on projects, what Cooke-Davies (2002) calls ‘project management success’ and ‘project success.’ We adopt more current terminology, which uses ‘project efficiency’ instead of project management success’ (Shenhar et al., 1997; Shenhar & Dvir, 2007) and define the two competing measures as: Project efficiency: meeting cost, time, and scope goals; and Project success: meeting wider business and enterprise goals as defined by key stakeholders.

As in many other cases, these articles eloquently describe this expanded view, and provide data and references to back up their assertions.

But they almost always leave out the aspect of sustainability – or at least what we would call a full, rich, connected coverage of sustainability in the business sense: economic, ecological, and social sustainability.  They tend to focus uniquely on the economic bottom line.  Our book takes these ideas conveyed in articles such as the one referenced here and include the aspects of sustainability identified by Sloan/MIT and others in their studies of thousands of business in which triple-bottom-line ‘embracers’ are the ones that are becoming more successful, not only in the altruistic goals of social and environmental justice, but in real, lasting, economic success, higher morale, and – ironically – more efficiently-run projects.

So it’s great for us to note the reaffirmation of white papers like this one for our upcoming book – and we hope you look forward to its arrival and to reading it as much as we enjoyed writing it.


Reference: Serrador and Turner, Project Management Journal 46(1), 30-38



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Front and Centre



Recently, the UK newspaper, The Guardian, decided to place climate change – as a topic – front and centre (we choose the British spelling for obvious reasons). in their reporting.

In an article from earlier this month, the paper explained why.  Here’s a quote:

Journalism tends to be a rear-view mirror. We prefer to deal with what has happened, not what lies ahead. We favour what is exceptional and in full view over what is ordinary and hidden.

Famously, as a tribe, we are more interested in the man who bites a dog than the other way round. But even when a dog does plant its teeth in a man, there is at least something new to report, even if it is not very remarkable or important.

There may be other extraordinary and significant things happening – but they may be occurring too slowly or invisibly for the impatient tick-tock of the newsroom or to snatch the attention of a harassed reader on the way to work.

What is even more complex: there may be things that have yet to happen – stuff that cannot even be described as news on the grounds that news is stuff that has already happened. If it is not yet news – if it is in the realm of prediction, speculation and uncertainty – it is difficult for a news editor to cope with. Not her job.

For these, and other, reasons changes to the Earth’s climate rarely make it to the top of the news list. The changes may be happening too fast for human comfort, but they happen too slowly for the newsmakers – and, to be fair, for most readers.

We think project managers are a little more focused on the future – that is, we are at least a little bit proactive and forward looking.  But not much more than the general public.  We’re necessarily focused on the end-date of our projects and tend to avoid looking at the long term, thinking of that as “after the handoff” and sometimes minimizing the considerations of the impact of the steady state of our project’s product.

This will be the theme of our upcoming book, “Driving Success in Projects, Programs, and Portfolios: The Sustainability Wheel”.  We’re proud to be building on the foundation of our Cleland Award-winning Green Project Management and to be more expansive in the audience and intent, now broadening the intersection of sustainability and PM to all of the P’s – Project, Program, and Portfolio Management, and moving closer to the ‘enterprise’ level, where companies have a strong bond between their mission, vision, and values – their “purpose” and the portfolios that make those a reality via projects and programs.

Our focus is on sustainability as Auden Schindler puts it – sustainability is about’being in business forever’ – as opposed to a purely ecological view.  So we’re focused on Triple Bottom Line thinking, not just considering the environment.  But the Guardian reminds us just how important that ecological aspect is – perhaps, as we say in our project management risk training – it contains an “overarching risk” that will make the economic and social considerations moot.  They do this with points like this:

There are three really simple numbers which explain this …

  1. 2C: There is overwhelming agreement – from governments, corporations, NGOs, banks, scientists, you name it – that a rise in temperatures of more than 2C by the end of the century would lead to disastrous consequences for any kind of recognised global order.

  2. 565 gigatons: “Scientists estimate that humans can pour roughly 565 more gigatons of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere by mid-century and still have some reasonable hope of staying below 2C,” is how McKibben crisply puts it. Few dispute that this idea of a global “carbon budget” is broadly right.

  3. 2,795 gigatons: This is the amount of carbon dioxide that if they were burned would be released from the proven reserves of fossil fuel – ie the fuel we are planning to extract and use.

So the ecological piece is indeed key.

In any case, we’re glad to see The Guardian take this stance.  We’ll continue to research, consult, and advise on the intersection of sustainability and PM (all the P’s!) and stay tuned to EarthPM as newspapers like The Guardian put the Earth front and…centre.

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Fifty Shades of Green


You may want to send the kids out of the room for this post.

It’s about bondage.  It’s about instruments.   It’s about taking risks.  It’s about desire.

But it’s not what you think.  At least – I don’t think so.  This is about bondage, in terms of financial bonds.  Instruments to assess and measure performance of companies, and a penchant for those who invest to get the desired result when they put their money into that investment.

A recent article, “Influence of Climate Science on Financial Decisions“, in Nature: Climate Change – actually a commentary piece, discusses the use of green bonds in shaping how a new financial market is developing.

The key quote is here:

Science should play a crucial role in defining green investments and shifting finance from brown to green activities. We need more green bonds and carbon pricing and less financing of coal and fossil-fuel subsidies to shift economies to a low-carbon future. To grow the market for green bonds and other green financial instruments, trust is of upmost importance for investors, issuers and the environmental community, as well as the general public. It is therefore essential over time to develop easily implementable environmental standards that can be used to grade green investments, if not into ‘fifty shades of green’, then into easily recognizable dark and light green categories that can guide investors in their quest for environmentally responsible investments. Such categories should be guided by the latest knowledge in climate science, leaving the financial community to choose the risk/return profile they desire.

We won’t reveal the entire article here, we’re just providing a tease.  However the main point is this:  Green Bonds are growing in importance and making a difference.  “Brown” investment, such as in fossil-fuel development is still dominant (another shade of green, we suppose) but instruments such as Green Bonds have a chance to turn things around, especially if fact-based science gets to play its deserved role in decision making.  From the article:

Green bonds are a simple financial instrument that, when coupled with climate science, can make a positive investment in a low-carbon climate-resilient future. A company or institution that issues a green bond also needs to coordinate across its internal financial and environmental departments, sending a signal to investors that it is better prepared to  proactively manage climate risk. The green bond market, although in its infancy, is growing rapidly.

We’re sure you see the connection between (at least) portfolio management and risk and investment in this idea of green bonds.  We suggest  you take time out from your varied activities (ahem!) to have a look at this piece and consider the use of financial investment and risk/reward as a way to bring that lasting power to your boardroom.  Boardroom!  We said Boardroom!

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