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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Sustainability in unlikely places…

hapoalimIn an article published by MIT/Sloan about this time last year, “Leading the Sustainability Insurgency”, we found this very intriguing opening paragraph:

The externally focused CSR function has run its course. Driven by need — or frustration — many sustainability managers are taking a new tack. Today’s successful sustainability executive is leading what can best be called a sustainability insurgency inside their organization. It is an insurgency that breaks the bounds of job description, budget constraints and the limits of “moral influence.” Its goal is simple: to alter the way business is done in every function and unit of the company.

We love the word insurgency because that is something that we project managers hold near and dear,  in that every project – by definition – is about change.  And we like leading change.  So we should, ironically, be attracted to sustainability efforts.  And because you can see that the sustainability officers are turning their efforts inside the organizations, perhaps the PMOs should be ready for programs focused on re-tweaking the sights of project managers on the longer-term and social aspects of projects.  That’s what CSR refers to above, after all – Corporate Social Responsibility.

And, since we just got back from a trip to Israel where we talked with start-up executives and sustainability experts, this piece of the article really caught our attention:

The Israeli bank Hapoalim, … traditionally recognized the standard industry practice of encouraging customers to maximize their home purchase by offering them the largest possible mortgage loan. However, employees and managers in touch with the community understood that big loans put customers at risk if personal or market conditions shifted. Bankruptcy is bad for both customers and business. With this social insight, instead of going straight for the jumbo loan, Bank Hapoalim began providing potential borrowers financial literacy advice to help them choose the best suite of financial products, giving them the know-how and tools to manage their financial responsibilities successfully. The end result was financially savvy and loyal customers that offered Hapoalim more and better business on an ongoing basis.
Hapoalim’s insight came through relating with the community and paying attention to the impacts of the company’s decisions on customers and society. In essence, they leveraged the social intelligence of their managers to improve company performance. This application of social intelligence is the goal of insurgent sustainability directors.

Our point?  Think about your project – and especially its end product and/or outcome.  Are there CSR opportunities or threats where you might least expect them?  By looking at social aspects, in particular, you may find them lurking just around an ATM!


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The Long View: No Bean Counters Allowed

This story is about Boston – and beans – but not the baked kind, the coffee kind.
The Boston Globe recently featured a story – “Percolating a Fresh View”, about coffee roaster Equal Exchange, and their $4M stock sale.
We feature it here on EarthPM because of a caption from one of the photos. The caption reads,

“Cofounder Rink Davidson and co-executive director Rob Everts say they are only interested in investors who are focused on the long view.

That’s been our mantra and forms the basis of our book, “Driving Sustainability Success in Projects, Programs and Portfolios – The Sustainability Wheel”, to be published by CRC Press in late 2015. See picture below.

COVER of BOOKSo: to the story of Equal Exchange. This is a company whose mission, according to their web site, is “to build long-term trade partnerships that are economically just and environmentally sound, to foster mutually beneficial relationships between farmers and consumers and to demonstrate, through our success, the contribution of worker co-operatives and Fair Trade to a more equitable, democratic and sustainable world”.

What do they do?
Per their web site, “We’ve worked with small farmer organizations since our founding in 1986, beginning with a co-op in Nicaragua, and now sourcing from over 40 small farmer organizations in Africa, Asia, Latin America and the United States. Our longstanding relationships allow us to secure the best crops, while continuing to develop innovative programs in collaboration with the co-ops, from crop diversification to quality trainings to women’s leadership development. “
You can learn more about their efforts here.

Now, just like (or as you’ll see below, sort-of-like) those people who walk through the door on Shark Tank, they were seeking (and have obtained) a $4M investment which will help them in several projects: building up inventory, upgrading their computer system, and getting a Canton, MA, USA warehouse ready for expansion.
In seeking this funding, they spoke with each investor (project managers: think “sponsor” and/or “stakeholder”) to see if their expectations and missions are in alignment. As it says in the article, “Investment banks? They’re not welcome. Takeover bids? They go in the trash.”

“We tell them right from the get-go that if (the dividend) is their primary objective, they’re investing in the wrong company.”

How about your company or organization? What’s in your “About Us” section? You may not have as altruistic a mission statement as Equal Exchange (EE), but we would guess that there are statements like EE’s in your mission and value statements. Are you as a Project, Program, or especially Portfolio Manager connected to these values? Are they driving your projects? Are you taking the long view?

Because more and more enterprises are “purpose” oriented and that means that they run their projects… on purpose. And you’ll be a better PM if you connect to that.
Seek your own “Equal Exchange” and connect with your enterprise’s values.
Grab a ‘cuppa’ and go click on your About Us page. We’ll wait.  We have a cup in front of us, too.

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“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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