The Rising Tide of Climate-Based Projects

sox worry


We’re not telling you to worry.  We’re telling you that people are worried.  People with money.  People who launch and sponsor projects.  They’re worried to the tune of nearly half-a-trillion US dollars.  Where is this worrying taking place?

Deep in the heart of Boston.  Thus, the image of the very worried young Red Sox fan in this post.

On the same day that John Henry, one of the owners of the Boston Red Sox, buys the Boston Globe, the front page story covering that news item is dominated by another, larger-headlined front page story by Casey Ross, entitled: A Rising Tide of Concern.


The article discusses reaction to climate change by real-estate owners and developers based on real and predicted sea-level and extreme weather changes.

You don’t have to believe ANYTHING about climate change – whether or not its real, who causes it, what the science behind it is or isn’t… all one has to do is look at the article and the amount of money at least imagined to be at risk, and the projects that this concern is launching, to realize that as a project manager, it’d be smart to be smarter about the subject in general.  That’s the point of EarthPM and the point of  our book as well as new chapters in books like the one just participated in, Sustainability Integration for Effective Project Management, and an upcoming chapter on sustainability in the AMA Project Management Handbook.

Being SMARTER (actually one of the concepts from the book Green Project Management) is the right thing to do.

Start by reading the article and you let us know if you do NOT see the intersection of climate change and project management – of sustainability and PM.


Big Green Project, Big Green Brain

Kal Penn, host of the Big Brain Theory, with the cast of engineers, scientists, and project managers behind him.


Recently we shared with you a powerful video from @simransethi called “the Psychology of Sustainability“.  In it, Simran mentions “the green brain” – the part of the brain that is not concerned with running away from a sabre-toothed tiger, but is actually more interested in figuring out how to deal with that danger in the longer term, perhaps developing defense or camouflage, considering relocation, and in general thinking more sustainably.

And as you know, as authors of Green Project Management, we have set our minds to the long-term thinking for our peers in the naturally short-term mindset of project management.  Our mantra has been to think about the success – and footprint – of the steady-state operation of the project’s product, not the project’s product itself.

Moving from Sethram’s video to a very different form of video – reality TV – we find yet another connection to green and project management.  In this show, contestants are pitted together as teammates and against each other as individuals (you have to watch the show to “get” that idea) in creating some sort of solution to various mechanical/electrical/physical challenges given by the show’s host, Kal Penn.

Before going any further, we want to say that we are strangely and unexpectedly attracted to this show.

Perhaps this is because what happens on each episode is that a project unfolds in real time before your eyes.  You watch a team of 5 individuals work as a team even though they have a not-so-hidden agenda of their own for personal gain.  Sound like any projects you’ve ever worked on?

Be honest.

On the last episode (SPOILER ALERT!) the teams were assigned the task of turning waterfall energy into the productive use of lifting a team member up 28 feet in an “elevator” and then letting them down safely to the ground, using only the power from the waterfall.

We highly recommend that you watch this video before continuing:

Here are some of the interesting takeaways we found from this episode – some general project management gems, and some related to sustainability thinking in PM.

  • Linking enterprise objectives to project goals. One team (the winning one, it turns out) actually incorporated sustainability in the design, deciding to siphon off some of the water to run a small generator which in turn powered the laptop and control/display mechanism.  The judges questioned the wisdom of this, wondering if the extra complexity would challenge their design and build time but also saying that if they could pull it off, it would be very ‘elegant’.  The team dynamics here were excellent.  The leader (Eric) had already been a team leader and learned that he needed to find a combination management style between directive and supportive – he was a little too supportive and not directive enough in his prior team.  Here he found the right balance and the team came through for him, right up to their choice to wear bellhop outfits for their “elevator” challenge.  Alison went up – and came down safely in this teams’ project’s product.  And the project needed no external power – staying more true to the ‘enterprise objective’ of being renewable.
  • Project Procurement Management.  The other team used a buoy system (topped by a rubber ducky!) which was meant to use the repellent power of the buoy to lift the elevator.  Great idea, although it relied on the construction of a large watertight tower made of Plexiglas and welded aluminum.  And it even worked… at first.  Then, the “float” started to sink.  Why?  The team didn’t specify the correct type of foam insulation – they used open-cell instead of closed-cell foam, and it absorbed water, became heavy, and thus, suffocated the poor ducky, and left poor Amy on the ground floor (jumping up and down to try to gain any possible mechanical advantage).  So this was all about project procurement management.
  • Project HR Management. The team dynamics in the ‘buoy’ team were, to put it mildly, rough.  As mentioned before, hidden agendas and drama were prolific throughout, with team members asserting their expertise in areas they knew nothing about, team members following the leader in a passive-aggressive manner, and the leader  (Gui) who had a great idea, a really great idea, not making the most of his resources, even sending one of his four remaining team members home.  One of our favorite characters on the show, Tom, who is indeed a project manager, got the flu.  So this team was down one person for the latter half of the challenge.

We leave you with a recommendation to watch the show.  We further recommend that you watch it with a few metaphorical hats on.


  • Hat 1: Your general project management hat – what types of team dynamics, team leadership, tools, techniques, etc., do you notice?  What worked, what didn’t?
  • Hat 2: Your sustainability hat – how could long-term thinking be employed in a very, very, very short-term project like this?
  • Hat 3: Your bellhop hat – just have some fun watching it!

Set your TV to the Discovery Channel, and set your brain to Green.  Then, inspired, go manage some green projects!

Your PM Career – Inside Out


In this month’s PM Network magazine, we were struck by the motivations to learn more about sustainability and project management from two angles:

  • Looking out at what’s going on in terms of types of projects
  • Looking at your career path within the company

We were inspired to call this post “Inside Out” because that’s how we think you can get an edge in planning your PM career.

Since the theme is “inside out”, let’s start from the back of the magazine and work forward.

Inside Out

Near the end of this issue is an article called “From Good To Great”.  It’s a short but nice collection of quotes and coaching on four key capabilities you should develop to provide yourself with an advantage in your PM career, based on what executives think they’ll be needing (using recent and solid data collected from Price Waterhouse Coopers (PWC)).

The four capabilities are:

  1. Business Smarts
  2. Change Management Expertise
  3. Requirements Management Prowess
  4. Sponsor Engagement Skills

We would assert that in each of these, a case could be made that understanding sustainability concepts and principles – and practical knowledge of sustainability as applied in PM – would be a common theme and a way to shore up each of these four capabilities.  Let’s look at them all in just one more ‘notch’ of detail.

Business Smarts

One of the things that we’ve been speaking about (and we have been increasingly in demand around the world as speakers!) is that “business gets it”.  What we mean by this (and we suggest you try this with your own company) is that businesses at least understand that sustainability is a message they want to promote.  Check your company’s “about us” page.  We have a high confidence level that whatever business you’re in, you will probably find a CSR (corporate social responsibility) and/or environmental management section, perhaps with pictures of daisies, butterflies, forests, deer, or tropical birds.  Now, what the company is actually doing in the area, although obviously important, is not the message here.  The message IS the message.  If your company is touting itself as a good citizen, then they are telling the world that they hold (for example) the environment as an important element of their planning.  A company which is truly serious about this is probably including environmental measures of success in its balance sheet but – that’s beyond today’s post.  Again – here we are only saying that your company is likely stressing their environmental concern publicly – so being connected to that energy is a good thing.  It’s ironic that the author used the term Business Smarts to title this section.  In our book, Green Project Management, we use the term “SMARTER” to echo the idea of the usual SMART objectives, with Environmentally Responsible integrated with the usual suspects – Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Relevant, and Time-bound.

Change Management Expertise

Again, in our talks around the world we stress that project managers are – by definition – agents of change.  You don’t even invoke a project if you didn’t want something to change; a bridge where there hadn’t been one before, a new hospital wing, a revision to accounting software…whatever.  And of course as project managers, one of our main calling cards is the ability to deal with the change within the project.  So the addition of sustainability as a new consideration is just more change that we have to deal with.  Those that can handle this and to not reject it out-of-hand is indeed a capability we agree is important, and one which sustainability-oriented PMs will master better than those who feel that this is just another constraint we don’t need or want.

Requirements Management Prowess

Again, this could be an entire chapter of a book or perhaps a book unto itself so we will settle for just saying that if you are a sustainability-oriented PM you will consider the long-term in understanding the true requirements of the project.  Our entire Chapters 9 and 10 are dedicated to this topic.

Sponsor Engagement Skills

This actually links back to the first capability – business smarts.  The reason the daisies and forests and butterflies are on the web pages are partially because of the altruism of the companies, partially due to the fact that doing good does indeed make a company do better (financially) but it’s also because increasingly, sponsors (consumers, managers, clients) are themselves more and more ‘green’.  So having a ‘green’ vocabulary, understanding life-cycle-assessment, for example, is going to be a plus in engaging these greener sponsors.

So that covers the ‘inside-out” portion.  What about “outside-in”?

Outside In

What we mean when we say ‘outside-in’ is the fact that there are some projects that themselves are blatantly oriented towards sustainability.  These are the ones we define in our book as “green by definition”.  And there are indeed stories in PM Network this month, as there are increasingly every month, about wind, solar, biofuel, transportation and other projects which need project managers.  These projects, which may be outside your current company, may just be calling you – or calling ON you – in the future.

In this particular issue, the stories happen to be about the increasingly complex and larger wind farm deployments off the coast of Europe, and also about Chile’s growing demand for renewable power.  In both cases, the demand for ‘green’ project managers is up.  Way up.

So how about your career?  Have you at least taken the time to understand this sustainability “thing”?  We encourage you to do so by staying tuned here, reading our book, inviting us to speak at your PMI chapter, or at the very least, reading the PM Network magazine which inspired this post.


A ‘golden era’ of home-building?


Continuing our theme of pessimistic optimism (or is it the other way around?) we look at a syndicated column from Mary Umberger of Tribune Newspapers, titled, Utility bills?  That’s so passe“.

In the article, we discover the work of David Goswick, head of a company (HOUZE) that guarantees the buyers of its new homes that they will pay no electric or gas bills for the first 10 years, because the homes are so efficient that they will indeed have energy to sell back to the utilities!

HOUZE houses generate their own electricity with natural gas power cell which generates enough electricity to power the home, and several others. HOUZE maintains ownership of the power cell, pays the natural gas bill, and is able to sell the ‘extra’ energy back to the utility companies. The homes are thus reasonably priced for buyers, since they provide a source for ongoing income to HOUZE  in the steady-state.

The power cell is roughly the size of a traditional air conditioning unit, and can store the unused energy in back-up batteries and/or contribute it back to the electricity grid.

HOUZE has brought together many brand names (wisely) to help promote this technology.  From their press release:

Numerous leaders in the building, technology and energy industries are showing their support for HOUZE, resulting in an impressive coalition of strategic brands. Through the dedication of these companies, including AT&T, Carrier, CHASE, James Hardie, Pella, Murff Turff, and the American Gas Association, HOUZE is accelerating the transformation of the residential and commercial building industry from being one of the largest consumers of energy to zero energy buildings that consume less energy, efficiently produce on-site energy and leave a near zero carbon footprint.

So this is an example of what the builder calls a ‘golden era’ – but even if you don’t buy that it’s gold, it is at least a somewhat green expansion of the home-building industry, one that smacks of optimism.

What do you think?

Learn more here.


Get a (Green) (PM) Job



The Project Management Institute has issued its Global Jobs Report (January, 2013), highlighting “5 Sectors to Watch”.

The good news overall – demand for PM skills hit a four-year high in 2012 (despite the general economic decline over those years).

The five sectors analyzed in this Report:

  • Tech
  • Healthcare
  • Infrastructure
  • Energy
  • Finance

…and although the Energy section of the report was titled, “If Energy Is Your Game, Think Green“, the theme of sustainability was prevalent throughout the pages, especially in Energy and Infrastructure.

So what does this report say?  Well the best way to find out is to read the whole thing in the January edition of PMNetwork.

But we’d like to summarize some the the key points of the Energy sector report here.

The tips they have for landing a Green PM job:

  • you can break into the sustainable energy field by playing up accomplishments and qualifications that transfer across industries
  • track industry news so you know which projects are moving forward (we recommend joining one of the sustainability-oriented LinkedIn groups, like GreenBiz, Green, EarthPM, or Sustainability Professionals).
  • reach out to companies before they’re ready to hire so you are on their ‘radar’

Some ‘pull-quote’ highlights from the report:

  • “The long-term trend suggests that the number of solar power projects will double every year for the next few years,” says Seth Masia, spokesman for the American Solar Energy Society, a not-for-profit advocacy group in Boulder, Colorado, USA. “Owners will be looking for specialists with project management skills to run these projects.”  Prospects should think big, as in the 115-megawatt Toul-Rosières solar power project near Nancy, France and the 1.5-gigawatt Atlantic Array Offshore Wind Farm project off the coast of Wales. Those kinds of projects will need project and program management talent at every level.
  • “The smaller, 5-10 kilowatt projects often don’t have trained project managers assigned to them; that work is often done by an experienced technical person,” says Peter Beadle, CEO of, Fairfield, California, USA. “The real demand for project management skills is on the larger projects where there is no substitute for trained, experienced project managers.”
  • Even for project managers without sector experience, it’s a good time to get a foot in the door, he says. “Renewable projects, especially wind and solar, are essentially big civil construction projects, so if you have construction expertise, companies may well be interested.”

Our book, Green Project Management, we must say, provides a good working vocabulary and fundamental base for anyone who wants to transition to a sustainability-oriented PM career focus.  You may just want to give that a read (as a New Year Resolution?).

So.  Go out there.  And get a job.  Or enhance your job possibilities.  It’s all good.