Hypoxia Revisited

We blogged about hypoxia (this seems surreal) more than three years ago, at which time we referred to our book, Green Project Management, as “our upcoming book”.  A lot happens in three years.  The book is out, has been recognized with PMI’s highest award for literature, and has been used in University courses on sustainability.   And, that book directly covers the topic of hypoxia in the Gulf of Mexico, and today it (hypoxia, that is, not our book) made it into the CBS Evening News:

You may want to visit our older post, here.

Or, for your convenience,

From PlanetSave.com, there is this very good and concise description:

Dead zones — whether hypoxic (very low oxygen) or anoxic (no oxygen) — are caused primarily by high-levels of nutrient pollution. This nutrient pollution — mostly the fertilizers used in industrial agriculture — causes large algal blooms which use up all of the oxygen in a given environment. As a result, the environment becomes devoid of life — a “dead zone”. These deadzones have been increasing in frequency and scale since at least the 1970s. More than 1.7 million tons of potassium and nitrogen make their way into the Gulf of Mexico every year as a result of agricultural runoff — via the Mississippi river.

If the 2013 Gulf of Mexico dead zone becomes as large as is being predicted it will cover an area the size of New Jersey. The 2013 predictions were made by modelers at the University of Michigan, Louisiana State University, and the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium.

As we will be in Louisiana – New Orleans in particular – at the end of October, for the PMI North America Congress, we bring this again into focus as an example of a trigger for projects in the area of sustainability.  Anything that can reduce the flow of chemical fertilizers into the Mississippi, any ‘outcome’ that contributes to the decrease of hypoxia, is a ‘green by nature’ project, so it gets our attention.

And that’s not where it stops.  Not by a longshot.  Because hypoxia is a good example of the lessons to be learned for the other end – the ‘green in general’ part of the sustainability-in-PM spectrum.  We say this because it’s a very real example of how long-term thinking can and should be part of ANY project.  If your project produces a steady-state outcome (think: fertilizers into the Gulf) you can work this back into your risk register and an expanded definition of project success that will have you thinking – properly – like a a sustainability-oriented PM, an evolved PM.

In any case – it certainly cannot hurt to get educated about the science of hypoxia.

We look forward to meeting some of you in New Orleans!

Communicating Greenality


How do you get the word out (to customers, for example) and in (to employees, for example) with respect to your organization’s sustainability goals, efforts, and of course, successes?

How do you communicate what we call greenality – that combination of green and quality that represents commitment to the long term success of your projects and the steady-state view of an enterprise?

How do you do this effectively, powerfully,and without “greenwashing”?

We’ll admit it right here: we do not know the answer.

But – like any good project manager – we know where to go to find it.

And we did find a good way to answer this question, courtesy of three excellent posts from a blog called GreenOrder, part of the GreenBiz family of websites.

Below are the links.  We suggest you read these and bookmark the blog – an excellent source of information for a project manager – especially that particular breed of PM which knows of their key role in connecting business ideation to strategy to operations with successful, sustainable projects.

 Part 1 – Align the message

Part 2 – Sustainability cuts risk

Part 3 – 8 Questions to ask as you get organized




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!

Mind the gap, indeed



We like plays on words…  as you may have figured from reading our posts.

This one involves using the double meaning of “Mind The Gap” – the omnipresent message in The Tube (London’s Underground) and referring to the space between the train and the floor.  It also involves a double meaning with respect to “in deed” – we mean to say here that there are some things you can do in “deeds” (actions) to help your projects.

But let’s get our minds back up on ground level first.  So we now exit The Tube and come back up on terra firma.

Whatever do we mean by the gap, and what are these deeds?


The Gap

Here we refer to the communications gap.  We refer to the fact that project management is about 80 to 90% communications.  So if you have a gap here, your projects will suffer.  Recently, PMI relseased their Pulse of the Profession study on communications.  It’s entitled, “The High Cost of Low Performance – The Essential Role of Communications” and as of this writing, the document is available for free download (member or not), at this link.


The Deeds, indeed

Since we can provide you with a link to the study we won’t write a long post here.  But we do want to give you the context and the relationship to sustainability.  After all, EarthPM has thrived based on this intersection.  And we thrive because we have helped organizations understand that this is a key intersection.

We draw your attention to one particular part of the study, illustrated with the simple graphic below:


The simple act of frequently communicating the business strategy – which we assert includes sustainability elements – provides a 16% advantage in meeting the projects’ original goals and business intent.   16% for simply connecting your project’s objectives with the objectives of the business.  What project manager would not like a power boost like that?  And in exchange for something with such low effort and, we would add, something you should be doing anyway!

This is very much in line with one of our most popular posts, “In This Case, Unplugged Is a Bad Thing“, so we suggest you pop back there for a visit if you want a bit more of our take on this topic.

For now, though, we ask you to mind the gap and head over to PMI’s site to read about this simple improvement you can make – at the intersection of sustainability and project management.


The Psychology of Sustainability – the Green Brain


This is one of the better talks on Sustainability we’ve heard in a while.

It’s by Simran Sethi, a journalist who has been called one of the 10 (or 20, depending on who’s counting) most influential women in sustainability.  Here she talks about the way she personally experienced ‘culture clash’ when she moved to Lawrence, Kansas from New York City.  But the scope of her talk is much larger – and she covers topics near and dear to  our hearts as project managers, such topics as stakeholder management, risk response, even (though not mentioned specifically) Maslow and Herzberg’s motivational theories.

A couple of quotes (or near quotes) we like:

“those who don’t believe in science believe in thermometers

“value exists beyond the balance sheet”

“when it comes to assessing and responding to risks, as humans we tend to react only to those which are

  • instantaneous
  • imminent
  • personalized
  • repulsive”

Watch it – you will enjoy it.

You’ll find it on the Greenbiz.com video site – just click HERE.  It’s under 12 minutes long.  You have the time.  You won’t be sorry.