Every little bit helps

We’ve been working now for several years to promote the integration of sustainability thinking into our discipline of Project Management.  And this hasn’t been easy.  After all, as project managers we’ve been programmed to think of a definitive start and finish of a project and to use these boundaries as part of our (justified) effort to limit scope and preserve precious project resources.

We take the view that – as project managers – we inherently are indeed good at preserving resources (project or otherwise) and are capable of thinking within those boundaries for the project but expanding the boundaries to the long-term when it comes to being a good corporate citizen and just doing the right thing.  We’ve also given examples, here, on our Projects@Work blog, in our book, and at our PMI Chapter Meeting presentations (coming up in Florida and Kansas City), of how this work is actually better for the economic bottom line for your enterprise as well.

However, we haven’t limited our work to those efforts.  We’ve of course sought to market our consulting and training (after all, we have to sustain ourselves, too), but we have been doing significant pro bono work.  Some of that has involved the ISO organization and our work with the US Technical Advisory Group (TAG) teams which work on ISO standards, in particular, and most recently, the ISO 21500:2012 Guidance on Project Management.

In that work, we’ve tied to assure that these standards include advice about thinking sustainably on projects.  And we’re happy and proud to say that this document does now cover the topic.  ISO 21500 – Guidance on Project Management has been released.  The focus and intensity still has a long way to go, but at least it’s there.  And we’re glad to have had an incremental contribution to what is now there.

So – what IS now there?

Below are some of the areas where sustainability thinking has been integrated into the standard:


3.4.2: “The evaluation process may include multiple criteria, including financial investment appraisal techniques and qualitative criteria, such as strategic alignment, social impact and environmental impact.  Criteria may differ from one project to another.”

3.5.1 “The project environment may impact project performance and success.  The project team should consider the following:

factors outside the organizational boundary, such as socioeconomic, geographical, political, regulatory, technological and ecological

–factors inside the organizational boundary….”

3.5.2 “Factors outside the organizational boundary may have an impact on the project by imposing constraints or introducing risks affecting the project.  Although these factors are often beyond the control of the project manager, they should still be considered.”

3.11 “… Achievement of consensus among key project stakeholders on the constraints may form a strong foundation for project success.

Some constraints could be the following

-factors related to health and safety of personnel

-the potential social or ecological impact of the project

Granted, this is not Earth-shattering.  But it’s a big step forward.  It’s more than we were able to accomplish with the PMI and the PMBOK(R) Guide, which rejected or deferred 19 proposed similar changes from EarthPM which were signed off by over 250 PMP(R) Credentialed petitioners.  So it’s progress and we’re glad to report it.  We think it will help lead PMI down the right path for the 6th Edition PMBOK(R) Guide when it comes out in several years.  And we should mention that with an appeals process, EarthPM did (persistence pays off!!) succeed in getting one of the changes into the pending 5th Edition PMBOK(R) Guide.

As we say in the title, every little bit helps.

We’ll continue to push.  How about you?



Salty, but sweet…

In this season of food fascination (what with Diwali, Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, and Christmas all involving sweet and savory cuisine), we couldn’t help but notice this delicious little tidbit in the Cape Cod Times of all places.

The story describes how the Massachusetts Department of Transportation (DOT) recently announced that it had developed a new system that will allow it to deal with icy roads, using the preventive application of brine – method that is both economically and environmentally sound.

The new brine system can pre-treat roadways before the snow accumulates.

From the article:

“This is not the first time a preventative approach has been tried; for years, Mass DOT has favored liquid magnesium chloride as a pre-storm treatment. One practical problem with this compound, however, is that it has a limited working life; it can only be applied a few hours before a storm is slated to hit.

In contrast, the brine solution does not use chemicals. It also uses less sodium, and costs only 55 cents a gallon, compared with 89 cents per gallon for the magnesium chloride. When you apply between 20,000 gallons and 30,000 gallons of the stuff, as the Massachusetts DOT does every year, that cost difference can add up quickly.

But the real savings may be found in the fact that brine can be applied two or three days, rather than hours, before a storm hits. This means that, with a little bit of planning, the state can substantially reduce the number of overtime hours it has to pay to employees and contractors.”

The system, from Brine Xtreme (see their web site here) costs about $250,000 but, as a preventive measure, has the sustainable effect of reducing the salting and sanding needed, saving lives, and putting less harmful materials into the local aquifer.

The article goes on to argue for regional, multiple-town collaborations:

“(This) represent(s) yet another example of how a regional approach can accomplish more than individual towns can on their own. A centrally-located brine machine in the mid-Cape area could potentially become a Cape-wide clearing house for ice clearing.”

It also mentions – and we need to mention this for our project management readers – that the implementation of this steady-state solution (pun intended) is the outcome of a pilot project in Western Massachusetts.  So once again, we see the intersection of sustainability and project management in a very real, salt-of-the-earth sort of way!




If trash could talk…

First of all, we would like to give full credit to the Cape Cod Times for an outstanding editorial which they published yesterday.

Next, we’d like to make that available to you.

And finally (of course) we have our own editorial comment on their editorial comment.  Bear with us, it’ll be worth it!

So first – on with the editorial.  Note the highlighting – it’s ours.  Pay attention to these areas in particular.


Trash talk

Thinking green keeps us in the black

September 09, 2012 2:05 AM

Every town on the Cape will soon be paying a lot more money to dispose of its trash. Beginning in 2015, the Cape’s contracts with the SEMASS Resource Recovery facility (incinerator) in Rochester will begin to expire, and there is every indication that the charges per ton of trash from each town will more than double. Although no one likes higher bills, this looming increase is an opportunity for individuals and municipalities to better focus their efforts on recycling.

Right now, it costs Cape towns $37 to dump each ton of trash at SEMASS. Brewster, the only local community to negotiate a new contract, will pay $70 per ton. All evidence suggests that Brewster got a bargain: bids from six other vendors ranged from $78 per ton to $90 per ton. When you take into account that the Cape annually generates approximately 200,000 tons of trash, that translates into a price jump of between $8.2 million and $10.6 million per year.

When it comes to trash, the math is more than a little simple: The more trash that goes to SEMASS, the more it costs taxpayers. Therefore, anything that reduces that waste stream heading off Cape reduces the revenue stream heading in the same direction.   And yet, as simple as that is, Cape municipalities continue to struggle to increase their recycling rates.
Last year, Sandwich recognized the need to control waste costs and instituted a pay-as-you-throw policy. Under this approach, residents purchase a transfer station sticker for only $55, half the previous year’s price. They must also buy town-issued trash bags at a set cost. These are the only bags accepted at the town landfill. Recycling remains free. In general, the new system has been a resounding success. Again, the personal math is pretty direct: reduce your trash, reduce your costs.

Certainly, there are those who have tried to get around the system. Some in Sandwich have said that they now bring their trash to friends in neighboring communities who still pay a one-time fee for a sticker and then can dump an unlimited amount of trash. It remains to be seen just how much weekly trash runs might stretch the bonds of friendship.
More importantly, however, circumventing the system simply shifts the problem rather than solves it. The fact is we generate far too much trash and we treat that which we generate far too casually. One could argue that we live in a disposable society, where individual-sized packaging offers us conveniences about which our predecessors could only dream. But such convenience comes with a cost.

Perhaps it is because most of us no longer bury our trash in the communities in which we live, but we are now more removed from the consequences of our waste than at any time in human history. We can look at pictures of SEMASS, but without that direct contact, the scope of trash, and our individual role in the problem, can remain comfortably distant.
What needs to happen is a fundamental shift in terms of how each of us regards our contributions to the waste stream. The old mantra of reduce, reuse, recycle remains the battle cry when it comes to keeping the planet as green as possible. If that is not enough to prompt us to shift our attitudes, perhaps we should recognize that the same phrase will also help keep our communities out of the red.

Copyright © Cape Cod Media Group, a division of Ottaway Newspapers, Inc. All Rights Reserved.


The editorial speaks for itself, but we want to make sure you have the PM-Sustainability-Intersection twist that we are always so keen to point out.  Below are some of the lessons learned from this Editorial that you can apply in general to sustainability thinking and in particular to your projects, wherever they fit on our scale of greenality.


  1. Sustainability provides tremendous innovation opportunities.  In this case, the towns of Brewster and Sandwich took what could have been a threat and turned it into an opportunity to either innovate or negotiate savings.
  2. The fact that we are separated from our waste – not only physically, but mentally, can be a negative.  We don’t think about efficiency.  We don’t think about ways to stop generating waste in the first place.  Look to your projects with a mindset of a very closed loop and realize that removing waste (think ‘lean’ PM) from your project and ensuing operation is a good thing.
  3. Being green (or thinking sustainably) is not only about altruism, although it is that, too.  It is about moving from the red to the black.


What do you think?  How do you feel about the Editorial?  Are you getting from it the same strong messages that we see there?


Charged Up!

At EarthPM, sustainability in project management is exciting.

And that excitement is palpable when we really start to apply what we’ve learned to projects.  That excitement is even more, well, exciting, when the project itself is focused on sustainability and we get to serve a key role in enabling that project.

That’s the case with today’s press release (see below), in which – with a bit of electricity about  it – we announce our partnership with ECOCar 2.

We won’t bore you with details here.  It’s actually best to let this young man from Virginia Tech tell you about it himself.  Then read our Press Release.

Click below to see the full press release


Portfolio Risk (and Vulnerability) Management


As a project manager you are (or you had better be) very aware of project risk.  And you are aware (or you had better be aware) that risk comes to us as positive risk (opportunity) or negative risk (threat).

This posting is about something ever-so-slightly different.

First of all, it’s not really threat we’ll discuss here, but vulnerability.   Next, it’s not really at the project level that this post will cover risk management, nor even at the program level, but at the portfolio level.

The Rejection of Sustainability as ‘yet another ridiculous bothersome constraint’ by Project Managers

In fact, as we research the intersection of sustainability and project management, we find that it may be necessary to ‘escalate’ the level at which we approach this from the project level to the PMO or portfolio level.  Why?  To put it bluntly and rather directly, we’re finding – disappointingly – that many project managers still, just don’t “get it” when it comes to sustainability.  They cling to the idea that “I manage my project, and that’s it.  Any other stuff you throw at me, like this “sustainability junk” (as some have actually put it to us) is extra work.  Not only that, but your sustainability stuff brings with it the luggage of an ‘extremist’ view which is not my view or my company’s view”.  These aren’t actual quotes but it’s a composite of a palpable chunk of feedback we’ve seen as we ‘make the rounds’ on Linked In, PMI Chapters, Twitter, and in our seminars.

The Program and Portfolio Level

At the program – and in some organizations, at the portfolio level, the suite of projects being performed is much more connected to the the execution of the enterprise’s strategy, and thus, closer to the enterprise’s mission and value statements.  And these mission and value statements are much more likely to be connected, in turn, to the portfolio/program level than they are to a remote project manager and his or her specific (and likely much smaller) project.  And it’s at this level, perhaps at the PMO level, where cross-project common threats and opportunities are identified.  It’s also at this level where the management reserves are set aside to cover these common threats across projects (for example a labor strike).

Threats and Vulnerabilities

We could get into a whole philosophical argument over the definitions of vulnerabilities, threats, and risks, and in fact, if you want to go down that road, click here.   For our sake and so that we can get to our main point, let’s say that vulnerability will, to us, represent exposure to a threat.

Climate change vulnerabilities

So…to our point – and one that is right at the intersection of sustainability and project (or rather PORTFOLIO) management: Climate Change, whether you believe in it or not, is being assessed by those with some reasonable science behind them, to cause some vulnerabilities.  Those vulnerabilities include Health Risks, Weather Disasters, Habitat Loss, and Economic Stress.  We think you’d agree that if you are running a project – or a portfolio of projects (say, constructing some bridges) in a region which will be hit with any of these, it would expose your portfolio to threats.  To that end, a very good graphic has been created by DARA , a Madrid-based humanitarian advocacy organization.  This is the image we’ve used in our post and by clicking on it you will get the full-sized PDF of this infographic.  Or just click HERE.

Below is the text that describes what is shown on the chart:

The punch climate change packs varies from one country,
region or continent to another. DARA, a Madrid-based
humanitarian advocacy organization, recently partnered with
the Climate Vulnerable Forum, comprising countries particularly
vulnerable to climate change, to create Climate Vulnerability
Monitor 2010, an atlas of vulnerability. This infographic
presents a small portion of the picture the Climate Vulnerability
Monitor paints.  Vulnerability is grouped into four
categories: health impacts, weather disasters, habitat loss
and economic stress. Circles on the left side of each set
indicate relative magnitude of vulnerability in 2010. Circles
on the right indicate the same for 2030.

Our message to you is two-fold.

1. If you are a project manager, look up.  Look up to  your program and portfolio levels.  Look up further, to your organization’s strategies.  Look even further up – to the organization’s mission and vision statements. And..look even further up – is that a hurricane cloud?

2. If you are a project, program, or portfolio  manager, or a PMO staffer, or a business manager who happened to read this post by accident, have a look at the infographic.  H ave you considered these vulnerabilities?  They’re possible.  They should at least be considered.  And even if you are the world’s biggest cynic on climate change, it’s still important for you to know that this science is in the minds of others, others that you deal with.

Thanks for your attention.

More like this in our book – Green Project Management, and in our upcoming seminars and webinars.  Stay tuned for announcements about those…