Sometimes, you just have to ask!



You may be surprised.  Sometimes when you want something – all you have to do is ask.  This article from today’s Boston Globe illustrates a key principle of project management.

Communications is key.

Whether it’s looking for additional resources, gaining access to what we thought may be privileged information, or getting a variance on a permitting process, sometimes it’s just a matter of asking.

And that’s what happened here.

BEIJING — Communist China is hardly known for its transparency. So when environmental groups appealed to the government last year to disclose official data on air pollution, they were not expecting much.

‘‘Way beyond our expectations, the government actually said yes,’’ said Ma Jun, head of the Institute of Public and Environmental Affairs in Beijing. ‘‘I am quite amazed.’’

Since Jan. 1, the central government has required 15,000 factories — including influential state-run enterprises — to publicly report details on air emissions and water discharges in real time, an unprecedented degree of disclosure that is shedding light on the who, what, when, and where of China’s devastating environmental problems.

The reporting requirement is part of a striking turnaround by China’s government, which is also publishing data on the sootiest cities and trying to limit the use of coal.

The country’s appalling air is blamed for more than a million premature deaths a year, for producing acid rain that damages the nation’s agriculture, for driving away tourists, and even for encouraging the brightest students to study abroad. Perhaps just as important, Beijing’s bad air has been making its Communist leaders lose face.

Cleaning up China’s bad air will take years, even in the best of circumstances. The economy is dependent on coal, and many powerful interests are involved. But activists say the new steps could at least represent the beginning of change.

Linda Greer of the Natural Resources Defense Council in Washington says the reporting requirement for factories is the ‘‘biggest thing’’ China has done to address its pollution problems, and the most likely to produce results.

‘‘It brings them from the back of the pack globally, in terms of public information disclosure, to the front of the pack,’’ Greer added by phone. ‘‘Inevitably it will strengthen the hand of regulators when they have bad air-pollution days, to look at real-time data.’’

The full article is here  – and we suggest you have a look – and a bit of inspiration.



China: expansion, environment, and engagement

devouring dragon

One of the better shows on NPR, (the USA’s National Public Radio) “On Point”, is set to cover an important story, and an important aspect of sustainability.  It’s subject: the expansion of China as a major economic power and the environmental cost of its explosive growth.

The story will feature an interview with Craig Simons, author of the new book, The Devouring Dragon: How China’s Rise Threatens Our Natural World.

Below, courtesy of the publisher, MacMillan, we provide you with part of the first chapter of the book. We also encourage you to listen to the podcast or the show, OnPoint, when it airs on the 17th of June.  Here is the link to that upcoming show.  There you will actually find the entire first chapter, if you find this teaser intriguing.

The connection to project management?

As usual, it’s our assertion that as a project manager (for example) in charge of the construction of a new manufacturing plant, your role is to assure not only that it meets manufacturing requirements, but that you step back and check the enterprise’s strategic objectives (and/or those of the administering state or province) and assure meeting long-term, operational success in every respect – people, planet, product, profit, process, project.

Enjoy the preview.  Let us know what you think of the OnPoint broadcast.


On a warm, gray afternoon I found myself standing on a cracked mud bank of the world’s third-longest river thinking about what it is and was and could become. The scene looked nothing like the Yangtze popularized in scroll paintings and travel guidebook photographs. There were no mist-shrouded mountains or wooden fishing boats, no swooping sparrows or spindle-legged herons, no blue-water waves or Buddhist pagodas.
Instead, I looked across a quarter mile of turbid, rust-colored water flecked with trash. A dirty rubber ball, a few soda bottles, and a crumpled potato chip bag floated next to a hunk of Styrofoam. Two medicine vials and a rotting cabbage had washed ashore near the disintegrating hull of an abandoned ferry. A half-dozen barges carrying small mountains of goods—coal, steel, motorcycles, giant metal containers—pushed upstream against foot-high waves, each pouring a chimney of smoke into the smoggy sky.
The Yangtze cuts a line through the heart of China, traveling thirty-nine hundred miles from a glacier high on the Tibetan plateau to where it empties into the East China Sea just north of Shanghai, and I was standing roughly at its midpoint, in the center of Chongqing, a city most famous to Westerners as the launching point for trips through the Three Gorges, the narrow, steep canyons through which the Yangtze funnels on its journey east. Until 2006, when the Chinese Communist Party celebrated the completion of the Three Gorges Dam, tens of thousands of foreigners traveled to Chongqing each year to board cruise ships that took them through the gorges, and the river became as well known outside of China as the Great Wall or Beijing’s Forbidden City. Early visitors included people like Archibald Little, a merchant who boated through the gorges in 1887 and was careful to write down each day’s date because, as he put it, the “river varies so wonderfully at different seasons that any description must be carefully understood only to apply to the day upon which it is written.”
But the dam had changed everything. Standing by the river, watching the barges grind their way past a landscape of construction cranes and half-finished apartment buildings, listening to the din of traffic, I couldn’t imagine any seasonal variation. Soon, the only way the river would mark the movement from summer to fall and fall to winter was by where its waters fell against black and white numbers painted on concrete banks. On the day I stood on its shore, the Yangtze had reached 163. Translated, that meant the top of the Three Gorges Dam reservoir was 163 meters—534 feet—above the base of the dam, still too low to reach Chongqing but close.


Tiger tale: a green-by-definition project

This story is about the Siberian tiger and an effort we read about recently in China Daily that meets our definition of a “green-by-definition” project.  This definition comes from our book, Green Project Management, in the section where we discuss “A Rainbow of Green”, noting that there is a spectrum of projects with respect to the focus on sustainability (or Corporate Social Responsibility in general).

I was recently in Malaysia where there are still tigers.  I didn’t see any (they typically don’t roam the streets of Kuala Lumpur, where I was) but I was assured by my  hosts that they’re around.  You can see from the list below there are only 700 or so remaining.

In the early 1900s, there were around 100,000 tigers throughout their range. Today, an estimated total of around 3,000-4,500 exist in the wild. Below is a breakdown of tiger numbers by subspecies.

Bengal tiger: Less than 2,000
Indochinese tiger: 750-1,300
Siberian tiger: Around 450
Sumatran tiger: 400-500
Malayan tiger: 600-800
South Chinese tiger: Extinct in the wild
Caspian tiger: Extinct
Javan tiger: Extinct
Bali tiger: Extinct

The story (link here) is about Liang Feng’en – a wildlife ranger at the Suiyang Forestry Bureau in southeast Heilongjiang province.

Liang, who is  55, patrols the mountains on the Russian border to monitor Siberian tigers, and destroy hidden traps.

From the article:

“I used to be the best hunter in the region when I retired from the army 30 years ago. But now I look after the animals, including tigers, black bears, roe deer and even squirrels,” said the deeply tanned Liang, decked out in green camouflage clothing.

The change came in 2004 when Liang was hired as a wildlife protector. His new role coincided with greater efforts by the authorities to save the environment for wildlife in northeast Asia.

 Tigers are native to Asia, with many primarily found in southeastern Russia and northern China. There are eight subspecies and China is home to around 50 wild tigers from four of those subspecies.

Around 20 Siberian tigers and 10 to 20 Bengal tigers live in the Heilongjiang River Basin and the Tibet autonomous region, according to the World Wild Fund for Nature.

“The Siberian tiger is more endangered than the giant panda now. It faces extinction without effective protection. And the extinction of this “umbrella species” would be a disaster for the entire ecosystem,” said Fan Zhiyong, director of the WWF China’s species program.

An umbrella species is one whose survival indirectly protects many other species within its habitat. In China, they include the giant panda, the Siberian tiger and the Asian elephant.

As part of the Chinese improvements in wildlife protection, many former loggers and hunters like Liang have now become forest rangers. Their daily work has changed from destruction of the local habitat and wildlife to anti-hunting measures, monitoring movements and raising public awareness of the tigers’ plight.

The recovery program is summarized graphically below.  We encourage you to read the entire article.

From our perspective, this serves to illustrate another example of a project where the intent and focus is on a sustainability-oriented outcome.  In this case, the outcome is indeed the sustainability of an “umbrella species”, and in turn an entire ecosystem.  This focus also means that the project managers involved are ‘automatically empowered’ to integrate sustainability into the project – since it’s inherently a part of the project’s charter.  The challenge for most of the rest of us – who are overseeing new software releases or new product development, or marketing campaigns – is that we have to actually work harder to integrate sustainability in our projects.  This is why we encourage you to subscribe or at least check in often with our blog, where we continue to provide tips and tools for doing just that.

In the meantime, take some inspiration from Liang Feng’en!

A guest post from Meika Jensen: e-waste matters

We provide you with this guest post by Meika Jensen because it covers a sustainability-oriented topic and could yield some personal and business projects for our readers.


eClean-up: A Look at Efforts to Clean Up Electronic Waste

Even if you regularly recycle your plastic and your paper, there may be another kind of waste that needs special attention: old electronics and batteries. While it is far harder to find places to recycle or properly dispose of electronics and batteries, it is important to do so because this category of waste presents unique dangers. Full of toxic metals, these products often should be disposed by someone who is properly trained. The knowledge levels needed to fully understand the sustainability issues involved may even require a masters degree. But this is often not the case as the world’s poorest brave toxic conditions to harvest the valuable metals that remain after electronics are discarded.

These electronics, referred to as e-waste when discarded, are hazardous because they contain heavy metals that begin to leak when packed into the acidic environment of a landfill. According to the Iowa Department of Natural Resources, 40% of the lead and 75% of the heavy metals found in landfills are the result of improperly disposed of e-waste. There is such a high concentration of electronic waste in most landfills that if there is a leak or run-off, it would be incredibly toxic and could poison groundwater.

The dangerous materials associated with e-waste are several: lead, cadmium, mercury, hexavalent chromium, PVC, and brominated flame-retardants, all with varying effects on the environment. Mercury, for example, causes improper brain function in individuals who are exposed to it for an extended time period. Small amounts of cadmium can accumulate in the human body, particularly the kidney, and cause irreversible health problems, while lead is known to cause damage to individuals’ nervous systems.

Within the United States, there has yet to be a federal law that address electronic waste comprehensively, though there have been several attempts at a National Computer Recycling Act, though this has yet to pass into law. Therefore, currently, the clean up of electronic waste is dealt with on the state level, with most states banning or restricting dumping of electronics.

California’s comprehensive e-waste program dictates all electronic devices are to be categorized and assessed, then levied a tax upon purchase that goes towards funding infrastructure for independent recyclers to collect electronics within the state. Once a consumer of an electronic device decides to recycle the device, he or she gets a small payment, in other words, a reimbursement of a portion of the previously assessed tax, for having recycled the item. Moreover, in California, it is illegal for any electronic waste to be placed within a landfill or otherwise thrown away.

Unlike the United States, which is just beginning to implement ecycling, Europe has had comprehensive legislation in place for collecting electronic waste since 2003. In the European Union’s strategy, each member country provides many easily accessed facilities for citizens to recycle their electronic equipment, in the hopes that, with knowledge and availability, most electronic consumers will recycle the vast majority of their electronic equipment. Unfortunately, without any incentive, the program has not been highly effective – only about one third of electronic waste in Europe is properly recycled, which has lead to European Union leaders revisiting the regulation.

One of the primary problems, in both the United States and Europe has been the illegal exporting of electronic waste to countries that have fewer restrictions on its disposal. Two countries that seem willing to accept electronic waste are China and Nigeria. In fact, it is estimated that ninety percent all electronic waste from the United States ends up in Chinese landfills. While this may seem advantageous to the United States, it is troubling as a worldwide trend. After all, when improperly disposed of, electronic waste is truly poisonous. Whether it poisons Americans or Chinese, the ultimate result will be widespread birth defects, sickness and death.

While these effects may not take place immediately, within twenty to a hundred years, the areas that have the most electronic waste disposals may become unlivable. Although the best way to quell the waste problem is to reduce the demand and consumption of the toxins, ramping up our recycling efforts is imperative.

Meika Jensen is an aspiring graduate student and freelance writer who hopes to continue to expand and use her extensive knowledge of the plastic industry, public policy and communication to educate the public and create social change to help the environment.  You can follow Meika on Twitter @MeikaJensen .



Exporting green to China

An interesting little story in the China Daily a few days ago caught our attention.  It was about Seattle and Chongqing (whose name is written in Mandarin at the top of this posting).  These are sister cities.  You can read about the relationship between Seattle and Chongqing – which began in 1983 – here.

But back to our story.  It begins:

Over the years, aircraft, spacecraft and spare parts have been Seattle’s largest exports to China. But if Mike McGinn, the mayor of Seattle, has his way, the pride of place would soon be taken by the city’s green exports to China.

During a recent trip to Chongqing municipality in Southwest China, McGinn’s team inked a memorandum of understanding to enhance cooperation in the green building sector with the fastest growing city of China to promote sustainable development.

“China has been an important market for Seattle for some time. Seattle’s exports to China include airplanes from Boeing and software from Microsoft. With China’s economy developing in a more sustainable way, we hope to export our green building expertise as well,” McGinn says.

From a project management perspective, this piece was interesting:

As many as 23,000 jobs in Seattle metro area are in renewable energy, energy efficiency, environmental remediation, and recycling and waste management, according to the city government.

McGinn says two of Seattle’s largest clusters – IT and manufacturing – are closely related to the development of building energy efficient goods and services. This has helped Seattle maintain its leading position in the US green building industry.

Of those 23,000 jobs, many of them are project management jobs.  So this is opportunity knocking for many of us as PMs.

Collaborating and reaching out for new partners is an important part of sustainability – and an important lesson for project leaders.  As it says in the article:

Eric Phillips, Asia market leader of the Seattle-based NBBJ, a leading architecture firm in the US, who was part of the 42-member delegation to Chongqing with McGinn, has similar views.

“Seattle is a leader in the US for sustainable development of a city. There is a lot that Chongqing can learn from that type of process. On the other hand, Chongqing is building the development in a scale that the city of Seattle has never done. A lot of cooperation can be done between the two sides,” Phillips says.

Read the whole story here.

Oh, and for t hose of you (like us) who are a little geographically-inclined, here’s a map that will help you locate Chongqing.  We figure you don’t need a map of Seattle.  Just sniff, follow your nose to the coffee…