Sustainability as a PM career-builder

Back in 1843, when we founded EarthPM (okay it was a bit more recent than that, but it seems so…long…ago), we based it on 5 Assertions, which we have updated slightly:

1. Doing the right thing helps the project team do things right.
2. Adding sustainability thinking in PM helps better equip you and your team respond to project risks.
3. Sustainability thinking added to PM helps the project and the product of the project.
4. An environmental lens is a necessary part of a PM’s toolbox.
5. Greenality, like quality, must be planned in, not bolted on.
We also had a list of Five Things You Can Do Right Now with respect to Sustainability

Thing 1

Accept the idea that you are a change agent.

Thing 2

Connect your organization’s Environmental Management Plan to your project’s objectives.

Thing 3

Dare to think beyond the delivery of your project’s product to the sponsor.  In fact, dare to think beyond that sponsor.

Thing 4

Understand the concept of Greenality.

Thing 5

Build your own credibility in sustainability thinking.

As we’ve spread the word about sustainability thinking in PM, via our book, webinars, seminars, in our LinkedIn Group, and of course here on our blog, we have had pushback and criticism – and that’s a good thing.  We can take it, and we want to learn from it.  But turnabout is fair play, and that’s the purpose of this post.
Recently we’ve had people tell us that as a PM, we shouldn’t push sustainability issues because it may make you as a PM come off as an extremist.  We’re here to tell you – even better, to *show* you that that could be a *good* thing.  We’ll focus on Things 1, 2, and 5 above, and we’ll use an article from today’s news (see this news story) to help make our point.
In the story, which is about Ford Motor Company’s focus (excuse the pun) on electric vehicles, there are some striking statistics:
  • Ford, debuting five battery-powered models this year, is spending $135 million to design electric-drive parts and double battery testing capacity.  We read that as “blah blah blah, blah, projects, more projects, and project managers, blah, blah, blah”
  • Ford is moving more battery research in-house and has hired 60 engineers in the last year, bringing its electric-vehicle engineering staff to more than 1,000, according to a statement today. The moves help reduce the cost of hybrid systems by 30 percent and speed development by 25 percent, Ford said.
  • Ford has said hybrids, plug-in hybrids, and all-electric cars will account for as much as 25 percent of its new vehicle sales by 2020, from less than 3 percent last year. That’s a 20+% increase and the trigger for the launching of hundreds of projects and the need for many project managers.   The second-largest U.S. automaker is competing in the nascent market for electrified vehicles with Toyota, General Motors, Nissan and startups such as Tesla and closely held Fisker Automotive, who are also loaded with portfolios of programs and projects and who need project managers focused on sustainability
  • Ford said it plans to hire “dozens” of additional engineers (and of course this will also mean project managers as well) for electric-vehicle development projects. It’s also renaming its 285,000-square-foot advanced engineering center in Dearborn, Mich., the “Ford Advanced Electrification Center.”
  • Electrified vehicles accounted for 3.4 percent of the U.S. market in this year’s first half, up from 2.2 percent a year earlier, according to researcher LMC Automotive.
  • Chief Executive Officer Alan Mulally has made fuel- efficiency central to his turnaround plan for Ford. He said in April that Ford wouldn’t back off its ambitious sales goals for electric-powered vehicles just because they get off to a slow start.  “We believe that the electrification of vehicles is going to continue as the battery cost comes down, as we move to generate electricity cleanly,” Mulally told reporters in Laguna Niguel, Calif., that month. “We see this as continually growing. This is a long-term journey.

So that is the reality and the news.  Let’s step back now and look at ‘extremism’ and ‘credibility’, both of which, according to our detractors, are problems for sustainability-minded PMs; the former a liability and the latter in danger.

Here is a snapshot of Ford’s corporate home page, taken today.  Have a look at it.  If you can’t read it here, or, if you think we’re making this up, just go to

Notice any…theme?

After reading the messaging and theme of this site, can you truly assert that as a sustainability-minded PM you would be somehow an extremist?  Do you think that a sustainability-minded PM or engineer would have a credibility problem at this firm?


We would assert that (as in our “5 Things”, which we stand by even more firmly than originally) there is indeed a theme and it is sustainability.  We would assert that as a sustainability-minded PM your ‘extremism’ would be anything but a detriment, but rather a career-builder.  And we can say now with certainty that your knowledge of sustainability and recognition of that aspect of your career was anything but a credibility buster.  Having a command of a sustainability vocabulary and a skillset built around holistic, life cycle thinking would be a credibility boost.

Do you agree?  If so, stick with us, folks.  We will be helping you become an ‘extremist’.  And you – and your employer – and your project teams – will thank us.

Écologie, de gestion de projet, et le cirque au Québec

One of your humble blog editors is visiting Quebec City this weekend.  During the visit, we (very casually) got a firsthand look at some of the ecological projects here.

One – pictured in this post on the left, is the Ecolobus, a small electric bus which runs a partial route through Quebec’s Old City.  The bus, which holds 20 passengers, has been in service since July 5, 2010.  The cost to ride the bus is 1 Canadian dollar, which now is roughly equivalent to the US dollar.
This link, from the Canadian government, provides excellent details about this green transportation project.

Like any project managers, we were immediately drawn to their Lessons Learned section, which is summarized as follows:

Lessons Learned

The decision makers and planners responsible for the Écolobus project had to overcome a number of challenges in designing the Écolobus system. In particular, a major challenge was finding a way of operating the system safely and reliably in the context of Old Quebec’s topography (many steep grades), urban form (narrow streets, tight turns), and the harsh winter climate (icy roadways, extreme low temperatures). A key issue was finding a vehicle capable of operating under the aforementioned conditions.
Other specific initial challenges included:

  • Being able to operate the eight electric minibuses autonomously (without external power) for 19 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • Difficulties in estimating ridership and managing crowding on the buses, whose capacity is 20 passengers, especially during the summer peak tourist period. The frequency of the service had to be increased soon after it was launched.
  • Training drivers, as operation of the electric minibuses is significantly different from that of conventional buses.
  • Training of mechanics, unfamiliar with maintenance of electric vehicles
  • Modification of some vehicle components for the extreme winter conditions. For example, a diesel-based heating system had to be added because the Gulliver minibuses built-in heating was insufficient on colder winter days.
  • Technical issues, such as the overheating of batteries because of overload buses, hills, and insufficient driver draining
  • Communication with the Italian bus supplier, complicated by differences in technical standards between Europe and Canada and linguistic barriers.

Related to the project of launching this bus route, is the electricity itself.  Of course, much of Quebec’s power is generated via water (hydro).  Learn more about Quebec Hydro here.  As if to make our point from a recent point (regarding the Rio +20 Conference) have a look at that wikipedia entry on Quebec Hydro and note the dozens of times that the word project is mentioned.  Compare and contrast that to what we found in the huge Rio +20 declaration in which “project” was mentioned exactly twice.

One other piece, and we’ll probably blog on this topic again, and that is related to a gentleman named Guy Laliberte.

This name should ring a bell.  Or at least it should put a red bubble on your nose.  Guy is the Quebec-born creator of Cirque du Soleil and also an environmentalist.  Having been on the International Space Station, he has taken photos from space and has them on exhibit here in Quebec, under the name The Gaia Exhibit.  More impactfully, he has launched One Drop, a portfolio of programs and  projects which are summarized here.

Note the project orientation of the One Drop mandate:

In Canada, ONE DROP is a charitable organization that develops integrated, innovative projects with an international scope, in which water plays a central role as a creative force in generating positive, sustainable effects for local and foreign populations and in the fight against poverty. More specifically, ONE DROP Canada, in cooperation with partner Oxfam and others, develops access-to-water and sanitation projects in countries where access to this vital resource is lacking. In addition, ONE DROP is involved in raising awareness among individuals and communities on water-related issues to convince them to mobilize for universal access to water and urge them to adopt sound habits for managing this precious resource for future generations. In closing, ONE DROP Canada is also involved in fundraising—a crucial activity if it is to realize its dream of water for all, today and tomorrow. To this end, the partners of ONE DROP have joined forces with the organization for pursuing this objective.

Very impressive.

You can learn more about the GAIA exhibit here.

You can learn more about One Drop here.


Et maintenant, pour votre commodité, nous fournir une traduction vers le français.


Un de vos éditeurs de blog humbles est en visite à Québec ce week-end. Lors de la visite, nous (très décontractée) a obtenu un coup d’oeil de première main à quelques-uns des projets écologiques ici.

Un – photo dans ce post sur la gauche, est le Écolobus, un petit bus électrique qui fonctionne grâce à un itinéraire partiel Ville du Vieux-Québec. Le bus, qui détient 20 passagers, a été en service depuis Juillet 5, 2010. Le coût pour monter dans le bus est de 1 dollar canadien, qui est maintenant à peu près équivalent à la valeur du dollar des États-Unis.
Ce lien, du gouvernement du Canada, fournit d’excellents détails sur ce projet de transport vert.

Comme tous les chefs de projet, nous avons été immédiatement attirée sur les leçons apprises de l’article, qui se résume comme suit:

Leçons apprises

Les décideurs et les planificateurs responsables du projet Écolobus a dû surmonter un certain nombre de défis dans la conception du système Écolobus. En particulier, un défi majeur était de trouver un moyen de faire fonctionner le système en toute sécurité et fiabilité dans le contexte de la topographie du Vieux-Québec (de nombreuses pentes raides), la forme urbaine (rues étroites, des virages serrés), et le climat rude hiver (routes verglacées, l’extrême basses températures). Une question clé était de trouver un véhicule capable de fonctionner dans les conditions précitées.
Autres défis spécifiques initiales suivantes:

    ÃŠtre capable d’exploiter les huit minibus électriques de manière autonome (sans alimentation externe) pendant 19 heures par jour, 7 jours par semaine.

    Difficultés dans l’estimation de l’achalandage et la gestion de l’encombrement sur les autobus, dont la capacité est de 20 passagers, en particulier pendant la période touristique estivale. La fréquence du service a dû être augmenté peu après il a été lancé.

    Formation des conducteurs, comme l’exploitation des minibus électriques est significativement différente de celle des bus classiques.

    La formation des mécaniciens, peu familier avec l’entretien des véhicules électriques

    Modification de certains composants du véhicule pour les conditions hivernales extrêmes. Par exemple, un système de chauffage à base de gazole a dû être ajouté, car les minibus Gulliver construits en chauffage était insuffisant, les jours froids de l’hiver.

    Les problèmes techniques, tels que la surchauffe des batteries en raison de la surcharge des bus, des collines, et le conducteur drainage insuffisant

    La communication avec le fournisseur de bus italien, compliqué par les différences dans les normes techniques entre l’Europe et le Canada et les barrières linguistiques.

Relatif au projet de lancement de cette ligne de bus, est l’électricité elle-même. Bien sûr, une grande partie de la puissance du Québec est générée par l’eau (hydroélectricité). En savoir plus sur Hydro-Québec ici. Comme pour faire valoir notre point d’un point récente (en ce qui concerne la Conférence Rio +20) jeter un oeil à cette entrée de wikipedia sur Hydro-Québec et de noter les dizaines de fois que le projet mot est mentionné. Comparer et contraster cela à ce que nous avons trouvé dans l’immense Rio +20 déclaration dans laquelle «projet» a été mentionné exactement deux fois.

Une autre pièce, et nous allons probablement blog sur ce sujet à nouveau, et qui est liée à un homme du nom de Guy Laliberté.

Ce nom doit sonner une cloche. Ou du moins il devrait mettre une bulle rouge sur le nez. Guy est le créateur né au Québec du Cirque du Soleil et aussi un écologiste. Ayant été sur la Station spatiale internationale, il a pris des photos de l’espace et les a exposées ici, au Québec, sous le nom de L’Exposition Gaia. Plus impactfully, il a lancé One Drop, un portefeuille de programmes et de projets qui sont résumées ici.

Notez l’orientation du projet du mandat One Drop:

Au Canada, ONE DROP est un organisme de bienfaisance qui se développe des projets intégrés et innovants avec une dimension internationale, dans lequel l’eau joue un rôle central en tant que force créative dans la des effets positifs et durables pour les populations locales et étrangères et dans la lutte contre la pauvreté. Plus précisément, ONE DROP au Canada, en collaboration avec le partenaire d’Oxfam et d’autres, se développe l’accès à l’eau et d’assainissement dans les pays où l’accès à cette ressource vitale fait défaut. En outre, ONE DROP est impliqué dans la sensibilisation des individus et des communautés sur les questions liées à l’eau pour les convaincre de se mobiliser pour l’accès universel à l’eau et les inciter à adopter des habitudes saines pour la gestion de cette précieuse ressource pour les générations futures. En terminant, ONE DROP au Canada est également impliqué dans la collecte de fonds, une activité essentielle si on veut réaliser son rêve de l’eau pour tous, aujourd’hui et demain. À cette fin, les partenaires de ONE DROP ont uni leurs forces avec l’organisation pour la poursuite de cet objectif.

Très impressionnant.





Plain as the heron my head

…or the lack thereof…
I was lucky enough to take a brief 1-mile walk through the Green Cay Wetlands in Boynton Beach, Florida, yesterday.

On the right you see one of the many photos I took, this one of a blue heron (I think).

However, being a project manager interested in sustainability, my interest was really piqued when i saw a large sign across the street from the Wetlands which said something like: “Southern Region Water Reclamation and Biogas Project – Funded by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.


It took some hunting but I finally found a reference to this project in the press.

See this link.


BOYNTON BEACH, Fla. — A massive renewable energy project designed to save money and energy is under way in Palm Beach County.The project is taking place at the waste water treatment plant, which is located at 12751 Hagen Ranch Road in Boynton Beach.”Instead of paying an FPL electric bill like we all do at home, we’ll use our own generator to produce our own energy and offset some of that cost,” said Water Reclamation Manager David Dalton.Plant managers said the plant will generate its own electricity by capturing methane gas, which is currently treated as a waste product at the plant, and turning it into fuel. They said the project will help keep consumers’ water rates stable while using less energy and creating less waste.”It reduces the county’s carbon footprint, but it also will hold down rate increases,” said County Commissioner Steve Abrams.Officials said the project is still in the Phase 1 stage and is expected to be complete within a couple of years.

This is what we have been blogging about for years.  PROJECTS are at the intersection of making sustainability an economic success, not just an environmental advantage known for its altruism, but a real positive contribution to reduced costs, or – in this case – savings for consumers.

More details in this story.

And this was all just sitting right across from the the place where we went for a nice leisurely stroll…

Sometimes, the obvious – isn’t so obvious

overhead linesYes.  That’s a real sign.  And yes, it appears to be placed there by none other than Captain Obvious, champion of all that is, well – clear for all to see without further explanation.

But sometimes obvious answers stay mysteriously hidden.  Any time you see an innovation and say – either out loud, or to yourself – “now why didn’t I think of that?”, you have experienced a Captain Obvious moment.

So as we browsed today’s papers, we came across this article.  Here is the article’s first line:

With a name like General Electric, it stands to reason GE would want to embrace the electric car.

Um.  Hello?  Yes.  It does indeed.  On further reading, we realized that this is not only an example of Captain Obvious at work, it was an example of one of EarthPM’s assertions.  Roughly stated, this assertion says that ‘the right thing to do helps you do things right’.  In this case, GE’s use of electric cars in their own fleet is not only going to save them gasoline and money, it will drive up the demand for the very products that they want to innovate and sell.

This seems like a pretty easy decision, n’est pas?

The CEO, Jeffrey Immelt, said the company “would convert half of its corporate fleet to electric vehicles by 2015 in an effort to give the nascent technology a jump start and help develop a potentially big new market”.  Give the technology a jump start.  Nice pun.  But it’s not punny – it’s about money. GE’s own estimates show that this expanding market will earn GE $500 million in revenue over the next three years.  So it does seem obvious to (as PMI puts it) enhance the opportunity.

Here’s a little more of the article:

Electric cars are cheaper to fuel and operate than gasoline-powered cars, but they are about twice as expensive to buy, mainly because of the high cost of batteries. The battery that powers the $33,000 Nissan Leaf costs about $12,000, nearly the price of a gasoline-powered car the Leaf’s size.

Carmakers hope to be able to sharply reduce the cost of the batteries over time, but in order to do so they need to sell more electric cars.

That’s where GE comes in. GE is hoping that its planned purchase will help drive down costs by increasing production volumes and assuring carmakers that they will have at least one big buyer.

So GE becomes a customer of GM (and perhaps Nissan?).  They increase the market for the cars, which drives the demand for the batteries, which GE develops and sells to GM and Nissan… get the picture?

Our question to project managers and others out there reading this: do you have any “Overhead Lines Above”?  Do you have any Captain Obvious ideas like this?  For example, if you work on a project that is directly or indirectly related to the electric power grid, are the vehicles in that project’s fleet electric?  Wouldn’t it make sense, thinking in the long term, for those vehicles to be electric even if their initial cost is higher, since after all, the grid’s demands will be increased by electric cars?

Just asking the Captain Obvious questions…

And you should too.

Quick.  Look UP!  There are overhead lines above!

We close this posting with a quote from none other than Captain Obvious:

“Indeed, current events may become past events, but always remember that there will, now and always, be future events in the future.”

~ Captain Obvious on the future

A smart electric network – in more ways than one

electricelectricAs we often do here on EarthPM, we are going to combine a couple of pertinent and important themes to hopefully strengthen some points that are key to each of them.

The two themes we relate here are:

  • Electric Smart Grids for effective power transmission and reduced carbon footprint
  • High-powered Grids of Smart PMs to gain a bigger collective and personal footprint

Smart-grids for power

PM Network magazine, the monthly instrument of PMI, this month (June) features a couple of really good articles on Smart Grid projects.  If you do nothing else as a result of this posting, plunk yourself down and read “Intelligent Design” and  “A Closer Look”, on pages 36 and 43, respectively.  Both articles speak to the number and increasing importance of these projects and the ways in which project managers are making a big difference in deploying these systems.

Some highlights:

  • China will be spending, in 2010 alone, over US$ 7 billion in smart-grid technology.  Their first smart-grid project has already begun, in the city of Tianjin, under the auspices of State Grid corporation.
  • In Ontario, Canada, every single home and small business will have a smart meter installed by the end of the year.  That’s a project worth CA$ 1 billion.
  • In the US, 100 grants that total over US$ 3 billion were announced last October
  • Similar projects and grants are planned for the European Union.

If any of this intrigues you, either technically, or as a project manager, have a look at this nifty interactive package put together by the US Department of Energy.

If you don’t think it’s smart to get smart about smart grids, how about this quote, taken directly from the above US DOE document:

“Time is of the essence: We literally cannot afford the grid as it stands.
The costs of new generation and delivery infrastructure are climbing sharply. According to The Brattle Group – a consulting group that specializes in economics, finance, and regulation – investments totaling approximately $1.5 trillion will be required over the next 20 years to pay for the infrastructure alone.”

So one can tell that opportunities will abound for those project managers who learn about this technology and get smart about it themselves.

Networking power (smart-grids) for PMs

I cannot begin this section without a shoutout to Bas de Bar, my favorite source for Social Networking intelligence and its power for project managers.  You literally do yourself a disservice by not staying in touch, at least periodically, with his site: Project Shrink.  But we would also encourage you to take action.  And you can do that.  Now.

If you are not on LinkedIn, get on.  Today.  Why are you putting that off?  With newly-tweaked groups and group discussions, there are numerous ways to find a special interest group for yourself, even within our fairly specific world of project management.  For example, one of the EarthPM founders started a group on LinkedIn strictly for people who blog on project management.  He expected maybe 10 or 12 people to join and to have a healthy discussion on that very specific topic.  That group, PM Bloggers, was started less than two  years ago.  It now is approaching 800 (yes, eight hundred) members.  Some of the groups we suggest below have hundreds of thousands of members.  Taken together, we’re talking about literally millions of years of PM experience.  Is that power, or what?

As for green project management, there are several groups that we encourage you to join today and to subscribe to the discussions.  You can also choose, as we have here at EarthPM, to join general groups that focus on green business or sustainability, because as above – the opportunites to be aware of are in general industry and it pays to be aware of what general industry is doing – that’s where the projects come from, after all.  Below is a list of LinkedIn groups we suggest you explore.  Of course, you have to join LinkedIn first – which is free and has had no ill side effects on anyone we know.  It’s not a virus.  It’s not yichhy.  It’s power, plain and simple – network power.  Just have a look at the jobs posted there.  In fact, we did that for you today – keeping our combined theme in mind – and ran a search for “grid project” and came up with 4 pages full of jobs, including this one for a project manager in California that looks pretty interesting.  That’s just a sample of the power of LinkedIn – and LinkedIn is only one of many social networking opportunities which bring power to project managers individually and collectively.  Elizabeth Harrin, author and creator of PM for Girls, has a survey that captures some of that data around this power at her blog, here.

List of LinkedIn Groups

Hope this post has been helpful to you – it’s one that allows you to take action today to make yourself and your profession more powerful.