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!

Just a spoonful of … engineered silica…

spoonfulMost of us will be familiar with the line from Mary Poppins that begins the same way as this posting.   And if not, there are some Project Management lessons available from the very simple message from Mary.  You can get THAT spoonful of sugar right here.

But we’re not talking sugar.  And it’s not a lesson about how you can incentivize your project team with sweets.  That may come later…but this posting is about an aspect of Green PM not often covered: toxicity.   In our upcoming book, we’ll be dealing with the aspect of toxicity as we cover the life cycle effects of certain processes and the creation of  hypoxia in the norther Gulf of Mexico.  In this article we talk about a project to develop new materials specially engineered to “catch” and absorb mercury.

As featured in the December issue of Popular Science magazine, a product from Steward Advanced Materials is capable of cleaning mercury from a contaminated area 100 times better than any other method and it does so at half the cost.

Imagine this as you look at the teaspoon photo in this posting.  The particles in this powder are engineered with such an intricate spongelike pattern of holes that a single teaspoon has the same surface area as a football field.  A football field!

The silica-based powder is further engineered with sulfur atoms so that when a mercury-tainted liquid is encountered by the powder (or the other way around), the mercury bonds with the sulfur to form a stable powder that is safe for landfills.  Normally, mercury has to go through an expensive separate step to be neutralized.

This product, called SAMMS®, has successfully cleaned wastewater at coal plants, an offshore oil rig, and a chemical manufacturer.  The product holds promise for other materials, including the possibility of cleaning up radioactive wastes by swapping out the sulfur with other atoms to do that type of work.

Just another example of how a project and a project’s product which certainly is very green (okay…physically, it’s white) does not have to be an electric car, a wind farm, or a recycling facility.