Top Ten Things You Need To Know About Sustainability In Your Projects

In this post, we’re going to summarize – and point you to – an excellent resource from an outstanding source of all kinds of excellent resources, called the Network for Business Sustainability.
The resource of the subject line is actually designed for folks who “are asked to lead …company’s sustainability efforts”.

But as project managers, we know a couple of secrets.

Secret 1: Sustainability efforts are often shepherded in via projects, so project managers had better know this stuff, even if they don’t have a formal “Czar of Sustainability” title

Secret 2: Projects are like little “core samples” (sometimes huge) core samples” of the enterprise and thus, each PM really is indeed leading sustainability efforts in a microcosm of the company.

Here, from this outstanding document, is our spin on the 10 things project managers need to know – about sustainability.

1. Do sustainability investments pay back?

Short answer: yes, based on decades of research, the rewards are tangible and show in terms of share price, cost savings, and customer loyalty.  We’d also say from our own research, that another aspect of the pay back is innovation – and thus, MORE PROJECTS!

2. How can we make sustainability part of our project culture?

See the answer from the referenced document for a corporate view, but from a project standpoint, understand how your project fits into the context of the program(s) and portfolio the enterprise has launched, and most importantly, “hitch your wagon” to the the corporation’s public statements on sustainability.  Also – drive home the point that sustainability isn’t limited at all to ecological aspects but runs across economic and social planes as well.

3. How can our supply chain be more competitive and sustainable?

Use this framework from NBS.

4. Will our customers pay for sustainable products or services?

Yes, depending on a whole set of factors, laid out by NBS.  However, you should also be aware that instead of framing the question this way, be prepared for customers who may not be interested in your project’s product if the sustainability efforts of the project or the enterprise are viewed as inadequate.

5.  How can I best engage stakeholders?

As PMs we already know about stakeholder analysis.  Simply add an aspect to your stakeholder register which includes sustainability for each stakeholder.  How do they feel about it, prioritize it?

6. What are the best measurements of my company’s (project’s) environmental impact?

We suggest the LCA as the tool for PMs to use.  See these tools.

7. How can our corporate (project) sustainability practices attract and retain great employees (project team members)?

See the entry for Question 7 on the NBS document.  The principles are the same for employees and project team members – or at least they overlap significantly.

8. How can my company mitigate and adapt to climate change?

Depending on the project, climate change (whatever its source!) may have to be considered as a threat when you are identifying risk.  Even if it’s not climate change itself which presents a threat or opportunity, you need to consider climate change contribution factors also as risk triggers (again, consider both threat and opportunity).

9. What is business sustainability?

We like NBS’ definition of “organizational resilience”.  We also like the way Auden Schendler, of the book  Getting Green Done says it: “it’s about planning to be in business forever”.

10. How can I find resources on other questions or find out about new research or research in progress on other issues?

Go to NBS’ knowledge center.

Banking on it

Since this post is titled “Banking on it”, we thought we’d start by telling you where we found a treasure trove of great sustainability knowledge for project managers – and others.

That treasure trove was found at the Network for Business Sustainability. There we’ve found a wealth of resources, amongst which was this very short interview with the Chief Sustainability Officer of TD BankNorth.

Have a look and join us after you spend a moment with Karen Clarke-Whistler.








So you can see that there are a whole slew of project management concerns that are implied by this interview.


  • How are the 2,500 facilities made into more sustainable facilities?
  • How do the younger employees get a louder “voice” at TD BankNorth?
  • How do policies for loans get created and deployed – repeatably?

The answer to those and many other questions you can imagine is all the same, one-word answer.


Lots of projects.  Needing lots of “you-know-who”.  Us.  Project Managers.
And this is a bank.  Not a solar-cell manufacturer, nor an environmental company, nor an energy concern, nor a wildlife preserve, nor an effort to bring water to a poverty-stricken, parched region of the world.  This is a financial institution.  And they are integrating sustainability thinking at all levels of the organization.

Businesses of all kinds are doing this.  It behooves us as project managers to ‘get on board’.  Or we will be very, very bored.

You can read more about this intersection of banking and sustainability here:

And here is a case study of yet another financial institution:

And here is an old (2001) paper which picked up this topic way back then and covers it pretty well:

And finally, to bring us up to current times, here is an announcement for a conference in Germany on the very topic – and it has significant content (the announcement itself, that is):


So back to this treasure trove.  We suggest you visit, but in the meantime,  here’s a brief view on the NBS by Professor Tima Bansal: