Sweet Spot for Sustainability Success!


As a fan of assuring that project managers have the proper skills and competencies to do their work, I was very happy to see a paper which reviews the literature on sustainability competencies.

Of course, for the past 8 years, EarthPM have been big proponents of combining these ideas. We assert that the skills and capabilities of project managers, combined with the elements of a long-term view, and consideration of social aspects of project outcomes, make for a much more capable project manager, a more satisfied project team, and an outcome which satisfies a broader set of stakeholders for a longer time.

So we were very pleased to recently review a summary of research provided by Coro Strandberg, which identifies five key competencies for sustainability leadership. You may not even believe that project managers need these competencies. It’s the intent of this blog post to convince you otherwise.

Coro actually identifies three skills –System Thinking, External Collaboration, and Social Innovation – and two knowledge areas – Sustainability Literacy and Active Values.

Taken together, here are the five competencies:

1. Systems thinking
2. External collaboration
3. Social innovation
4. Sustainability literacy
5. Active values

The first two, I believe, don’t need much elaboration for us as project managers. I hope most of us would agree that Systems Thinking and External Collaboration are representative of what we need to be good at as PMs.

It’s the next few I’d like to touch on in a little detail.

Social innovation is the “ability to generate and enable business model, organization, and system level innovation to advance both business and social value. It shifts the collective focus from reactive problem solving to co-creating the future with stakeholders”. Doesn’t that sound like “quality”? Doesn’t that evoke the idea of really well-done requirements management so that the outcome of the project isn’t just ‘cool’ but works for the people who care?
Yes, there is an element here, we admit, that we may not be used to as project managers – that idea of thinking of social value along with business value. However we’d assert that doing this would be truly best for an enterprise if they just look up to the enterprise’s mission/vision statements which likely state that the enterprise intends to serve not only as a means to generate profits but also to satisfy community and social needs as well.

Sustainability Literacy – here we want to simply assert that as employees who want to stay employees, it’s too your advantage to become literate about sustainability. Agree or not with the premise(s) involved in the drive for sustainability, the hard fact is that many organizations – and their customers (your customers, perhaps) are mobilizing to think along the lines of Corporate Social Responsibility. It’s only logical that those who can speak the language and understand what this is all about gain an advantage in the employment market.
“Active values” is a bit esoteric. It includes the ability to “develop and pursue higher purpose within self, teams and business – to practice ‘mindfulness’, and to foster and enable personal and organizational transformation (change)”. Yet esoteric as it is, it has a very real benefit to you as a project manager because it’s been shown over and over again that project teams that feel they are working for a higher purpose do better. Don’t believe me? Check out the excellent TED video by Dan Pink, which covers Mastery, Autonomy, and Purpose as the key motivators of teams that do anything other than routine mechanical work.
If this doesn’t hook you in, look at the skills/competencies upon which these five sustainability leadership competencies are built. Tell me they don’t look familiar:

System Thinking: Problem-Solving, Analytical Thinking and Strategic Planning
External Collaboration: Internal Collaboration,
Relationship Building and Conflict Resolution
Social Innovation: Change Leadership, Creativity and
Sustainability Literacy: Business Acumen and Financial Leadership
Active Values: Diversity, Integrity and Self-Management

This means that not only are these important, but they should be easily learned by us as project managers. The competencies you see above – I’m sure you recognize them in yourself, or at least you aspire to excel at these competencies. For sustainability leadership, you just need to adapt them and expand on them in more meaningful ways.
By doing so, you can hit a really key “sweet spot” (see figure below) to not only make your projects more successful, but to improve your career and your personal success. And that’s something on which we all can readily agree!



The sky is not falling. But…

We focus on projects, project management, the connection between sustainability and project management, projects, and most importantly, YOU – the project manager.

That focus includes ecological but also economic and social continuity and success – in other words, running projects that consider the long term effects of the project’s product on the enterprise financially, for its employees and customers, and for the long-term health of the planet.

We are not tree-huggers, even though the picture on the cover of our award-winning book is of a tree.

But some of our rationale for taking on our work is rooted (pun intended) in caring for our home – Earth.

And we know that there are many of you out there who are justifiably skeptics – even cynics, and deniers, when it comes to climate change.  That’s fine with us.  We are left-brained, engineer/scientist types and we like that type of questioning.  It’s what keeps innovation going.

Still, we think it’s important to keep the project managers out there up-t0-date with news and recent findings with respect to climate change.

The most recent news, unfortunately, isn’t good.  It’s downright scary.

In this article, based on findings from the UN (I can almost hear the groan from some of you, but that’s okay, too), indicates that “heat-trapping greenhouse gases in the atmosphere are building up so high, so fast, that some scientists now think the world can no longer limit global warming to the level world leaders have agreed upon as safe”.

And in this story, World Meteorological Deputy Secretary-General Jeremiah Lengoasa said,  “With this picture in mind, even if emissions were stopped overnight globally, the atmospheric concentrations would continue for decades because of the long lifetime of these greenhouse gases in the atmosphere.”.

Part of our job as project managers is to “promote” data up the hierarchy of the DIKW Pyramid to knowledge.  In other words, we, as project managers are often the ones who integrate disparate and apparently random factoids and turn that into wisdom which can be used, if we do it right, for the current project and projects of the future as well.  Think “lessons learned” here, people.  And, oh by the way, it may be ourselves managing those future projects, so the collection and spreading of wisdom may turn out to benefit and sustain us, as well as project sponsors and stakeholders.  With that in mind, it’s to our advantage to understand what facts are being discovered about climate change.
And here are some findings from this most recent research:
  • total carbon dioxide levels in 2010 hit 389 parts per million, up from 280 parts per million in 1750, before the start of the Industrial Revolution. Levels increased 1.5 ppm per year in the 1990s and 2.0 per year in the first decade of this century, and are now rising at a rate of 2.3 per year. The top two other greenhouse gases — methane and nitrous oxide — are also soaring.
  • The findings from the U.N. World Meteorological Organization are consistent with other grim reports issued recently. Earlier this month, figures from the U.S. Department of Energy showed that global carbon dioxide emissions in 2010 jumped by the highest one-year amount ever.
  • Temperatures have already risen about 1.4 degrees Fahrenheit (0.8 degrees Celsius) since pre-industrial times.
  • Since 1990 — a year that international climate negotiators have set as a benchmark for emissions — the total heat-trapping force from all the major greenhouse gases has increased by 29 percent, according to NOAA.

Here’s a tip for you.

Next week, in Durban, South Africa, COP17 will take place.  You don’t need to be an activist to be informed.  Stay informed.  Understand the language.  Be conversant.  Know what this may mean to your projects and to you, even if you are a skeptic, cynic, or denier.  That’s going to help your OWN sustainability.  If indeed you are interested and curious, then even more so, you may want to stay tuned to what comes from Durban next week.

Our book has tips on how you can bring these facts to bear on your projects.

No, the sky isn’t falling.  But “the sky” is over, under, around, and inside your project.  So you should know about how it affects your project and its project – and vice-verse.




Challenge video – “One Degree Matters”

link to video is below in the post

One Degree Matters follows social and business leaders as they travel to Greenland and experience for themselves the dramatic effects of the melting of the ice cap and come to understand the planetary effects of climate change and the impacts these will have on society and the economy. The film brings to the screen the latest science from the Arctic and shows why a further rise in global temperature of one degree matters for the future of humankind.

This video was posted 11 days ago by the European Environmental Agency.

Why do we call this a “challenge video“?

One simple reason.  We know that some of you out there are – fair enough – cynics about climate change.  We know that others of you may believe that this is a problem but still are cynical about making the connection to Project Management.

So the video you are about to watch – or at least we hope you will watch – will challenge you to think in terms of opportunity.  Enjoy the photographic beauty of the video, the breadth of backgrounds of the business and social leaders who are interviewed, and in particular, focus in on the many, many times the word project is used in the dialogue.

We challenge you to watch this with an impartial eye – the eye of the facilitator that you need to use as a PM – and notice what the “green wave”  may have to offer you (individually), you (organizationally) and you (as a resident of Earth).  And – we challenge you to respond to this post with your views after you’ve taken the challenge.

Here is the link to the video: