What is a Lighthouse?

Photo by Chirs Costello – MassLive

This blog post has everything. It is, quite literally, a cliff-hanger. It has the salty smell of the sea.  Crashing waves.   Churning, swirling sea foam.  Poets. Rolling lighthouses. Millions of dollars. Controversy. Collaboration. History. Did we mention rolling lighthouses? Climate change. Project management. Sustainability.


Read on.

People often get poetic about lighthouses.

Henry Wadwsorth Longfellow wrote a poem called The Lighthouse. In it, he writes:

Steadfast, serene, immovable, the same
Year after year, through all the silent night
Burns on forevermore that quenchless flame,
Shines on that inextinguishable light!

But as Longfellow claims, is the lighthouse truly immovable?

Should the lighthouse be immovable?

Turns out – if it is truly immovable, it may fall into the sea, because climate change and sea level rise (or if you deny this – the effects of erosion) have caused one of the most famous lighthouses, the one on Gay Head on Martha’s Vineyard, to be moved.

So – why are we talking about lighthouses in a blog dedicated to project management and sustainability?

Think about it. What is a lighthouse? For sailors, it’s a risk trigger. Remember risk triggers? They’re anything that make you think that a threat (usually a threat, we suppose it could be an opportunity) is about to happen or has already happened. Smoke is a risk trigger for fire. A “heat” indicator on a stove-top is a risk trigger for a burn that you will NOT get because it reminds you that the surface is hot.

Indian cricketer and Member of Parliament, Navjot Singh Sidhu says, “A fallen lighthouse is more dangerous than a reef”.  In this case, the loss of the lighthouse would not only be a danger in terms of the loss of its all-important beacon, but because a lovely piece of history would be forever erased. That was a risk that the stakeholders in this story were not willing to take.

Whether or not the cause for the erosion is climate change is a bit controversial. However, for your consideration we include this extract from a recent post from the Union of Concerned Scientists:

The coast of Martha’s Vineyard, with its exposed bluffs, barrier beaches and ponds has always been in a dynamic relationship with the sea, but the changes that human-driven climate change are bringing have no parallel in the recent past. Global average sea level has risen about 8 inches between 1880 and 2009, while the rate of increase has markedly increased, especially since 1993, and is still accelerating. Due to a variety of local factors, the stretch of the East coast of the United States from Cape Hatteras in North Carolina up to Maine has some of the fastest rates of sea level rise in the world.
In addition to sea level rise, the Northeast has experienced a greater increase in extreme precipitation since 1958 than any other region of the country, with more than a 70% increase in rainfall during the heaviest events. The National Climate Assessment also recently concluded that there is a growing risk of stronger storms in the Northeast. All of these changes are contributing to the rate at which the Gay Head Cliffs are eroding. The combination of sea level rise and storms can be particularly lethal, bringing higher waves and more wave energy crashing against the shore.

The post makes convincing arguments. But whatever the cause, there is still an intersection here of sustainability and project management; the idea is to sustain the lighthouse and the way to do it is with a unique, time-and-resource-limited endeavor with a well-defined outcome. Certainly, without any controversy, we can agree that this is a project. It’s a project that involved the collaboration of many stakeholders, and it’s an interesting one. Using an odd combination of ancient techniques going back to the Egyptians as well as new technology, the team was able to lift and roll the 400-ton Gay Head Light 135 feet inland from where it stood for 150 years and safely away from the threat of eroding cliffs.  We suggest you read through the front-page story of the Cape Cod Times and have a look at their “On The Brink” graphic (below), and a video clip we also include which shows how the move was accomplished.


Take the lighthouse metaphor here to heart. There is an intersection of project management and sustainability. At a minimum, the area of risk management and understanding threats (and opportunities) is loaded with triggers from climate change and sea-level rise. We ask that as you sail through your projects, that you be ever vigilant for the risk triggers of ‘sustainabilty risk’ by calling forth the words of Longfellow:

Not one alone; from each projecting cape
And perilous reef along the ocean’s verge,
Starts into life a dim, gigantic shape,
Holding its lantern o’er the restless surge.

Here’s a whole list of poems just about lighthouses!

Innovation through Dialogue (and koffie)


We like that theme.  We like it a lot.

And that is the theme of the 28th IPMA World Congress in Rotterdam.  From their home page:

‘The 28th edition of the IPMA World Congress will be held from September 29th to October 1st in the City of Rotterdam, The Netherlands under the main theme: “Innovation through Dialogue”.
Over 120 speakers in three days filled with the latest experiences and insight about Innovating the world through dialogue. Dialogue within projects, dialogue between projects (portfolio’s), dialogue over time (programs) and dialogue outside projects, with project-owners, users and stakeholders. And of course the dialogue between the business and academic world.’

We’re making up a small percentage (around 1.5%) of the speakers.  EarthPM will (of course) be in the Sustainability stream, and (of course) will attend by electrons versus jet fuel to reduce the carbon footprint of the presentation; we’re going to experiment with running a World Cafe event via local facilitation and remote orchestration.  It’s a true test of “think globally, act locally, but also globally” – a clumsy but true mantra for this session.

We’ll be fully buying into the theme.

Instead of lecturing, we’ll be discussing.  Instead of transmitting, we’ll mainly be receiving.  Instead of conveying existing information, we’ll be generating and transferring new knowledge and wisdom.  We’ll do this using the World Cafe method, worth looking into if you are a project manager.  Bottom line: it’s a facilitated and active discussion method.  We’ll animate this by having tables (named after coffee-producing countries!) which will focus on each of the major touchpoints between sustainability and project management.  And yes, there are indeed several major touchpoints between project management and sustainability.  The Dutch word for coffee is koffie, and we know from experience how important it is to gezelligheid (look it up – learn something today!).

Here’s a link to the Day 3 program.  We’re proud to be part of the IPMA2014 World Congress and we’re excited to involve the PM community quite directly and actively in generating new (and lasting) wisdom in this important area.


An ocean full of project inspiration


“Despite the challenges our ocean faces, I believe it’s time to recapture the sense of wonder  and inspiration my grandfather and father felt when they gazed on its surface. In fact, the ocean can and should be a source of hope and solutions for a brighter future.”

-Philippe Cousteau


These are words that do three things.

1. They make us feel older, because this is the grandson of Jacques Cousteau, who we grew up with…

2. They inspire us because they’re spoken with such conviction.

3. They remind us again just how powerful we are as project managers when it comes to sustainability.


The younger Cousteau is quoted from a series of opinion pieces at CNN.com.  He is no slacker – he is a special correspondent for CNN but also co-founder and president of the leading environmental education nonprofit EarthEcho International.   This site itself is worth a visit.

But we bring you again back to his words – and their connection with us as project managers, environmentalists or not.

Here are some more:

Just take a moment to think about what the ocean does for us on a daily basis: it produces half of the world’s oxygen; it provides more than one billion people with their primary source of protein; its natural eco-systems like coral reefs, mangroves and wetlands provide protection against coastal erosion and natural disasters such as tsunamis; it regulates our climate; and a healthy ocean fuels sustainable businesses and a strong economy in industries such as seafood, tourism, pharmaceuticals and shipping.

For the ocean to continue to do what’s it’s done for millions of years and serve the needs of a rapidly expanding human population, it needs to be healthy. Biodiversity, coral reefs, wetlands and trash-free seas aren’t just terms on a page they are environmental imperatives that dictate the future of the planet.

We have the know-how and resources to conserve and restore the aquatic and marine systems that keep the ocean and us healthy. As my grandfather once said, “The technology that we use to abuse the planet is the same technology that can help us to heal it.”

Big technology like renewable energy, carbon sequestration and advances in aquaculture certainly have a major role in restoring the ocean and the planet to a healthy balance, but in many cases it’s a matter of giving nature the space and time to do what it needs to do with a helping hand from all of us.

Regulations that help replenish and protect fish stocks, restoration and conservation projects to protect and nurture natural barriers like reefs and wetlands, and reforestation efforts are all things that can have a huge impact on ocean health with no rocket science necessary.

You see the direct (and indirect) mention of projects throughout these words.  As the folks who convert ideas into reality,we help bring these inspirational words from ‘only words’ to ‘real reality’.

Given that we just passed “International Water Day”, we thought it appropriate to use Cousteau’s words to remind us of our capability, our power – in some ways (I know it sounds a little corny) our destiny.

Let’s close with some more of Cousteau’s comments:

The good news is technology and future-focused groups are providing us with some great tools and resources to get inspired and make smart decisions. For example: the Monterey Bay Aquarium’s Seafood Watch pocket guide and Ocean Conservancy’s Rippl app or EarthEcho’s Water Planet Challenge.

“We can make sure the ocean continues to provide inspiration, wonder and solutions for generations, however, it all comes down to personal and collective will. Ask yourself this question: When you look upon the ocean 10 years from now, do you want to see a sad reminder of what could have been; or do you want to be filled with awe and inspired by a sense of endless possibilities?”

Sea what we mean?

New England – the home of EarthPM –  has 473 miles of coastline.  It has fabled ship-building, fishing, and whaling port cities which flourished based on the bounty of the sea.  Many of these communities are struggling based on the decline of their industries.

Now,  a recent article in The Boston Globe says that these communities may have a second chance at flourishing again, and this time it may be energy that brings the potential of an inexhaustible source of energy, hundreds of jobs, and billions in revenue”.

Many of these jobs – and much of this revenue and energy – will be via projects.  Projects to build the systems that translate the energy from the sea (or the wind out at sea) to the actual power grid.

But what we also found interesting was the effect on the job market on land.

From the article:

“Ocean energy is also generating economic activity on land. The nation’s first commercial testing facility for large wind turbine blades opened in Charlestown last year to support blade designers and manufacturers developing advanced materials that can stand up to harsh winds and elements offshore. The center helped persuade TPI Composites, an Arizona firm that makes blades for companies such as GE Energy, to open a development facility in Fall River.

Siemens AG, a German conglomerate, has also opened an office in Massachusetts dedicated to offshore wind power development, while others like Mass Tank Sales Corp., a Middleborough firm that makes water and fuel tanks, has a preliminary agreement to build foundations for Cape Wind’s turbines.”

The ‘trickle down (or should we call them ‘trickle-inland’?) effect’ from these ocean-based energy efforts are significant, providing great opportunities for project managers and engineers.

These “green-by-definition” projects will need PMs with a vocabulary and focus on sustainability.  That’s one of the reasons we’re here.  Stay tuned to EarthPM’s blog as well as other upcoming training opportunities to help avail yourselves of these types of opportunities.