Embedding Sustainability into Project Management Processes


In November 2021, the world waited as world leaders attended, either in person or virtually, COP26 which took place in Glasgow. The aim of the summit was to bring together parties in order to assist in the acceleration of actions that would help promote the goals set out in the Paris Agreement and the UN Framework Convention which looks at Climate Change. 

There were a significant number of agreements reached between countries, with many governments pledging to make adjustments within their own countries by setting deadlines with regard recycling, fuel usage and becoming carbon neutral.

With these pushes being put in place on a global scale, companies must now take their own steps to do their bit and assist with sustainability. This means looking at what they currently do and working on strategies that can be put in place to allow them to become more sustainable within an attainable timeframe. This sustainability not only needs to be embedded into the ethos of a company and their operating procedures but also into any project management processes that they have so that from this point forward they are continually striving to achieve greater sustainability in their new projects. 

How important is sustainability?

We hear about sustainability a lot and it has been being increasingly billed as being an important consideration that needs looking into now if we are to avoid further problems. Sustainability is, in fact, also a huge commercial opportunity. It has been predicted that there will be a predicted annual market value of around $12 trillion by 2030. This, combined with the fact that for the first time ever in history the World Economic Forum’s Global Risks Report (2020) was completely dominated by concerns regarding the environment is proof enough that this is certainly a significant issue. 

The idea that the issue is significant is also supported by the fact that major legislation is increasing at an incredibly significant pace as governments all over the globe are trying to make progress towards the pledges that they have made to have Net Zero carbon emissions by 2050. These ideas are not just localised to companies. Consumers themselves are asking more questions about the sustainability of the products that they purchase and are helping to drive the push towards stronger action on the part of the manufacturers. In short, sustainability is a commercial opportunity that must be built into any company’s models going forward if they want to survive in a global marketplace who has seen the value of being more committed to a sustainable and innovative way forwards.

How can you embed sustainability within your project management processes?

In order to work out where you might be able to embed sustainability within your project management processes it is important to consider those areas where action might be most effective. Within the project management process you will want to consider the areas of environment, technology, strategy, and regulation. The biggest areas where you can have the most impact with sustainability, both on a commercial scale and also an environmental one are:

  • Water
  • Waste
  • Carbon
  • Products 
  • Packaging

When you consider each of these in turn it is clear to see how the relevant improvements can be made and of course added to your project management processes. 

Water

When it comes to many industries, particular those such as pharmaceuticals, agriculture, consumer packaged items, manufacturing and even textiles and technology, water is a vital component for a successful outcome. Companies involved in these industries, and others, rely on a steady source of clean water in order to be able to effectively deliver their services or products.

Unfortunately, the demand for water is growing all of the time and this in turn is putting the system under severe strain. In fact such is the increased need for water that it is believed that within the next decade there could be a water deficit of up to 40%. During the same period it is expected that demand for water across the globe will double. The result of this increased demand and reduced supply means that a substantial number of individuals will suffer from what is termed “water stress.” 

Whilst consumers are already keen to reduce their water consumption, which will reduce their bills and potentially avoid the need for water rationing and hosepipe bans in the summer, businesses need to do their bit as well. Project management processes should include ways in which any water requirements for a project are kept to a minimum. In construction, for example, the recycling of water for the necessary cleaning of plant machinery so that it does not create problems on the highway is a simple but effective solution to much of the water usage. Building the brand strength of a company around the reduction of use of water and being part of the solution to combat water scarcity can be huge selling points for any company. 

Taking the time to sit down at the beginning of any project and look at water usage and how it can be improved will help a company towards their sustainability goals. 

Carbon

Over half the carbon that is produced comes from the use of energy, and businesses are one of the biggest consumers out there. Key areas of carbon consumption that businesses need to take a look at include the materials that they use, the vehicles that are needed to transport their raw materials and finished products from one place to another, and even the waste that they product. 

In order to consider all of this effectively in their project management processes a company will need to map out their carbon footprint, including their supply chains, so that they can identify where it is possible to reduce carbon. They should consider energy transition, cleaning up legacy carbon pollution, repurposing assets in order to prolong their life, and energy efficiency. These areas can all be considered when trying to become more sustainable and reducing a company’s carbon footprint. 

Looking at cross-industry collaborations and innovations may benefit everyone and are also worthy of consideration. Look for suppliers and contractors who are also on the pathway to improving their sustainability and this will help to improve your own carbon footprint. Sustainable fuels and more sustainable materials as well as improved use of digital technologies are all key areas that should be considered. Look to make the switch to energy sources that are renewable and repurpose abandoned assets where possible.

Waste

The heavy disposal of waste is a heavy contributor to any company’s carbon footprint. The key focus for any company looking to add sustainability to their project management processes is to reduce the amount of waste they produce, reuse materials where possible and recycle those materials that cannot be reused. Doing this will have a huge impact on the amount of waste that is sent to landfill. Whether these goals are achieved through investment in a recycling programme within the office, using a waste company who sort out mixed waste and ensure that as much of it as possible is recycled, or simply by considering repairs for older equipment instead of replacements. 

Products 

When it comes to the products that a company manufactures, it is now an important consideration to build sustainability into any new product line. Consumers are increasingly looking for companies who are going that extra mile with their products, creating a better carbon footprint, and building sustainability into everything that they do. It is this combination of sustainability together with an effective business model and an increase in the use of digital technology that will not only increase innovation but will also unlock greater revenue streams. 

Both market research and statistics have shown that even over the course of the last couple of years consumer searches for more sustainable products have increased significantly. Whether this is the product itself, the ability that a company has to offer some form of recycling for older products or the packaging that is used, these are all things that should be considered at the planning stage of any project. 

Packaging

The final area the should be considered at a project management process level, and one of the easiest to improve, is packaging. A quick look at the shelves in your local supermarket will show you just how much packaging has already begun to improve in line with a more sustainable ethos. Labels like “same weight, smaller packaging” and cardboard sleeves replacing plastic wrap on multipacks are just some of the innovations that you will spot. 

When it comes to the packaging that a company might want to consider in their project plan it is a good idea to listen to consumers and see what it is that they are looking for because they have the buying power and if you don’t opt for packaging that goes at least some way towards being sustainable then they may just choose a like product from a competitor that does give them the feel good, sustainability factor that they are looking for.