Sustainability and Project Management

Irrigation, bunkers, stream restoration, construction of small buildings, bridges, wash pads or tee's - there is no shortage to the type of projects happening on a golf course at any given time. This requires a sound project management strategy.

The project management definition as per the Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK, Project Management Institute's flagship publication) is “the application of knowledge, skills, tools, and techniques to project activities to meet project requirements”. What if one of your project goals or requirements was to integrate sustainability? Would you understand how?

For some insight I've contacted Sven Riemer, a Director at Stratos, a sustainability consulting firm in Ottawa Canada. Sven leads the Public Sector Management Practice and specializes in strategic project management, performance measurement and reporting strategies. After the short interview I've included a presentation of Sven's illustrating the process he uses of integrating sustainability in to the project management process.

SJM: Many high-end golf courses have engaged in projects that are inherently "sustainable", like greens roofs, organic maintenance and solar panels or turbines for energy generation. However the initial investment of these projects is just not affordable for the majority of courses. How can the average company integrate sustainability principles when faced with low budgets?

Sven Riemer: Projects that have a “green” output such as a green roof or the installation of solar panels are often labelled as sustainable projects. Sustainable project management in my mind needs to consider more than just the project deliverable: it needs to consider sustainability aspects of the management of the project itself, that means exploring the environmental, social and economic implications of the project and managing those is a responsible manner. On the economic side, this would include considering for example supply chain and where materials are sourced from (e.g. buy local or from certified green suppliers vs. the cheapest import), and community development or community contribution opportunities. On the social side, proactive management of project health & safety, project team diversity, or aboriginal engagement may be topics that warrant some exploration. Considerations for the environmental dimension include for example energy and water efficiency and the use of recycled materials not only of the project deliverable, but throughout project delivery.

Project managers for of low-budget projects can explore those dimensions as well: they may find opportunities to use recycled building material or find volunteers to assist with some aspects of the project, resulting in cost savings and a smaller environmental footprint of the project. Other considerations may be if project specific expertise has to be bought, or is there an opportunity to build capacity and opportunity in the community by training an individual or group of people? Or, can we make a direct economic contribution by sourcing material locally? These are just a few examples of how projects can be managed with sustainability principles in mind, even if there is no green showcase deliverable at the end

SJM: Would you say that before a business tries to integrate "green", "social" or "efficiency" features into a project, they should have a clearly thought out sustainability or environmental policy?

Sven Riemer: It really helps, especially in light of the tension we often see between short-term savings and long-term benefits. PMI refers to policies that impact how projects are delivered as “enterprise environmental factors”. Policy determines the overall intentions and direction of an organization related to a particular subject matter or issue. The policy development process, if done well, requires the business to think through the implications of committing to environmental or sustainability principles, and to establish through its policies its ambition. When looking at environmental or sustainability policies you often find qualifiers such as “where economically feasible” or “to comply with regulatory requirements” that indicate how far an organization will go in promoting such principles. Policy provides direction to anyone in the organization in how far they can push the envelope on the sustainability side with their projects.

SJM: At what point, if at all, should one pillar of sustainability take precedence over another? For example, when cost restrictions out-weigh the environmental or social goals.
Image from Wikipedia
Sven Riemer: That is where the above policy discussion is directly relevant. Sustainable organizations needs to consider where they want to put their efforts, and how far they are willing to go. In the absence of any policy, another way of answering the questions may be by looking at the stakeholders who are affected by the project. If you have a golf-course project in a community where a local businesses can supply the needed materials and expertise you may want to put an emphasis on buying local, even if it costs more. I know very little about golf course operations, but think it is safe to assume that a functioning local economy should be interest of any operator.

Calculating your return on investment for e.g. water-saving devices can be straight forward. If you know the cost of your water and how much water the new equipment will save you it is easy to calculate the break-even point. For social goals it is not as straight forward, as the returns for being good corporate citizens are not as easily quantifiable. One way of quantifying the benefits of good corporate citizenship is looking at the risks that social investments might help mitigate. In my experience, organizations are typically far more sophisticated at quantifying their risks, and drawing the link between environmental and/or social investments to risk mitigation can help quantify the benefits.

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