Sustainability describes an environmental, social and economically integrated approach to development that meets present needs without compromising the environment for future generations.
The term sustainable development was defined by the Brundtland Commission in the 1980s and is a simple concept that can often be difficult to put into practice. In P3 management, it involves both individual and corporate responsibility to ensure that outputs, outcomes and benefits are not only sustainable over their life cycles, but are sustainable during their creation.
The ability of P3 managers to influence the sustainability of their work may be constrained by the host or client organisation.
The three strands that need to be considered in any sustainability assessment relate to the environmental, economic and social dimensions of any work.
These strands are clearer in some sectors than others. Large-scale engineering and construction projects will often have an immediate impact on the environment. These will be closely monitored and often be subject to legislative environmental requirements. However, work involving organisational change or the production of software, may not immediately register as having an environmental impact.
The need for sustainable development stems from the recognition that using natural and human resources indiscriminately to achieve growth and ‘single bottom line’ financial profit, without regard to the environmental or social cost, is no longer tenable.
Many organisations now recognise that the environmental and social, as well as the economic, dimensions of business activity need to be factored into their management strategies. This is sometimes referred to as the ‘triple bottom line’.
All members of the P3 team can have an influence, however small, on sustainability and should think creatively about how they can act responsibly in their day-to-day work. For example, this may well be something as simple as reducing unnecessary travel, or the use of paper. Increased seniority gives P3 managers wider influence. They can create an environment where sustainability is a factor in planning and implementing work. They will have influence with clients and sponsors and, from the concept phase, can challenge aspects of sustainability.
Sustainability should be considered in many different core areas of project, programme and portfolio management. For example, in procurement there will be opportunities to buy from sustainable sources and to make the supply chain more efficient. Risk management will consider the threats and opportunities stemming from innovative but sustainable approaches, and consider the environmental risks of proposed solutions.
At programme and portfolio level, P3 managers need to play a part in analysing and selecting projects to meet sustainability objectives wherever possible. Within a portfolio, P3 managers need to liaise with the sponsors and organisational boards to explain how they support the sustainable objectives of the organisation.
Sustainable development is an area in continual flux and is rarely without debate and argument. There are often no hard and fast rules unless the work is in a highly regulated environment. However, any manager needs to consider it as a core aspect of being a professional and ethical manager.