What is sustainability in project management?


Sustainability in the project profession is an approach to business that balances the environmental, social, economic aspects of project-based working to meet the current needs of stakeholders without compromising or overburdening future generations.

Definition from APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition  📖

In our changing world, sustainability in projects is more important than ever. Project sustainability involves both individual and organisational responsibility to ensure that outputs, outcomes and benefits are sustainable over life cycles and during their creation, disposal and decommissioning. Building sustainability into the vision at the very start of the project – if sustainability is planned in as a key requirement from the outset, it can’t be traded or forgotten.

Sustainability is relevant across all areas of project-based working. For example, the procurement team seeking opportunities to buy from sustainable sources and to make the supply chain more efficient. Project professionals have a responsibility to ensure that their work minimises, or ideally positively affects, ongoing sustainability.

Sustainability is a challenging concept for many project based organisations but it is something project professionals are thinking about more than before. In projects, programmes and portfolios, sustainability remains significant and important; in fact it is a fundamental competence vital for improving and facilitating effective project, programme and portfolio management. As we know sustainability involves taking individual as well as organisational responsibility so it’s something all project professionals need to understand. Change initiatives must proactively alter behaviours so they can be delivered through sustainable working practices and methods. To learn about what you need to know and deliver for a project to meet sustainability standards, visit the APM Competence Framework, 3rd edition.

Sustainability involves balancing different concerns: environment, such as climate change; society, such as community; economy, such as affordability; and administration, such as health and safety. When these four elements are considered, we can build sustainability into projects.

[Diagram source] Body of Knowledge, 7th edition, 2019

Featured resources

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The pandemic has shown sustainability is vital – but how can project professionals help?

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Watch: Delivering Sustainability in projects from APM Learning

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Sustainability: inclusive storytelling to aid sustainable development goals

New research: Storytelling for sustainable development

The Sustainable Development Goals were established for individuals, teams, projects, organisations, and industries. There remains little empirical research exploring the ways in which sustainability is interpreted and practiced by sustainability practitioners, including those whose job title infers direct responsibility. This research explores that understanding sustainability as a form of inclusive storytelling to which individuals and firms respond through their work-related identities, practices and actions opens up an opportunity for a better understanding of the meaning of sustainability for practitioners. It also has important implications for constructing individual and collective identities.

View research

Featured podcasts

From the Frontline: Fast and furious at net-zero Formula E

Meet Gemma Roura Serra, strategic planning director at ABB Formula E, the world’s first all-electric single-seater car racing series, conceived to accelerate electric vehicle adoption and demonstrate leadership in the sports world by becoming the only sport to be net-zero carbon since inception.

Why sustainability should be on every project professional's agenda

Sustainability presents an opportunity for them to demonstrate their value in aligning with corporate strategic objectives around net zero. Hear from experts in sustainability to find out more about embedding sustainability within every aspect of project and how this can make a huge difference.

Dynamic conditions for project success

Dynamic conditions for project success

Did you know that 69 per cent of project professionals consider sustainability an important factor in project success in the Dynamic Conditions for Project Success?

This research highlights opportunities for project management organisations and professionals to improve project success and project outcomes.

Learn more about the conditions that enable better project outcomes here.

Find out more

APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition

The APM Body of Knowledge 7th edition is a foundational resource providing the concepts, functions and activities that make up professional project management. It reflects the developing profession, recognising project-based working at all levels, and across all sectors for influencers, decision makers, project professionals and their teams.

The seventh edition continues in the spirit of previous editions, collaborating with the project community to create a foundation for the successful delivery of projects, programmes and portfolios.

APM Body of Knowledge  Download free for members

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Watch: The future of sustainability

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Watch: Responsible project management

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Projecting the Future, climate change, clean growth and sustainability:

Climate change, clean growth and sustainability have been thrust into the limelight. Amid rising public concern, the government has set in law a target for the UK to achieve net zero greenhouse gas emissions by 2050. Achieving that will require big changes across the economy, in every major sector. It will be a significant factor in every project professionals’ work in the years ahead.

The effects of climate change are both global in reach, and local in impact. They could spell disaster for millions of people in the decades ahead. Building a ‘clean’ and sustainable carbon-free economy will be far from simple. 

Download the challenge paper now

Paper/Long read Climate Change and what the project profession should be doing about it: a UK perspective

You can find more information about projecting the future, climate change, clean growth and sustainability here.

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