Much of a project manager’s time is taken up with juggling limited resources so it’s a natural progression to think about project managers being environmentally aware and helping to use the Earth’s limited natural resources to best effect.
Project Management is often concerned with managing limited resources – there never seems to be enough time allocated to complete the project or to complete individual tasks within the project. Neither does there ever seem to be enough budget to cover everything that needs to be done to deliver the project successfully. Even those projects that start off on-track with time and costs very often veer off course when the inevitable change requests start to roll in.
In many parts of the world we have already become used to the idea of recycling our household waste and large organisations are taking the recycling of waste seriously too, particularly electronic waste, driven by the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive (WEEE Directive) in Europe and the UK. These WEEE regulations aim to cut the amount of e-waste going to landfill and reuse the valuable components of electronic gadgets in a more sustainable way to create a circular economy that supports green jobs, instead of the more typical linear economy we have been used to. So corporations are increasingly dealing with their waste in an ethical and sustainable manner but wouldn’t it be better if we restricted our use of precious resources in the first place so we had less to recycle or reuse?
So how can we integrate an awareness of the environment into project management?
Perhaps the first step is to ensure that every decision made on a project is viewed from an environmental perspective. From the basic decisions on how to share and distribute project documentation, to the design methods and the end product itself.
A simple way to make a start is never to print documentation unless absolutely necessary. And what about travelling (particularly flying) to meetings when video-conferencing is so readily available and is much more an accepted way of doing business than pre-pandemic. We could all easily minimise our own personal carbon footprints.
But being an environmentally aware project manager is not simply about these basic and obvious steps. It is also about viewing the product to be delivered in an environmental light, particularly where production methods may not be energy-efficient or where the end-product itself may not be eco-friendly, for example, by constantly mining new metals when, in fact, it is more efficient to re-use certain metals from old, discarded equipment.
The benefits of eco-friendly products in the construction industry, such as eco-friendly paint, for example, are not purely environmental ones. There can be significant cost reductions to this approach and the bottom line is always easy to sell to stakeholders. Outdated production methods can often be upgraded to provide substantial savings over time.
Take as an example Apple which, as an organisation, is dedicated to the production of mobile devices and other products that are energy efficient. The energy that a device uses when plugged in adds to the environmental footprint of the firm that produced the device. That energy consumed also contributes to the environmental footprint of the owner of the device so by producing and using an energy efficient product the owner benefits by a reduction in their electricity bills and the business benefits from the lower costs of energy-efficient production. Both the producer and the user jointly contribute to a lowering of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants and consequently to a lowering of the environmental impact.
So every project has the opportunity to improve its environmental credentials in both small and large ways and a professionally qualified project manager adept at making the most of limited resources is well-placed to have an influence over decisions, large and small, that might have an environmental impact on projects that they lead and direct.