Sustainability, by definition, is the process of maintaining and improving the quality of the environment for current and future generations. Organisations are increasingly keen to demonstrate their green credentials and incorporate sustainability in their business practices. As business strategy is typically realised through projects, the relationship between sustainability and project management is evident, and the concept of ‘sustainable’ project management emerges.
So, what does sustainability mean for a project? In 1994, management consultant John Eglington put forward the idea that a company can be managed in a way that not only makes money but also improves people’s lives and the planet’s wellbeing. His triple bottom line (TBL) business framework remains relevant today, signalling that the company is serious about sustainability. This framework maintains that companies should commit to focusing as much on social and environmental concerns as they do on profits. The bottom line is no longer just about profit but also seeks to measure the impact of the business model on people and the planet.
Let’s take a closer look:
In the context of the TBL, a company must ensure its income is earned fairly and ethically, engage business partners who align with their values, and consider the environmental, social, and governance (ESG) factors of an investment decision or project business case. Clear corporate policies and practices should define how sustainability should be considered in the project initiation stage.
Traditionally, a company prioritises investors or shareholders but taking a TBL lens broadens this perspective to include employees, families, customers, suppliers, communities, and any other person influencing or being affected by the organisation’s activities.
Projects can be delivered sustainably in various ways, such as; ensuring safe and healthy working conditions, designing operational processes that consider employee wellbeing or insisting on sustainable supply chains enforced through strong vendor management controls.
A critical sustainability component is the impact a business has on the environment. With the planet’s finite resources reaching critically low levels, the focus has increasingly turned to building a circular economy to use resources that minimises waste, pollution, and environmental impact. The core principle of a circular economy is that products should be designed to last, with component parts or materials that can be reused.
And this isn’t just a concern of infrastructure projects. For example, suppose you consider the energy needs of modern data centers or the amount of scarce natural resources in discarded computers, mobile phones, etc. In that case, you can appreciate how this approach opens new income streams and jobs.
Business models can be reimagined to offer a range of sustainable, product-as-a-service models – think subscription services, short-term rentals, or pay-per-use where the focus shifts from increasing consumerism to increasing customer retention.
Why is this important?
Businesses are increasingly under pressure from customers, competitors, and employees to implement sustainability strategies. Robust and transparent sustainability credentials can deliver a competitive advantage for early embracers – through improved brand reputation, talent attraction and retention, reduced compliance risks, and the creation of more sustainable supply chains.