In the context of growing worldwide competition, technological changes, and an economic drop on a global level, long-term business sustainability has become imperative. Today, this implies the integration of economic, environmental, and social issues into decision-making processes, which means that commitment to sustainability dimensions is perceived as key for the future business success of organizations [1
]. By introducing sustainability concepts into its business, an organization takes responsibility for the influence that its activities, through different forms of actions, has on clients, employees, management, the community, surroundings, and the environment itself.
Dyllick and Hockerts [4
] state that achieving a balance between economic growth and social welfare have been a political and managerial challenge for more than a century and a half. At the end of the 20th century, the concept of sustainable development became one of the essential ideas concerning society, and in the business world, the need for the integration of this idea with other managerial concepts emerged. By introducing the concept of sustainability, an organization can gain various advantages regarding value creation, performance improvements, efficiency increase, flexibility, and much more [5
]. For this reason, organizations often choose sustainable business as their strategic direction. The general goal of sustainable development, perceived as long-term economic and environmental stability, can only be achieved through the integration of and emphasis on the importance of economic, environmental, and social issues in decision-making.
The report of the UN’s World Commission on Environment and Development [6
], entitled “Our common future”, defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present, without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs”, indicating that sustainability has social, environmental, and economic dimensions. Today, many organizations integrate sustainability strategies into their business strategy and mission in order to survive and achieve a competitive advantage, thus showing the concept of sustainability to be a global business trend [7
]. By adopting these business strategies and acting accordingly, organizations meet the needs of today’s’ stakeholders, while simultaneously improving and preserving human and natural resources for the future.
Schoper et al. [8
] predicted that sustainability would be one of the key areas of project management development until the year 2025. In an effort to harmonize its business goals with global goals regarding sustainable development and to apply them successfully, organizations have made changes and implemented certain projects. Recognizing that a project is a mechanism for the implementation of an organization’s strategy, the establishment of the concept of sustainable development on the project management level, as the operational level, is of crucial importance for the successful implementation of a strategy [9
The application of sustainable project management can contribute to value creation, business agility, operational and project excellence, and long-term sustainable business in different sectors. Therefore, in the present research, the authors were motivated to determine the extent to which knowledge of the concept and importance of sustainability and available sustainable solutions exists in the private and public sectors, and whether there is a difference between sectors in this regard. Starting from the assumption that projects are managed by applying a specific methodology, the authors investigated the application of certain methodologies for project management in the private and public sectors and determined which methodologies are more represented in which sector. This is further related to the research on whether projects managed by the application of a certain methodology provide better support for the introduction of specific sustainability project management aspects or not. The intention of the authors was to determine whether there is a difference in terms of the importance of certain knowledge areas of project management in the private and public sectors and, if so, which areas stand out as particularly important, since this is extremely important for project managers. In this segment of the research, the authors explored the knowledge and skills that are particularly important for a project manager to have in order to allow them to manage projects in a sustainable manner. The authors also explored the trend of linking sustainability with other management concepts by pointing to the concrete impact of sustainability concepts on project management, posing the question: Are sustainability concepts really connected with management concepts and applied in project management processes, or is this rather a trick or treat scenario?
2. Literature Review
Changes are usually introduced through projects [11
], and the integration of sustainability and project management concepts contribute to genuine changes in thinking, operations, cooperation, and partnerships on different levels of business and organization [12
]. Due to the fast and unexpected changes that occur in any environment or part of a system, a sustainable project should be able to embrace changes [13
]. Many economic, social, and environmental benefits are associated with certain projects [14
]. Zamojska and Prochniak [15
] stress that some projects provide a positive economic benefit, but all of them should provide positive social and environmental impacts. Michaelides et al. [16
] indicate that important project outcomes are the results of sustainable project management practices: Easier access to capital markets in the future, high customer loyalty, improvements in a supply chain, the development of capabilities, improvements in operational performance and efficiencies in the long term, positive organizational image and credibility, among other things. Morfaw [13
] argues that the effective and efficient management of the sustainable project processes requires a complex mix of different economical, societal, and environmental utilities, such as systems, structures, plans, resources, laws, regulations, technologies, etc. Moreover, it is necessary to ensure that sustainable project objectives are aligned with societal objectives [13
]. Sustainable project management is an accelerated roadmap to sustainable development. The way our future will look depends significantly on project managers, since the challenges relating to sustainability are quite concrete and rely on the adequate planning and implementation of projects, which can guarantee the protection of world resources and, at the same time, create welfare for people [17
Chofreh et al. [18
] state that introducing sustainability into project management concepts and methods should support organizations in achieving a competitive advantage. However, Banihashemi et al. [19
] argue that while many organizations take the initiative to incorporate sustainability, many of them still fail to manage projects, because they employ conventional project management. Sustainable project management can be defined as “the planning, monitoring, and controlling of project delivery and support processes, considering the environmental, economic, and social aspects of the life cycle of a project’s resources, processes, deliverables, and effects, with the aim of creating benefits for stakeholders in a transparent, fair, and ethical way that includes proactive stakeholder participation” [20
]. The introduction of sustainability is about project management politics, processes, and procedures, which can be split into the social (people), environment (planet), and financial aspects (profit). The concept of sustainability is based on a balance between three dimensions: Social equality, protection of the environment, and economic prosperity, known as “people, planet, and profit” [17
The same authors underline that environmental and social dimensions are rarely integrated into the business strategies and practice of organizations. Marcelino-Sádaba et al. [21
] confirm this point and further state that the philosophy of the project management concept is limited solely to profit, without consideration of the social and environmental aspects. Therefore, sustainable project management is a concept that encourages organizations to introduce sustainability into their business initiatives and prosper. An organization can contribute to sustainable development by focusing its business activities on the minimization of harmful influences and the maximization of positive influences on the environment and society [17
The application of sustainable project management requires a certain flexibility and openness to implementing change on a project level. Our analysis of the literature showed that project management theory has been intensively developed since the 1960s. Garel [22
] argues that the lack of a unique standing point enabled project management theory and practice to be perceived from different viewpoints or perspectives. The term, “perspective”, can be understood, in accordance with Andersen [23
], as a particular approach. By examining and analyzing various aspects of project management, the authors suggested different management approaches. The foundations for the development of several project management approaches have been laid (PMI, PRINCE2, OpenPM2, etc.), and a traditional (waterfall) approach has emerged, which supports a sequence of project stages, process orientation, clarity of requirements and results, and minimal changes during a project’s lifetime. When it comes to a project without these characteristics, traditional approaches have shown their flaws, pointing to the necessity for the development of a management approach that can meet managerial demands, even when the project stages are not sequential, when stakeholders do not precisely communicate all requirements at the beginning of a project, and when project changes through its lifetime are relatively common.
One of the first papers seeking an alternative to traditional project management was written in 1983. The author of this paper, Lichtenberg [24
], argues that “in the same way that we do not all accept the same lifestyle, we cannot all be suited to the same form of project management”. The concept of agile project management was developed as an alternative to traditional management. By developing new approaches, the authors tried to overcome the limitations of the traditional ones relating to the limited possibilities of managing projects that do not have a sequential flow, require greater flexibility due to frequent changes, and need more intensive cooperation and communication with stakeholders. Jeff Sutherland and Ken Schwaber developed the Scrum methodology, as an agile methodology, in the early 1990s. It is based on the assumption that user requirements cannot be fully specified at the beginning of product development, so it is necessary to allow for flexibility in changes during its production. Schwaber and Beedle [25
] state that the Scrum methodology implements the ideas of adaptability, productivity, and flexibility, and this is its great advantage. Cockburn [26
] contributed to the implementation of agility by pointing out the importance of documentation through research and the greater role of communication in project management, and in 1998, he developed a family of methodologies, known as Crystal [27
]. The focus is on people, their interaction and communication, collaboration, skills, and talent, rather than documentation, techniques, and tools. In 2001, a group of authors published the Agilemanifesto [28
] and laid the foundation for the development of an agile approach to project management. A project, as a temporary endeavor, is not only characterized by various constraints in terms of time and resources, but also by changes, risk, and uncertainty. The existing project management approaches observe projects from the perspective of time, money, and quality, but since project results can influence the environment long after the project has been completed, the potential for involving the concept of sustainability in project management has been studied in recent years. The sustenance that agile approaches provide where there is complexity, uncertainty, and changes can offer significant support for the introduction of the sustainability dimension into project management, even in the later stages of project development [29
]. The main managerial challenge is to determine the key dimensions as preconditions for sustainable project management, along with possible modes of the application of the concept of sustainability in project management.
Silvius et al. [17
] surveyed the possibility for integrating sustainability principles in groups of processes in traditional project management. According to PMBOK [33
], the groups of project management processes are initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, and closing. The authors examined the possibility for integrating six principles of sustainability: Sustainability is about balancing or harmonizing social, environmental, and economic interests; sustainability is about both short-term and long-term orientation; sustainability is about local and global orientation; sustainability is about consuming income, not capital; sustainability is about transparency and accountability; and sustainability is about personal values and ethics. They concluded that there are differences between the areas inside the groups of processes. Inside the initiating and planning group, the concept of sustainability is integrated into the scope and objectives of projects, while the executing and monitoring group of processes enables the integration of the concept of sustainability into the process of creating project results. The closing group of project processes includes the handover of project results, which represents a significant aspect of project sustainability. Projects whose results are not accepted cannot be considered sustainable, because in that case, resources, materials, and energy are wasted, without achieving the required performance. The author concluded that all six sustainability principles influence the initiating, planning, and executing of group processes, while all of the principles do not affect the monitoring and closing of group processes.
Tiron-Tudor and Dragu [34
] pointed to a direct correlation between sustainability and project management success and pointed out the advantages of sustainable project management. They also stressed their expectation that future organization will become aware of the significance of sustainable project management, while Silvius [1
], besides pointing out the correlation between project success and sustainability project management, also promotes sustainable project management as the new way of thinking (the new “school”) in the field of project management. Sustainable project management requires a project to be linked to a strategy of the organization. This connection helps projects to be a part of the strategic context and managers to make proper decisions regarding projects, organization, and society on the whole. Our literature survey has shown that those authors who published papers about integrating sustainability into project management processes have a great interest in the area of project management [1
]. Sabini et al. [40
] confirm that there is a growing number of surveys focusing on the correlation between sustainability and project management. They state that there is no standard analytical frame for understanding sustainable project management. Therefore, it is necessary to analyze why and how to include sustainable business practices into projects and what the nature of the influence that sustainability has on traditional project management practice is. Kivila et al. [41
] conclude that there will inevitably be a growing pressure for the sustainable management of projects in the future and therefore a need for further research that can enable the development of an adequate practice to aid organizations in managing projects and taking care of all stakeholders in a sustainable way. Banihashemi et al. [19
] consider project managers’ experience and competences to be the most influential critical success factor in sustainable project management.
Silvius and Schipper [42
], Taylor [43
], and Khalfan [44
] stress that introducing the sustainability dimension into project management poses challenges among project managers, who should adopt new responsibilities and develop new competences. Besides being responsible for delivering the required results, they now take responsibility for sustainable development in the organization and society. Project managers must think outside the box and the usual boundaries, while developing honest communication about the long-term and short-term social and environmental effects of projects.
Based on the literature review, it can be concluded that there are numerous papers on the subject of project management competences and significantly fewer papers regarding project management competences in sustainable project management.
In addition to evaluating projects’ results from the perspective of time, money, and quality, it is necessary to consider their impact on the environment. For that reason, there have been many surveys on the possibility of introducing the concept of sustainability into project management. Introducing sustainability dimensions relates to project management politics, processes, and procedures, which have social, environment, and financial aspects that ought to be in balance. Projects are managed using a certain methodology or approach, both in the public and private sector. Since there is an apparent growing interest in sustainable project management, it is necessary to explore and develop a practice for sustainable project management. Based on the research results, the authors of this paper analyzed the application of project management methodologies in different sectors, their support for introducing sustainability dimensions, the level of integration of sustainability dimensions with project management group processes, as well as the required knowledge and skills for sustainable project management in different sectors.
The results of the research have revealed that projects managed using a certain methodology were not inconsistent with internal processes that have elements of sustainability. Thus, it can be concluded that there is support for the introduction of sustainability when projects are managed using a certain methodology. The application of methodologies differs when it comes to sectors. The PMI methodology is more commonly used in the public sector, while the agile methodology and internally developed methodologies are more popular in the private sector. There is a more distinct need for completeness in scope management in the public sector than in the private sector. Furthermore, the public sector is characterized by a lack of knowledge and awareness of sustainability dimensions and “green” technologies and materials, and more often than not, it is also characterized by an unavailability of “green” solutions, compared to the private sector. The successful management of a project’s scope is especially important for sustainable project management, since an inadequate understanding of the meaning of a sustainable project or process will have a negative impact on the scope definition, which will, in turn, lead to inefficiency.
Given that the project management process includes groups of subprocesses, to understand the correlation between project management and sustainability, the authors examined whether introducing sustainability has an equal influence within each group of subprocesses. Since the results showed that it has the highest impact on planning and execution processes, and the lowest impact on the initiation process, it was concluded that introducing sustainability does not have the same influence on all groups of subprocesses. For sustainable project management, it is important to understand these differences and to establish the right balance.
Introducing the social, environmental, and economic dimensions of sustainability into project management changes the level of responsibility and the set of competences required of the project manager. The project management orientation ceases to be short-term, and project managers become responsible for the sustainability of the project results and must consider all long-term impacts and effects. Furthermore, introducing sustainable project management changes the list of stakeholders; it becomes more comprehensive, which complicates the responsibility of project manager. Besides the need to be competent in the sense of having the knowledge, skills, and capabilities required for project management, sustainability in project management requires project managers to be ethical, righteous, and fair in managing projects.
When it comes to the knowledge and skills required of project managers for sustainable project management, the results of this paper have shown that communication and decision-making are of the highest rank. Therefore, it can be concluded that companies should pay attention to developing project managers’ communication and decision-making knowledge and skills in order to improve the results of sustainable projects. Furthermore, resource management and quality management represent two of the most important knowledge areas. This finding indicates the conclusion that the project manager who manages a project in a sustainable manner must put the focus on the resources in the project, be informed and use “green” technologies and “green” solutions in order to contribute to sustainability, and manage the required quality of project results through intensive communication with stakeholders. By analyzing the need for knowledge and skills within sectors, the research has shown that these needs are more pronounced in the public than in the private sector.
Considering the results of the research, the authors concluded that sustainability in project management is not a trick and that project managers today, both in the private and public sector, integrate sustainability into project management. Through the conducted research, we pointed out a wide range of possible areas for connecting sustainability and project management, which provides guidelines for future research and the deepening of existing knowledge. The conclusions of the paper can be useful for both organizations and project managers. Organizations need to understand that using a specific project management methodology provides a strong basis for introducing sustainability and better results in this regard. Moreover, project managers need to understand in which direction they need to develop their competencies in order to manage their projects in a sustainable manner.
The present research nonetheless has its shortcomings. The first is the absence of a hybrid approach in the questionnaire part dealing with the support for the introduction of sustainability dimensions into existing project management approaches. The reason for this is that the authors of this paper argue that the companies included in the research do not have enough understanding of the hybrid approach and sustainability dimensions. Therefore, only the approaches that are most commonly used by the examinees were included in the research. Realizing that there is a growing number of studies that pay attention to linking the hybrid approach and sustainability dimensions, the authors will analyze and explore the potential of a hybrid project management approach to sustainable project management. Additionally, future research will focus on different industries in order to analyze different aspects of the inclusion of sustainability in project management in companies from different industries. This is related to the conclusion of this research, where no significant difference between the private and public sectors was observed. The second limitation is the fact that the authors did not analyze individual agile methodologies, focusing instead on a general agile approach to project management, so the examinees could more clearly differentiate between the offered approaches. The future research will focus on the available and applicable agile methodologies. The third shortcoming consists of the fact that the competences of project managers for sustainable project management were considered, while the competences of other participants were not. The reason is that through this research, the authors aimed to analyze the roles and responsibilities of a project manager, as the participant who must adapt his or her competences, roles, and responsibilities the most in the context of introducing sustainability into project management. In future research, the authors will expand their research on the competences, roles, and responsibilities of other participants in sustainable project management and the associated changes that they must undergo. Future research will include different categories of competencies—contextual, behavioral, and technical—and will analyze their importance for sustainable project management and possible differences in this regard. We hope that this research will be useful for all interested parties in sustainable project management and that it will motivate them to conduct further researches in this new field.