New Approach for Managing Sustainability in Projects
1.1. General Aspects: Objective
1.2. Methodological Aspects
- A generic vision aimed at any type of project approach, whether traditional (predictive), agile, or hybrid (combination of them).
- The concept of performance domain, defined as a group of interrelated activities that are critical to achieve the desired results of the project (planning, team, stakeholders, uncertainty, among others).
- Principles to be applied, which are not prescriptive, and which describe a fundamental truth, rule or value, that increases the probability of success in achieving the expected results. The Project Management Institute considers the following to be appropriate principles for project management:
- Be a diligent, respectful and committed steward;
- Build a project team within a framework of accountability and respect;
- Engage stakeholders to understand their interests and needs;
- Focus on value;
- Employ holistic thinking;
- Lead by motivating, influencing, guiding, and learning;
- Adapt the project approach according to its context;
- Achieve quality in management processes and project results;
- Addressing complexity by using knowledge, experience and learning;
- Manage opportunities and threats;
- Be adaptable and resilient;
- Manage change appropriately to achieve the desired future state.
2. Materials and Methods
3. Methodological Foundations for Sustainability Management
3.1. Introduction: The Need for an Appropriate Methodological Approach
3.2. Project Sustainability Management Processes
3.2.1. PSM1 Process: Plan the Project Sustainability Management
- Management methodology.
- Internal procedures that will be used, or ad hoc descriptions of the management processes to be employed.
- Assessment methods or model(s) to be used including, among other possibilities:
- Use of Life-Cycle Assessment (LCA) techniques (Environmental Life-Cycle Assessment, Life-Cycle Costing, Social Life-Cycle Assessment), or other different assessment methods.
- Possibility of using different models for the different phases of the project life cycle. For instance, it is possible to use LCA techniques only in certain advanced phases of the project, or at its end, employing simpler methods in earlier phases.
- Main environmental, social, economic and technical/functional indicators to be used. The assessment models can be as comprehensive as possible, or simple models can be employed, following the Pareto Principle, concentrating on key indicators: e.g., energy consumption, CO2 emissions, employment generation, fatal or severe accidents, investment cost and operating cost. As anticipated, these models can be extended at later stages of the project.
- Measurement units for each indicator (e.g., kg CO2eq per m3 of material, or kg CO2eq per m2 of constructed building, among other possibilities).
- Multi-criteria method for indicator integration (AHP (Analytic Hierarchy Process), ASPID (Analysis and Synthesis of Parameters under Information Deficiency), ELECTRE (Elimination Et Choix Traduisant la REalité or Elimination and Choices Translating Reality in translation), MACBETH (Measuring Attractiveness by a Categorical Based Evaluation TecHnique), MIVES (Modelo Integrado de Valor para una Evaluación Sostenible, Spanish acronym of Integrated Value Model for Sustainability Assessment), PROMETHEE (Preference Ranking Organization Methods for Enrichment Evaluations), TOPSIS (Technique for the Order of Prioritization by Similarity to Ideal Solution), VIKOR (VIsekriterijumsko KOmpromisno Rangiranje: Multicriteria Optimization and Compromise Solution), or among others [59,60,61,62,63,64,65,66,67,68]).
- If applicable, certification model(s) to be used (e.g., in construction: BREAM or LEED, among others).
- In case of using different models for different parts of the project: how to integrate assessments to obtain the project’s Sustainability Index (AHP, ASPID, ELECTRE, MACBETH, MIVES, or PROMETHEE, among others).
- Use of consultants or organisations specialised in sustainability.
- If applicable, certification bodies to be involved (e.g., in construction: BREAM or LEED, among others).
- Precision level. Accuracy of indicator estimates in each moment of the project life cycle (e.g., +/−10%, +/−20%, −10%/+30%).
- Estimates of contingency reserves to be used (see below).
- If applicable, potential use of sustainability optimisation methods, to meet or exceed sustainability objectives to be set.
- Monitoring and control:
- Data to be collected.
- Control thresholds: deviations allowed before corrective decisions are made.
- Frequency, formats and contents of reports.
3.2.2. PSM2 Process: Create the Sustainability Breakdown Structure (SBS)
- PE001 building project. Sustainability Index of the Building (SIB).
- Foundations and structure—18%
- Roof—30%—Ad hoc model #1
- Façade—70%—Ad hoc model #2
- Building services—40%
- Hot water—15%—Ad hoc model #3
- Air conditioning—65%—Ad hoc model #4
- Lighting—20%—Ad hoc model #5
- Engineering and project management processes—2%—Ad hoc model #6
- The capacity of each subsystem to consume or save energy, and to generate or avoid pollutant emissions. Thus, for example:
- Foundations and structures do not generate significant impacts beyond their construction.
- The opposite is true for energy services. On the one hand, they must be highly efficient. On the other, they must use low-polluting energy sources. Ideally, they should have their own renewable energy generation subsystems (geothermal, micro-wind, solar thermal, photovoltaic), in the concept of near-zero energy buildings.
- In the same way, envelopes (roof, façade, partitions) with adequate thermal insulation will allow significant energy savings and avoid pollutant emissions from the heating and air-conditioning system, throughout the life cycle of the building. In particular, openings in the façade and roof (doors and windows; in general, glazed areas) have a major influence on thermal insulation and lighting. It should also be noted that envelopes have a very-important influence on sound insulation (which can be considered as a social aspect), throughout the whole life cycle of the building. Again, roof and façade openings are of particular importance in this matter.
- Normally the façade has a larger surface area than the roof, and therefore a greater influence on thermal (and acoustic) insulation.
- Finally, the engineering and project management processes usually have a very-low impact compared to the manufacturing and construction processes.
3.2.3. PSM3 Process: Define the Sustainability Objective
3.2.4. PSM4 Process: Identify Design Alternatives
3.2.5. PSM5 Process: Define the Sustainability Strategy
3.2.6. PSM6 Process: Implement the Sustainability Strategy
3.2.7. PSM7 Process: Monitor and Control
3.3. Interrelations with Other Project Management Processes
3.3.1. Initiation Processes
3.3.2. Planning Processes
- These requirements can affect project cost and time, among other aspects. It is therefore important to analyse the interrelations between the sustainability requirements and other demands, needs or constraints, to ensure compatibility.
- Product configuration management activities are always important, but even more so when the project includes sustainability certification. In order to achieve it, it will be necessary to demonstrate that the requirements imposed by the certification system have been met. Of particular importance, therefore, are the ways of measuring the fulfilment of product requirements: compliance metrics and the basis for their use.
- On the other hand, when defining the project scope:
- The sustainability features and requirements to be fulfilled should be included in the description of the scope of the deliverables, detailing what was previously stated in the project charter and in the requirements documentation. Often, these features and requirements will be progressively detailed as the project progresses.
- Similarly, the deliverable acceptance criteria should include the conditions to be satisfied in terms of sustainability.
- The project’s work breakdown structure (WBS) should include all aspects related to sustainability. For example, if the product is to be certified, there will be a work package for the tasks to be performed by the certification body. The same will apply if a consultancy company is to be contracted to provide support in the management of the sustainability objective.
- When planning its management:
- Consideration should be given to the needs for staff or companies specialised in sustainability, as well as their roles, authority, responsibility, and knowledge and experience needed.
- In addition, given the current state of sustainability management, it may be necessary to include training activities in this field.
- Any issues related to staff monitoring, participation, performance, and needs, or to personnel recognition and reward systems, should be in accordance with the organisation’s CSR system.
- In addition, at the time of estimating resource needs, the organisational breakdown structure (OBS) should include the companies, institutions and individuals related to PSM.
- When planning, it should be made clear that opportunities and threats affecting the achievement of the sustainability objective will need to be managed.
- As always, the use of quantitative analysis will depend, among other things, on the complexity and relative size of the project, its budget and timeframe, the organisational culture (maturity), and whether the project is of a strategic nature, or not. If employed, quantitative analysis should be carried out using the soundest techniques for doing so.
- It is advisable, in any type of project, to carry out a simple sensitivity analysis.
- If the project is of a strategic nature, or is of great complexity and relative size, it is advisable to use stochastic simulation (Monte Carlo), in a similar way to what would be done with project time, cost and return on investment (ROI).
- The base model (or models) to which these techniques are to be applied is the chosen quantitative sustainability assessment model, e.g., environmental, social and economic life cycle analysis, with the corresponding multi-criteria method (MCM) for aggregating indicators.
- In case of using stochastic simulation, when planning the uncertainty management, it has to be decided if only uncertainty is to be taken into account in the estimation of indicators. If it is considered that there is relevant subjectivity in the estimation of the weights of these indicators, and other parameters used in the sustainability assessment model, these variables can also be considered as probabilistic.
- As mentioned above, the concept of contingency reserves, traditionally used for time and cost, is applicable here, although there is a clear difference. For schedule and cost purposes, these are amounts of time and money to be added to the duration and cost estimates for each activity and work package. As with a potential ROI objective, the reverse is the case here: the sustainability objective will be more demanding than the sustainability level that would be acceptable to the client. Thus, the risks may lead to failure to meet the sustainability objective, but project failure will be avoided, as an acceptable level of sustainability will be achieved.
- Finally, there are clear interrelationships between the uncertainty response planning process and the PSM4 and PSM5 processes. On the one hand, some of the design alternatives identified in PSM4 may be preventive responses to risks that threaten the sustainability objective, and will therefore be selected for immediate implementation as part of the sustainability strategy. Other alternatives will remain as corrective responses, or B Plans, to be used at a later stage, if necessary.
- When defining the work to be carried out (statement of work: SOW), as always, the contents and level of detail will depend on the product to be purchased, manufactured or built, the client’s needs, and the type of contractual strategy chosen (organisation, price and awarding method). However, there is now a new aspect to take into account: sustainability. Both the design and the product specifications must comply with the sustainability requirements (PSM1) and strategy (PSM5). In addition, it must be made clear which documents, deliverables or intermediate products must be approved by the client or its representatives and, if applicable, by the certification body.
- In establishing the procurement management plan, it will be necessary to:
- Consider the interrelations with PSM. In particular, the consequences of the sustainability requirements (PSM1) and strategy (PSM5) on the contractual strategy and on the clauses of the various contracts to be signed. Thus, among other things, certain contractual strategies in which the most important time and cost risks are transferred to the supplier, can be detrimental to the achievement of the sustainability objective, resembling what happens with quality.
- If necessary, prepare contract drafts to be signed between the promoter and the companies that will advise him on sustainability, and between the client and the certification body.
- Always take the sustainability requirements (PSM1) and strategy (PSM5) into account, when establishing the criteria for the selection of designers, contractors and other vendors, as well as in the tender documents for contracting these suppliers.
- Take sustainability aspects into account within the supplier evaluation systems, establishing appropriate metrics for their assessment. At the end of the project, these aspects should also be taken into account when preparing or updating the organisation’s lists of approved suppliers.
- In cases where one or more suppliers offer a product or service for which they guarantee a certain non-certified level of sustainability, it may be necessary to establish a policy on independent estimates of sustainability. This information can then be used in the evaluation of proposals.
3.3.3. Execution Processes
3.3.4. Control Processes
- At the end of the initial design the potential Sustainability Index (SI) will be estimated.
- At the end of the procurement activities another estimate of the SI will be made.
- Periodically, throughout the remainder of the project life cycle, the SI will be re-estimated based on the actual configuration of the project product, or components thereof, that have been completed at each point in time. This will be done deterministically and, where appropriate (see Section 3.3.2), by means of probabilistic simulation.
3.3.5. Closing Processes
3.4. Project Manager Competences
- Perspective, contextual or environmental ones. They allow considering the constraints external to the project, both external and internal to the organization. It involves understanding the reasons that move people, organisations and societies to carry out projects. They include methods, tools and techniques for interacting with the environment.
- Personal ones, necessary to successfully manage a project, including those needed for interpersonal relationships.
- Professional practice ones, related to the methods, processes, tools and techniques specific to project management (management of scope, time, cost, etc.).
- All ICB perspective competences are required for PSM. They are the following:
- PP1. Organisational strategy.
- PP2. Organizational governance, structure and processes.
- PP3. Compliance with legislation, regulations and standards.
- PP4. Individual and group interests, and the use of power.
- PP5. Organisational and societal culture and values.
- PS1. Capacity for self-reflection and self-management.
- PS2. Personal integrity: acting in accordance with one’s own values and ethical and moral principles.
- PS3. Interpersonal communication skills.
- PS4. Ability for interpersonal relationships, to participate in project activities and to encourage the participation of others.
- PS5. Leadership skills.
- PS6. Teamwork capabilities.
- PS7. Conflict and crisis resolution skills.
- PS8. Inventiveness, imagination, creativity.
- PS9. Negotiation skills.
- PS10. Results orientation.
3.5. Tailoring PSM Processes to Project and Organisational Characteristics
- The project uncertainty level. The higher it is, the less simplifications should be made (+/−), as the probability of achieving the project objectives is lower.
- On the one hand, certain types of projects have a higher uncertainty level than others. For example, in general, construction projects have a lower level of uncertainty than IT (Information Technology) ones, and the latter than research and development (R&D), or organisational change projects.
- On the other, for a given industry, some projects have more uncertainty than others.
- The relative size of the project (+/−), which can be measured in different ways. For example, the project budget can be divided by the company’s market capitalisation. The organisation can classify its projects according to this ratio; for example, we could say that the project is small, medium or large, respectively, if it is in the order of 1/100, 1/10, or 1.
- The project complexity (+/−), which can be direct or indirect.
- The direct one is derived from the concepts of differentiation and interdependence: the greater the number of sub-systems or components of the project’s product, and the greater the number of interrelationships between them, the greater the complexity. The same is true for the number of organisations involved in the project, and the number of stakeholders.
- Indirect complexity results from other factors that tend to produce higher levels of interdependency; complicated, convoluted, intricate elements or interrelationships, or uncertainty about their actual behaviour. An example of this, among many others, is a schedule with many overlaps between activities (fast tracking).
- Whether the project is of a strategic nature (less simplifications), or not.
- The time, budget and resources for PSM (+/−).
- The motivation and attitudes of the project team and the organisation’s management (+/−).
- Whether PSM is implemented early in the project or not. The later the start, the less likely it is to reach high sustainability levels and therefore the less simplifications should be made.
4. Delphi Analysis. Research Results
- As for the likelihood of top management supporting this approach:
- Probability can be (very high), because of corporate image issues.
- It can be (high, but not very high), because of the inertia that often exists in quite a few organisations.
- In small companies with non-professionalised management (e.g., some family-owned SMEs) things are much more difficult.
- A sustainable project is more profitable in all respects, in the short and long term.
- Probably, in the long term, the companies that will continue to exist will be those that have a real sustainability strategy.
- Certain issues can put pressure on organisations to move in this direction. For example, emission costs per ton of pollutant, national waste recovery targets, or occupational accidents.
- The role of governments is very important; they must send clear and positive messages; for example, issues such as taxes for feeding electricity into the grid, in the case of buildings that generate their own renewable energy, send a pernicious message.
- It is important that governments and experts are aware that social sustainability is the key to everything. At the moment, many of these people only focus on the environment (which is also necessary), but they forget that social differences are growing and can reach limits that lead to revolts, revolutions or, simply, very serious consequences on the economy, if the majority of the population can only buy the basic necessities. If we solve social sustainability, it will be easier to solve the rest of the problem.
- With regard to feasibility:
- In large organisations (be it a product or a service), if the project can be carried out with little or no subcontracting, allowing maximum control over design and production, the feasibility is likely to be very high. At the other end, the atomisation of subcontracting greatly diminishes the feasibility.
- As in other matters, one thing is top management support, and another the full implementation of these proposals, because in many cases what matters is the corporate image as a marketing tool, but not sustainability.
- Support that does not involve commitment and resource allocation can only lead to failure.
- In the same way that has happened with other topics, such as the management of project uncertainty, everyone will gradually enter into it, but not completely, with the difference that sustainability makes things much more complicated than uncertainty management, because it includes issues beyond the mere business.
- In SMEs, the feasibility is lower than in large companies, because they tend to have lower profit and less availability of expert staff, they struggle to survive, and in small projects is difficult to have budget and time for almost anything more than what is being done today.
- In terms of the sustainability of the project management processes (e.g., face-to-face or on-line meetings?) there is still a long way to go, even in large organisations.
- Progress on sustainability has been extremely slow for 40 years, but is now starting to be taken seriously.
- The final change will only come when the majority of funders, sponsors, promoters and clients demand it.
- Tailoring is essential; these proposals are extremely interesting, but the practical implementation should be as simple and paperless as possible.
- With respect to the potential usefulness and effectiveness:
- Will be (very high) as long as it is supported by top management and properly implemented. However, it is doubtful that these ideas will be implemented in reality as explained here, at least at the short and even medium term. A major, if not drastic, change in business culture is needed to break the inertia of current habits.
- It will be (high, but not very high), because today project management is already complex enough to add new things that, besides, are not simple.
- These proposals, if properly supported and intelligently tailored to each organisation and project, can be very effective.
- For maximum usefulness and effectiveness, this must be integrated into the corporate culture, and more specifically with the internal quality, safety and environmental systems, with appropriate support from top management.
- The effectiveness of these approaches can be highly variable; among other things, it depends very much on the culture of each place (region, country) and organisation.
- For sustainability to have a real impact on organisations, a major debate is needed to generate more knowledge, and then wide dissemination to decision-makers in institutions and companies; training at all levels will be one of the keys. There are still many difficulties for achieving a real change of mentality, which will surely come about gradually.
5. Conclusions, Limitations, and Future Developments
Institutional Review Board Statement
Informed Consent Statement
Data Availability Statement
Conflicts of Interest
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de la Cruz López, M.P.; Cartelle Barros, J.J.; del Caño Gochi, A.; Lara Coira, M. New Approach for Managing Sustainability in Projects. Sustainability 2021, 13, 7037. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13137037
de la Cruz López MP, Cartelle Barros JJ, del Caño Gochi A, Lara Coira M. New Approach for Managing Sustainability in Projects. Sustainability. 2021; 13(13):7037. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13137037Chicago/Turabian Style
de la Cruz López, María Pilar, Juan José Cartelle Barros, Alfredo del Caño Gochi, and Manuel Lara Coira. 2021. "New Approach for Managing Sustainability in Projects" Sustainability 13, no. 13: 7037. https://doi.org/10.3390/su13137037