Projects integrating Sustainable Methods (PRiSM)

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Developed by Hannah Kuerschner



Projects integrating Sustainable Methods, short PRiSM is a relatively new (2013) developed method to make the process of project management more sustainable. Sustainability is one of the main topics in the 21st century. Therefore it is no surprise sustainability reached also the process of project management. This model was developed by an American company called GPM Global (Green Project Management). With integrating the UN sustainable development goals (SDG) in the profession of Project Management (PM) they give companies the tool to develop more resourceful products and to reduce the negative ecological and social impact of projects. Applicable is the PRiSM mainly in real estate development, construction or infrastructure projects. In the following article the evolution of the PRiSM model will be illuminated with the details about how sustainability is integrated and how this changes the way managing projects. Furthermore, the model itself will be explained to understand the methodology of the PRiSM. Even though this method improves the complex process and helps to create better products, it is necessary to be aware of the limitations of the model and what it cannot cover. This will be described in the last part of this article.[1]


Sustainable values integrated in Triple Constraint model
Figure 1: Sustainable values integrated in Triple Constraint model, inspired by GPM Global [2]

The main topic when managing a project was, and in many cases still is, how to develop a high-quality product within time, scope and cost. Therefore, the Triple constraint model is still a valid basis for project managers (See Figure 1). Nonetheless, there are different approaches to not only satisfy the customer with an “on-time, in-scope and low-cost product” but making the whole process more sustainable.

Basic idea

GPM developed the PRiSM as a holistic approach, which aims for a long-term sustainability for People, Planet, Prosperity, Product and Process (P5 Standards). With well-defined PRiSM principles, which will be focused on later, GPM developed a tool that simplifies the process of project management by organizing and quantifying project selection in a format that is easy to store and retrieve. Therefore the American company GPM developed a list of specific questions (Step 1: Identification), which help to overcome one of the main difficulties in Project management the customization to specific company operations. This step can be aligned with one of the seven PRINCE2 Principles of project management: Continued business justification (PRINCE2 Principle), which suggests starting a project only on the basis of reasonable justification, which should be recorded and approved. The model provides in addition a systematic approach to choose an appropriate course of action (PRINCE2 Principle: Learn from experience), by assessing potential positive and negative risks. This way lessons learned and critical knowledge can be stored and easily accessed when a similar project is coming up.[3][4]

Sustainability and Management

Bringing management and sustainability together in one concept might, at first sight, not seem the most obvious to do. Nonetheless GPM (Green Project Management) developed the so called 5P Standards (Project, Process, People, Planet and Prosperity), which bring together UN sustainable development goals and project management. This is done first on a basic level, such as stating and implementing values such as healthy labor practices, human rights, local procurement to reduce CO2 emissions or caring about the local economic impact of projects. But the Moore complex part is to implement these values on all levels of management to turn the whole project and its product into a sustainable outcome. The whole model is according to its authors, based on ISO standards. This gives the model a normative framework and supports it reliability. As the ISO 21500 Guidance on Project Management states “a project consists of a unique set of processes consisting of coordinated and controlled activities with start and end dates, performed to achieve project objectives. Achievement of the project objectives requires the provision of deliverables conforming to specific requirements.” (ISO 21500:2012). Also categorizes ISO 21500:2012 processes in projects into three major types:

Project management processes:

They are specific for project management and state how activities are selected and managed within the process. These activities and management processes are in the PRiSM model selected through the first step: Identification (see: paragraph Methodology)

Delivery processes:

They are not only applicable in project management. They result in the specification and provision of a product, service, or result. And they vary depending on the particular project deliverable. The 5P standards need to be implemented in the way that they are part of the whole process and its product. (see: paragraph 5P Standards)

Support processes:

They are not only applicable in project management. They provide valuable support to product and project management processes (e.g. logistics, finance, accounting and safety). With using the PRiSM GPM Model the model itself functions as supporter.

With applying the PRiSM GPM Method in these project management processes, managers are able to determine and evaluate the level of sustainability in management processes. And with grouping these processes with a sequential method, into four phases the PRiSM Model ensures the best outcome. As well as from a project success point of view, as from a social, environmental and an economic perspective. This grouping differs from the ISO 21500.2012, which divides the process into five groups: initiating, planning, implementing, controlling and closing.[2]


As Risk Management is a necessary part of managing a project, because wrong risk management leads in most cases to a project failure. PRiSM was developed on the basis of the classical risk management process, which include the following four steps, as presented in the PMBOK® Guide: 1. Identification 2. Analysis 3. Monitoring 4. Control. [5]

Extract of Project analyzing questions
Figure 2: Extract of Project analyzing questions, inspired by PMI [3]
Extract of Project analyzing priority evaluation
Figure 3:Extract of Project analyzing priority evaluation, inspired by PMI [3]


The PRiSM Model is used as a tool that simplifies the process of risk identification. This includes positive risks (opportunities) and negative risks (threats). Therefore users of the PRiSM answer a set of specified questions, which are customized to each company and project. The series of approximately 40 questions will help to identify threats (20 questions) and opportunities (20 questions) of and potential project. Developing this questionnaire needs as many stakeholders as possible, who develop and review the questions to ensure they fit the company’s requirements. Important is that the questions suit a single project, but they also have to be applicable to several projects in order to create a comparability, which is used for a future project identification.

2. Analysis

“Perform Qualitative Risk Analysis is the process of prioritizing individual project risks for further analysis or action by assessing their probability of occurrence and impact as well as other characteristic.” [5] This analysis is subjective as the value assigned to each question is based on individual prejudices and utility values. Based on the utility theory, which assumes that the best choice is the one which brings the highest satisfaction to the decision maker. Quantifying the questions can be done by using value scales as the following examples illustrate:

When this step is completed the PRiSM Model provides a matrix in which the user plots the total scores for opportunities and threats. The opportunity score is placed on the y-axis and the threat/risk score on the x-axis. When placing then the opportunity score on the right vertical ::axis and the threat/risk score on the left vertical axis, the intersection of the sores provides the final profit value of the project. With the location of the score on the index it is easier to assess the risks in this project and make reasonable choices.

3. Monitoring

As well as in the classical risk management process, the PRiSM model requires the implementation of agreed-on risk response plans, as well as the identification of new risks throughout the project. These responses can be approached with different methods, such as avoidance, ::transference, acceptance or mitigation. For example, can avoidance be the preferred response, when there is a wider range of different risks with a lower risk level to choose from. When a risk cannot be handled by the project manager itself or even the company, the risk ::responsibility can be shifted to another, third party. This response is called transference. When accepting risks, the manager or company acknowledges the risks and its consequences. Most commonly used is the response of mitigation, hereby a specific course of action is taken to ::reduce the impact of risks. Or when opportunities occur the response would increase the probability and improve the impact. Developing the right risk responses will help project managers and the team to be in control of the success of a project.

4. Control

The important last step is about evaluating the risk responses and the whole project process, to get benefits from it for future projects. The PRiSM model therefore generates a database, which is primarily in graphic format. Like this it is easy for managers to understand former ::projects and get information about assumptions and constraints, which help essentially to improve future projects. [3]

5P Standards

The P5 standards developed by GPM are not are methodology for how to create the environment, but they create the foundation for GPM’s PRiSM model. The standards create a structure which help to form a definition for the model. The 5P standards have their origin in the triple bottom line approach, which is a concept that includes social and environmental considerations. The 5Ps are, as named earlier, Project, Process, People, Planet and Prosperity. The social aspect includes values such as operating ethically and maintaining mutually beneficial relationships with employees, customers and the community. These are based on international standards:

  • United Nations Universal Declaration of Human Rights
  • United Nations Convention: International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights
  • United Nations Convention: International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
  • Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)
  • ILO Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work 105
  • Vienna Declaration and Program of Action
  • The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development

5P Standards
Figure 4: 5P Standards, inspired by GPM [2]

The environmental aspects focus on the impact of projects on natural systems. Such as living systems and non-living ones, for instance ecosystems, the conversion of diverse flora and fauna and also land, air and water. Similar to the social aspects, the environmental ones are based on conventions and declarations:

  • UNESCO Convention Concerning the Protection of the World Cultural and Natural Heritage
  • United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change
  • Country-specific legislation related to environmental protection, pollution and biodiversity conservation

This category is divided into four subcategories

  • Transport: covers the impacts of the project processes and products with main focus on four areas: Local Procurement, Digital Communication, Traveling and Commuting, and Logistics.
  • Energy: covers the impacts of the project processes and products with main focus on energy and resources, which are categorized into four areas: Energy used, CO2 Emissions, Clean Energy Return and Mixed Energy.
  • Water: covers the impacts of the project processes and products with main focus on water resources, which are categorized into three areas: Water Quality, Water Consumption and Water Displacement.
  • Consumption: covers the impacts of the project processes and products with main focus on the consumption and extraction of raw materials, which are categorized into five areas: Recycling, Water Disposal, Reusability, Incorporated Energy, and Waste

” On financial basis P5 values economic costs, benefits and risks on project management. The financial elements allow for sustainability-based decision-making process from the viewpoint of portfolios, programs and projects, to maximize positive return for as many as possible.” [2]
The Output to Benefits Lifecycle

The Output to Benefit Lifecycle
Figure 5: The Output to Benefit Lifecycle, inspired by GPM [2]


The delivery, or output developed by a project from a planned activity.


The completed set of project outputs required to deliver an outcome; exists prior to transition.


A new operational state achieved after transition of the capability into live operations.


The measurable improvement resulting from an outcome perceived by one or more stakeholders, which contributes towards one or more organizational objectives.[2]


Implementing sustainability in an organizational process and the process of project management requires an appropriate value system, which has to be implemented in all levels of a company in order to work properly. Further it requires responsibilities regarding human rights, labour, the environment and corruption. GMPs PRiSM Model includes 6 Principles which help companies to implement the whole ideology of a sustainable management process into their company.
Commitment and Responsibility

Recognize the right to a safe, clean and healthy environment, equal opportunities, fair remuneration, ethical supplies and respect for the rule of law.

Ethics and Decision-making Power

Support organizational ethics and decision-making in accordance with universal principles through the identification, alleviation and prevention of short- and long-term harmful impacts on society and the environment.

Integration and Transparency

Encourage interdependence between economic development, social integrity and environmental protection in all aspects of management, practice and monitoring.

Development of Resources

Maintain and enhance our natural resources by improving the way we develop and use technologies and resources.

Social and Ecological Equity

Evaluate human vulnerability in ecologically sensitive areas and population centres through demographic dynamics.

Economic Prosperity

Establish budgetary strategies and targets that balance stakeholder needs by including immediate needs as well as those of future generations.[2]


The GPM’s PRiSM model brings a lot of benefits to the process of Project management and increases the sociability and sustainability of projects. Nonetheless managers have to be aware when using the model in aspects of using it the right way. The PRiSM cannot be used in only one department or step of the process, as it only works in its intra connectivity within a company. So the sustainability principles have to be implemented in all levels in order to make the methodology of it work.

Also, can the first two steps of its methodology require some more time in the beginning, as the questions and the evaluation of the values need some fine-tuning until they fit the company’s ideals and specific kinds of projects they are searching for. Only after using the model for several projects the questions get more specific or questions are added to make the identification and the analysis for the right project as reliable as possible. PRiSM as proven to be a successful tool in the process of project management, nonetheless it is vital to critically analyze the outcomes the model provides regarding projects risks and opportunities. A model never replaces critical thinking and experienced managers. But it is a helpful tool that supports managers in essential decisions. [3]


  1. Farooq U.What is the PRiSM Methodology?:Principles and Process of PRISM[Internet].2017 Sep 19 [cited 2019 Feb 15].Available from:
  2. 2.0 2.1 2.2 2.3 2.4 2.5 2.6 GPM Global.Standard for Sustainability in Project Management. United States of America[cited 2019 Feb 16].Available from:
  3. 3.0 3.1 3.2 3.3 3.4 Auchey, F. L. & Auchey, G. J. (2003). Using PRISM model to improve project profitability. Paper presented at PMI® Global Congress 2003—EMEA, The Hague, South Holland, The Netherlands. Newtown Square, PA: Project Management Institute.
  4. AXELOS AXELOS (2017).Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 Edition.The Stationery Office Ltd
  5. 5.0 5.1 Project Management Institute (2017).A guide to the project management body of knowledge (PMBOK guide).Newtown Square, Pennsylvania


William R. Duncan (1996): PMBOK® Guide (A Guide to The Project Management Body of Knowledge)
Describing the optimal way to manage and succeed in managing projects.

Silvius G., Schipper R., (2016): Sustainability in Project Management (Advances in Project Management)
Gives an insight in the topic of sustainability in management.

Carboni J.B., Ducan W., (2018): Sustainable Project Management: The GPM Reference Guide
GPM is an American organization which developed the PRiSM Model.

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