Sustainable Project management

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The term "Sustainable Project Management" (SPM) refers to a project management methodology that takes into account both the short- and long-term sustainability of project outcomes. It incorporates sustainable development ideas into project planning, implementation, and evaluation. In order to provide a project outcome that is socially responsible, economically viable, and environmentally sustainable, this method seeks to balance the three components of sustainability—environmental, social, and economic. [1].

Sustainable Project Management starts with a life cycle assessment of a project, identifying the sustainability impact of all project phases, from planning to decommissioning. Like traditional project management SPM also includes stakeholder engagement, risk management and decision-making processes [2] that are transparent and consider the sustainability implications of alternative options. Throughout the project, performance is monitored and evaluated against sustainability targets and regular reporting ensures continuous improvement.

Adopting SPM in project management has numerous benefits and is an essential approach to modern project management. It helps organizations to minimize negative environmental impacts and create positive social outcomes. It also contributes to the achievement of the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals by taking into account the needs of future generations and reducing the likelihood of future problems [3].

This article explains some aspect of Sustainable Project Management and finally makes note on its limitations and common pitfalls.

Big Idea

SPM, or sustainable project management, is the practice of designing, executing, and managing projects using sustainable practices. Considering the effects on the environment, economy, and society as a whole [1]. It involves incorporating sustainability factors into every stage of a project's life cycle, from planning and design through execution and assessment. The need for a more sustainable future, as well as the fact that it helps to ensure that projects are planned and carried out in a way that minimizes negative environmental and social impacts while enhancing positive ones, highlight the importance of sustainable project management.

By considering sustainability from the beginning of a project, Sustainable Project Management can result in long-term benefits for stakeholders, the environment, and the economy as it promotes resource efficiency, reduces waste, and lowers costs [4]. Sustainable Project Management is carried out in a transparent, ethical, and moral manner supporting companies in sustaining their social and environmental responsibilities and enhancing their standing as ethical establishments [5].

Traditional Project Management vs Sustainable Project Management

Traditional Project Management and Sustainable Project Management are similar in many ways, as they both involve planning, organizing, and managing resources to achieve specific goals. The concept of the Iron Triangle was first introduced in the 1960’s by Dr. Martin Barnes and the idea of “on time, within budget, and according to spec” [6] is what describe traditional project management. It prioritizes cost, time, and scope, ensuring that projects are delivered on time, within budget, and in compliance with the project's scope. Project managers use a variety of tools and techniques, such as project scheduling, risk management, and cost control, to ensure that the project meets these objectives [7],[8]. However, Sustainable Project Management goes beyond that by considering the environmental, social, and economic impacts of a project promoting the use of sustainable materials and practices that minimize waste, pollution, and reduce greenhouse gas emissions [9]. Sustainable Project Management incorporates the principles of sustainability into all aspects of project management, from planning to evaluation. This means that project managers must consider the long-term impacts of the project on the environment, local communities, and the economy, as well as its short-term goals. Figure 1 illustrates the evolutionary change that has taken place in the field of project management. It clearly shows the transition from a more rigid and constrictive approach to a comprehensive and integrated methodology that emphasizes a holistic perspective.

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Figure 1 – Evolution of Project Management Focus where the categories People, Planet and Prosperity correspondence to Social, Environmental and Economic. Note. Figure was produced by GPM Global featured in “The GPM® P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management” version 3.0. Copyright 2023 by GPM Global. Copy of the license, visit


Sustainable project management offers a range of tools and approaches to ensure, assess and implement sustainability initiatives. For example, the P5 standard provides a framework for sustainability management, including tools like the "P5 Impact Analysis" and "Sustainable Management Plan" [6]. The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) standards use sustainability reporting to provide information about an organization's positive or negative contributions to sustainable development [10]. Additionally, Projects integrating Sustainable Methods (PRiSM) integrates sustainability considerations into the traditional core project phases. When understood and effectively addressed, PRiSM can reduce negative environmental impacts in all types of projects, while also maximizing opportunities to manage sustainability and finite resources [11][12].

P5 Standard

One way to ensure that projects are managed in a sustainable way is by using standards. According to the International Standards Organization (ISO), standards can be described “as a formula that describes the best way of doing something.” [13]. Such standard has Green Project Management (GPM) developed. GPM is a global organization that advocates for sustainability in projects profession [14]. The standard they have developed is the P5 Standard short for Product, Process, People, Planet, and Prosperity, five measurable elements to sustainability that support specific UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) and targets. P5's primary goal is to identify potential impacts on sustainability, both good and negative, so that they can be examined and presented to management to promote smart decisions and efficient resource allocation. The P5 Standard aligns projects with organizational goals for sustainability by focusing on the potential impacts of the project’s activities, results, and outcomes [6].

Figure 2 - The P5 Ontology. Note. Figure was produced by GPM Global featured in “The GPM® P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management” version 3.0. Copyright 2023 by GPM Global. Copy of the license, visit

The P5 standard addresses the different SDG goals by the three categories social (people), environmental (planet) and economic (prosperity). The social (people) category of sustainability covers the effects that a project's activities and outcomes might have on people, society, and communities as shown in figure 2. The social category focuses on conducting business responsibly and upholding connections that benefit all parties involved, including staff members, clients, suppliers, supply chains, and the general public [6]. The environmental (planet) subcategory of sustainability looks at potential effects of project actions and outcomes on both living and nonliving natural systems. Together with the flora, wildlife, and inhabitants that live there, these systems also include the land, the air, and the water. Preserving, repairing, and enhancing these natural systems are the main objectives of the environmental category. The economic (prosperity) category of sustainability looks at how a project's actions and outcomes could affect the stakeholders' financial situation. The economic category's main goal is to maximize gains for as many stakeholders as feasible [6].

The P5 Standard framework focuses on the sustainability performance and effects of a project. It can assist organizations in creating ESG disclosures, as well as sustainability reports such as Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) and UN Global Compact (UNGC). Typically, reporting standards require organizations to identify important issues by first assessing their actual and potential effects [6]. The P5 Impact Analysis (P5IA) accomplishes this for projects. Following this, the next step is to list out the relevant issues and explain how they are addressed. By including the P5IA results in a Sustainability Management Plan, the project can identify specific impacts, evaluate their severity, determine their causes and effects, and record recommendations for reducing them.

The P5 Impact Analysis (P5IA)

The P5 Impact Analysis (P5IA) is a tool that enables the identification and prioritization of sustainability impacts to enhance a project's expected benefits and minimize negative effects on society, the environment, and project value, while contributing to the organization's sustainability objectives. Key decision-makers can use P5IA to obtain actionable insights that can justify socially, environmentally, and economically responsible changes to the project [6].

The P5IA process involves the following steps:

  1. Understanding the project's context
  2. Identifying actual and potential impacts from both product and process perspectives
  3. Assigning scores based on the severity of impacts and proposing remediation measures
  4. Updating scores based on proposed remediation responses
  5. Developing a Sustainability Management Plan (SMP) from the impacts
  6. Assigning remediation work to relevant stakeholders and remediating impacts, and
  7. Providing a report on the impacts, actions taken, and outcomes for ESG disclosures and sustainability reports [6].

GRI Reporting

As mentioned, Sustainable Project Management involves incorporating sustainability principles into the planning, execution, and evaluation of projects. As part of this process, organizations must assess and report on their sustainability performance. One way that can be done is by using frameworks like the Global Reporting Initiative. The GRI framework provides guidelines for companies to report on their sustainability performance in a standardized and transparent way. By identifying relevant sustainability issues, selecting the appropriate GRI indicators, collecting data, and reporting on their sustainability performance, companies can demonstrate their commitment to sustainability and provide stakeholders with valuable information [10]. Incorporating the GRI framework into Sustainable Project Management practices do not only help organizations to achieve their sustainability goals but also enhances their reputation and credibility with stakeholders [15]. The GRI framework plays an essential role in Sustainable Project Management as it promotes reporting with transparency. This way companies can build trust and better engagement with stakeholders, which can lead to positive outcomes such as increased investor confidence and improved brand reputation in the end lead to positive outcomes for both organizations and the planet [16]. The GRI Standards are a modular system comprising three series of Standards: 1. the GRI Universal Standards, 2. the GRI Sector Standards, and 3. the GRI Topic Standards. Each Standard begins with a detailed explanation of how to use it. The GRI Universal Standards apply to all organizations. The aim of the GRI Sector Standards is to improve the quality, completeness, and consistency of reporting by organizations. The Sector Standards will in the future be developed for 40 sectors. As for now, oil and gas, coal, agriculture, aquaculture, and fishing are the first sectors prioritized under the Sector Program based on their significant environmental, social and economic impacts. And lastly the GRI Topic Standards contain disclosures for providing information on topics. Examples include Standards on waste, occupational health and safety, and tax [10][16]

PRiSM Methodology

PRiSM short for Projects integrating Sustainable Methods is a sustainable project delivery approach that aims to balance business objectives with environmental impact reduction. It incorporates tangible tools and methods to manage resources and promote social responsibility, allowing organizations to achieve sustainable project outcomes. Unlike traditional project management approaches, PRiSM is structured around sustainability considerations. It integrates specific areas of sustainability into the core project phases and provides practical guidance for applying sustainability principles to projects, drawing on globally accepted standards for professional project management. One of the key differences between PRiSM and traditional project management approaches is its value-maximization model, which leverages existing organizational systems to ensure that benefits are realized horizontally and vertically with a focus on process and product sustainability [11][12].

Based on the P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management, and others such as ISO 21500, ISO 14001, ISO 26000, ISO 50001 and ISO 9001. PRiSM, reduces project level risk from an environmental, social and economic perspective, while expanding the range of benefits that can be achieved. By using PRiSM, organizations can integrate sustainability initiatives into their project processes, achieving business objectives and reducing negative environmental impact [11].

Case Study - India

To put things into perspective and to further highlight the importance of adopting sustainable practices. India is a great example as sustainable practices is needed to balance their environmental, economic, and social impacts. India's rapid industrialization and growing population have created significant environmental, social, and economic challenges for the country. To address and effectively reduce these negative impacts, applying sustainable project management techniques is of utmost importance if India is to have a sustainable future [15]. India faces many environmental challenges such as deforestation, pollution, climate change, unsustainable energy consumption, land use, and waste management, which all have led to environmental degradation. Further, India's population growth has resulted in social challenges in terms of housing, healthcare, education, poverty, income inequality, and unfavorable working conditions. Lastly, as India is experiencing rapid economic growth, it also faces infrastructure issues, such as inadequate electricity, water, and transportation, which limit their ability to thrive economically [15]. Adopting Sustainable project management has several of beneficial outcomes. This includes cost saving, improved reputation, reduced risk and increased community engagement. According to the “Decarbonizing India: Driving Climate Action through Disclosure” report by CDP India, shows that several organizations and institutions in India have implemented sustainable project management initiatives to address these environmental, social, and economic challenges. For instance, the Green Energy Corridor a project launched by the Central Electricity Authority that aims to enhance the transmission infrastructure to enable the transmission of renewable power. The project aligns with sustainable project management principles, by employing stakeholder engagement, risk management, and sustainability reporting [15].


One of the most common limitations of SPM that can lead to decrease in a project’s success is the lack of knowledge and understanding of sustainability issues among project managers and stakeholders. Many organizations and project teams are not yet that familiar with SPM and may lack the knowledge and competencies required to implement it effectively. Additionally, the lack of resources may be a huge factor to inadequate implementation as sustainable practices can lead to increased project costs. Implementing SPM often requires additional resources, including funding, personnel, and specialized knowledge. Without the right amount of resources it can be challenging to implement SPM effectively and achieve sustainability goals [17].

There are also other potential pitfalls that can result in failure to implement SPM effectively. Resistance to change and lack of support for sustainable practices are such examples. The adoption of SPM requires a change in the way projects are managed, and it can be met with resistance from project teams who are used to traditional project management methods and lack the ability to identify sustainable project goals. Overcoming this resistance requires strong leadership, a clear vision for the project, and patience. Another challenge is complexity, SPM is a complex approach to project management that requires the integration of multiple sustainability principles and the consideration of multiple stakeholders [18].

Additionally, challenges in measuring success can make it difficult to identify areas for improvement. Sustainability is a complex concept that can be challenging to measure, particularly in the context of a project, resulting in a lack of clarity about the success of SPM [18]. Finally, many organizations and project teams have a short-term focus as it is mostly timebound and are more centered around immediate results than long-term sustainability. This can result in a failure to consider the sustainability implications of project decisions and a lack of commitment to sustainability principles [18].

To overcome the limitations and pitfalls of sustainable project management, it is essential to increase awareness and understanding of sustainability issues among project managers and stakeholders. This can be achieved through training programs or courses and stakeholder engagement initiatives that promote sustainability practices and goals [18]. Additionally, it is important to allocate the right amount of resources to implement sustainable practices and ensure compliance with sustainability regulations and standards. Project managers can also collaborate with sustainability experts and organizations to establish best practices and benchmarks for sustainable project management for example getting varies sustainability certification [18].

Overall Conclusion on Benefits

Sustainable project management offers several benefits over traditional project management. Firstly, it promotes sustainable development goals and practices, which can enhance the project's reputation and social value. Secondly, it can reduce the project's environmental impact, leading to cost savings and increased efficiency. Thirdly, it can improve stakeholder engagement and satisfaction by addressing their environmental and social concerns. Finally, it can create new business opportunities and markets for sustainable products and services.

Annotated bibliography

The P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management.

The P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management is a guide developed by the Global GPM. The standard provides a framework for integrating sustainability principles into project management practices. The P5 Standard is based on five key principles; Purpose, People, Planet, Prosperity, and Processes, which are aligned with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The guide outlines the key elements of each principle, including stakeholder engagement, environmental impact assessment, and sustainable procurement. The P5 Standard also provides different tools for assessing an organization's sustainability performance in project management.

The Global Reporting Initiative (GRI)

GRI is an international organization that develops and maintains sustainability reporting standards. The provided source is the official website of GRI, offering information about their standards. GRI's standards provide guidance for organizations to report on their economic, environmental, and social impacts. They aim to enhance transparency and accountability, enabling companies to measure, understand, and communicate their sustainability performance. The standards cover various aspects such as governance, labor practices, human rights, community engagement, and product responsibility.

Carboni, Joel & Gonzalez, Monica & Hodgkinson, Jeff. (2013). The GPM® Reference Guide to Sustainability in Project Management ®Copyright 2013 GPM Global.

The reference describes the PRiSM (Projects integrating Sustainable Methods) methodology developed by Green Project Management (GPM). PRiSM is a project management framework designed to integrate sustainability principles into project management practices. The methodology is based on a holistic and iterative approach, which considers environmental, social, and economic impacts throughout the project life cycle. The reference outlines the key features of the PRiSM methodology, including stakeholder engagement, life cycle assessment, sustainable design, and reporting. The reference highlights how PRiSM methodology can help project managers to align project objectives with sustainability goals, minimize negative impacts, and create value for stakeholders.

AXELOS. Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 Edition.

The "Managing Successful Projects with PRINCE2 2017 Edition" is a reference guide for the PRINCE2 project management methodology developed by AXELOS. The guide provides a structured approach to project management, with an emphasis on controlling the project throughout its life cycle. The guide outlines the key principles, themes, and processes of the PRINCE2 methodology, which include tailoring the approach to suit the project's needs, engaging stakeholders, managing risks, and delivering quality outputs. The reference provides a complete guide for project managers to apply to their projects, with a focus on delivering successful outcomes.


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