Mapping the environmental impacts of organisations and projects

In this article we will look at a key contribution of Green Project Management (GPM)*. This, we believe, is a tool for mapping projects’ or organisational impacts and interactions with their environment.

Environmental impacts are generated by all organisational activities. To simplify a bit, we can categorise them into operational activities, projects, and supporting activities. The first is the production (assembly) and delivery of goods and services, the second (depending on the understanding of a project) is a temporary endeavour set up to a deliver unique product in response to a specific business need. The last group includes all necessary activities that support the operations and projects, including legal, financial, human resources, and the like. The environmental impacts can be observed and managed in all these categories.

Windmills and solarpanels

Organisational sustainability

A key challenge is to map them out. An organisation cannot manage its significant environmental impacts if it does not identify them. Here is the important term of ‘materiality’. Materiality is the significance of organisation’s interactions with its environment. It will be different from one business domain to another, and from an organisation to another. Consider a software house, a construction company and an airline. Each of these organisations has a different set of interactions with its environment.

Materiality is a crucial term for the ESG (Environment, Social, Governance). ESG, growing out of Corporate Social Responsibility, has a voluntary root but recently it has become more of a normative framework, used both in the financial sector, that is, by investors assessing their investment targets, and in the public sector, particularly with ESG reporting requirements, already with legal status in many places. Organisations, in order to position themselves favourably in such a context, may need to define their sustainability materiality, develop a sustainability strategy accordingly and then plan and launch specific activities, often framed as projects and programmes within their portfolios, to decrease their negative impacts and increase the positive one.  

The challenge of the organisational sustainability is the necessity for organisations to keep the liberty to define their own sustainability approach that would be rooted in their mission, vision, and values, while responding to the requirements of increasingly normative systems such as ESG. 

The project sustainability

Projects are a subset of organisational activities and because of their specific nature the sustainability tools may be quite specific. Project may increase the organisational sustainability. An immediate example is the installation of solar panels or a solar roof on the roofs of warehouses with zero-emission heating systems. Project in themselves need to be sustainable. So, projects have their own materiality.  Green Project Management has put forward a mapping tool, called P5, which helps the mapping of a project interactions with its environment.

Within P5 matrix, each letter P stands for a word. These are:

  • Product
  • Process
  • People
  • Planet
  • Profit.

Each broad category is then specified, to identify detailed domains within which the environmental interactions happen. The configuration of the five categories allows for a balanced perspective. There is no question of pushing it towards interests of the natural environment, for instance. ‘People category’ integrates the interests of the human stakeholders. This goes together with economic interests, as the profitability needs to be taken into account. The P5 model also considers the (project) product sustainability and the delivery (production) process sustainability. Of course, the P5 matrix is a territory map allowing for selection. The project team and stakeholders will be able to identify the aspects of the project environment significant to a particular project.

The image below shows the P5 Standard, with detailed content of each domain.

GPM P5 Ontology

GPM P5 Ontology, source: ‘The GPM P5™ Standard for, Sustainability in Project Management, GPM Global, Version 2.0.’

Linking ESG and P5

Notice the correspondence between the ESG framework and the P5 model, while the latter is both broader and more specific. Profit category corresponds with the Economy domain, People corresponds with the Social domain. An organisational governance in its narrow sense is usually understood as the constellation of actors, their interactions and rules governing them within an organisation. Usually, the organisational governance is associated with the decisional authorities and mechanisms, including their independence and transparency. If we broaden that perspective a bit, we will see that it is the set of internal and external stakeholders and their interactions. P5 matrix is helpful to establish the materiality at the project level and at the organisational level.

With the materiality of a project established, it is easier to define the expected benefits and possible dis-benefits of a project. This will the content of the project justification, usually written up in a business case.  Often, the definition of project benefits has a financial bias. The green perspective invites us to go well beyond that by looking at social and environmental (dis-)benefits and by managing them proactively. Therefore, the sustainability requirements must be identified in the project mandate coming from the client, in the project charter (as in PMI PMBoK) or brief (as in PRINCE2), carried to the statement of work or project product description. At the planning stage, the sustainability activities will need to be planned in a specific sustainability plan or approach, allowing us to put the sustainability activities into practice and control them.

How to put all this into practice?

For all we do, we need proper tools and methods. If an organisation arrives at the point of sustainability considerations, an appropriate tool box is needed. Green Project Management offers such a tool box. It will be useful across the board, at the various levels of an organisation. The starting point, and with the organisational vision mission and values in the background, is a strategy that defines the sustainability objectives. Net-zero organisation is a nice-looking objective, but often it is over-ambitious and ending up in green washing. Mapping out the significant environmental interactions is crucial, giving us the understanding of materiality. Then, the strategy may be translated into a portfolio of projects and programmes, which all in themselves need to integrate the aspects of sustainability. The project will bring change in the product design, the production processes, while taking effort to balance the social, environmental and economic interacts of all stakeholders. While ambitious objectives are important, the effort is already valuable. It is worthwhile starting with pilot projects, in which some of the tools and methods will put be into practice, allowing testing and learning.

Throughout this, the stakeholder engagement is crucial. A useful form of that is a facilitated workshop, or a series, that bring the interested parties together in a shared space of communication and exchange. The workshops may be organised for strategy development, portfolio composition and then for the environment mapping with each project (or programme), leading to the formulation of a sustainability management plan.

Takeaway

The P5 standard is a useful tool for mapping of project environment impacts and interactions. It is a cornerstone of sustainable project management, allowing us to take seriously the project environment into account, while paying attention to the various aspects of it. By linking the P5 standard with a broader sustainability context of organisations, in particular the ESG requirements, we can build a comprehensive and systemic approach that will help us strengthen the organisational sustainability.

Here you can find more information on our sustainable project management course.

*Green Project Management® is a project management approach developed by GPM Global, a US-based global organisation promoting sustainability in project management, including a project management method called PRISM™ , the P5 Standard™, and professional certification programme.

Dr Arthur Kasza is a GPM-b Certified Green Project Manager, and GPM licenced Consultant and Assessor.