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Sustainable Project Management

What is sustainable project management? Learn more in this step from the Chartered Insititute of Building.
Lloyds building exterior. An example of a building that suffered due to a lack of  sustainable practice
© James Murray 2010-2014

Sustainable project management (SPM) is the planning, monitoring and controlling of project delivery and support processes with consideration for the environmental, economic, and social aspects of the lifecycle of project resources, processes, deliverables and effects. It aims to realise benefits for all stakeholders, and must be performed in a transparent, fair, and ethical way that includes proactive stakeholder participation.

The emphasis is on forward planning, consideration of long-term impacts, and delivering for clients and end users, hence cost control is of critical importance. Gilbert Silvius, a leading author in this area, has also provided the following practical definition:

  • Taking into account all of the ‘triple bottom line’ perspectives, and not just the P of profit.
  • Considering, in all project management activities and products, the entire life cycle of the project, and the project’s output.
  • Engaging stakeholders in a proactive and open manner that is based on a more ‘managing for stakeholders’ approach, than a ‘managing of stakeholders’ approach.
  • Taking responsibility for contributing to the sustainability of the organization and society.

The emphasis on lifecycle impacts of projects ensures that construction strategies take a long-term view of costs, explaining why sustainable buildings typically have lower running and maintenance costs. These are achieved through sustainable design strategies and innovative use of sustainable materials and equipment. Even where upfront costs of sustainable projects are high, it takes a relatively short time to recover such additional costs in addition to the indirect benefits to clients, end users, and society.

As we will see in the week on Social Sustainability, sustainable building features do enhance quality of life, as in better health, comfort, and well-being. In particular, projects designed or refurbished to the attributes of economic sustainability can significantly extend or prolong both the physical life and economic life of a built asset. The economic life of a building would be exhausted immediately if the cost of maintenance exceeds revenue flow from the asset. Designing to sustainable attributes has enabled significant reductions in maintenance and running costs, which enhances affordability and clients’ retention.

For the full benefits of economic sustainability to accrue, it must be mainstreamed into projects at the conceptual stage of a project. As the various commissioned reports on the United Kingdom’s construction industry show, the most notable ones being the Egan and Latham reports, the adversarial nature of doing business in the industry is noted as the major cause of cost escalation. In sustainable construction, the first move is to establish a team, which includes all the stakeholders, including the client/developer; architects; engineers; various consultants; and end users to form an integrated design team. This ensures transparency, which is critical in delivering projects that clients want on time and within budget. It will be the team that evolves strategic delivery and innovative solutions to problems that arise, saving significant amounts of resources. The significance of this can be truly imagined when correction expenditure or refurbishment costs associated with projects are considered, as was the case with Lloyds Building, London (image above).

When the Lloyds insurance building was commissioned, the pipes in the building began to rot, and it cost the architects and consultants £12 million pounds in repairs, having been sued by the client. Errors leading to such high correction expenditure would have been foreseen under a sustainable project management regime, and with all stakeholders working as a team, they would have been able to deploy their multi- and inter-disciplinary analytical skills to identify possible problems much earlier and identify possible solutions.

Can you think of examples in your work, where taking a collaborative approach from the start lead to improved project success compared to previous less collaborative efforts?

© CIOB Academy
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