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Sustainability is soon going to be, if it is not already, a mainstream concern. The reasons for encouraging sustainable development are multifaceted. Global warming, industrial pollutants and the burning of fossil fuels have all been linked to natural disasters such as the 2005 Gulf Coast hurricanes in the United States and other places. The economic impact of such instances—for example, Hurricane Katrina cost $200 billion in Louisiana alone—has spurred many to take retroactive and preventive measures against climate change.

Across sectors, the days of unquestioned, unsustainable growth are coming to an end. But vital questions remain: Can an organization survive without implementing sustainable projects? And can an organization embrace the concept of environmental conservation while still improving the bottom line?

A Green Formula
To achieve balance between sustainability and ROI all that is needed is a structured, creative approach.


“There is emerging evidence that sustainable [projects] can deliver superior financial returns and market performance,” according to Eric Lee, international director for property management firm Jones Lang LaSalle, Hong Kong.


London, England-based Radio Taxis Group, the U.K.’s largest operator of chauffeured vehicles started a project in 2005 to reduce and offset carbon dioxide emissions from its fleet of 3,000 black cabs. Today, they save 24,000 tons of carbon dioxide at the cost of €100,000 per year, and have attributed €1.2 million in new business to the project.


Clearly, sustainable projects and improving the bottom line don’t have to be contradictory. “Companies of all sizes are realizing the enormous economic potential of being green,” says Thomas J. Basile, former communications director for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency in Washington, D.C., and present Managing Director of The Middleberg Sustainability Group—which helps companies develop ecosmart products, practices, and workplaces.


Planning From the Top Down
A key factor to linking sustainability and ROI is getting support from top executives. “Many [sustainable] projects fail because CEOs don’t pay enough attention to them,” says Aaron Shenhar, PMP, institute professor of management and founder of the project management program at Stevens Institute of Technology, USA. “Too often, they see projects as costs, not investments.”

The best way to convince executives to get on board is to show ROI in terms of financial savings, improved brand loyalty and recognition, Mr. Basile says.


Putting the Customer
First The motivations for going green should be in line with customer requirements. Green projects can help achieve customer satisfaction and loyalty by cutting long-term costs. Toyota’s hybrid Prius has in its fifth year retained value projections 5 to 10 percent better than similar gas vehicles, reports consumer group IntelliChoice. BT (British Telecom), now the world’s largest consumer of green energy, has also been able to pass the financial savings from its green projects to consumers and stakeholders.


All Aboard
“[Going green] creates a unique and exciting opportunity for project managers,” Mr. Basile says. “[But] if you don’t have employee buy-in, it’s not going to work. They’re your first and best advocates in helping to develop internal and external communications.”


Project leaders should find innovative, positive ways to encourage team members. Have an informal survey of staff asking how and where they’d like to see growth in terms of sustainability. Soliciting input can boost employee morale.


At Jones Lang LaSalle, project managers are encouraged to receive sustainability training and obtain green credentials.

The Bottom Line
It is clear that project management today goes beyond delivering projects on time, on budget and within scope—it extends to serving a customer and creating business results to support the short- and long-term outcome of the organization and the environment.


Sustainability isn’t always easy, but it’s worth the effort. It requires long-range vision, and sometimes, a complete overhaul of company processes. The benefits of “eco-efficiency” are not easy to quantify. Although installing new equipment and implementing new procedures can involve added costs, organizations can reap financial rewards from green projects ultimately.


Mr. Basile says, “While you may not always be able to put a dollar and cents value on sustainable business practices, the fact that your company is ahead of the game, ahead of the regulatory environment and responding proactively to what your customer base wants in this area helps solidify your reputation in the marketplace.”

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