Project Portfolio Management (PPM) and sustainability may appear as two distinct spheres. , but they are quite interconnected. As PMOs and PPM leaders are increasingly pursuing sustainability projects, it might make sense for organizations to provide them with specific sustainability training. Let’s explore why.  

When PPM meets sustainability 

Sustainability: a new corporate requirement 

Sustainability has become a critical factor for businesses in recent years. First of all, consumers are increasingly demanding eco-friendly products and services. According to an IBM survey, 57% are willing to change their purchasing habits to reduce their environmental impact. 

As a result, environmentally-friendly businesses are also more attractive to investors. Even the COVID-related turmoil hasn’t reversed that trend, with 79% of investors remaining focused on sustainable investing. Because of this, analysts have observed a positive correlation between sustainability efforts and business profitability. 

So, without much surprise, most organizations are stepping up their sustainability efforts and investments. For example, consumer goods leader Procter & Gamble has pledged to make all packaging fully recyclable or reusable by 2030. 

Projects as sustainability enablers 

Setting and announcing big goals is a good first step, but actually making a business more sustainable requires transformation. In a towering majority of cases, this transformation happens through projects.  

That said, to successfully execute your sustainability strategy, it is critical that your organization, PMO, and project teams are empowered to plan and deliver these types of projects. 

Traditional and sustainability-specific PPM challenges 

Traditional project challenges  

Like any other corporate initiative, sustainability projects are subject to the PPM Triple Constraint (Alignment with Strategies, Maximizing Benefits, and Making Effective Use of Resources). More specifically, today’s PMOs and project leaders are required to juggle: 

  • Resource scarcity. The current upheaval in the markets and workplace is putting a strain on the financial, human, and technological resources available for project delivery.  
  • Complexity. Organizational projects typically involve multiple stakeholders and interdependent systems. Accordingly, it can be challenging to identify and prioritize issues. 
  • Uncertainty. Project organizations need to address a volatile environment, with a constant stream of new technology, changing regulations, and shifting market expectations. Add to this a changing risk landscape and the emergence of new threats to project success. 

Sustainability project challenges 

Sustainability projects also face unique challenges. Let’s start with data availability issues. 

Completing green initiatives hinges on the ability to access up-to-date, reliable data on the environmental impact and performance of specific actions. But with environmental impact assessment being a relatively new field, it often proves challenging to collect and handle such data. Also, these transformative projects often lack standardized KPIs and metrics, making it harder to track and report on goals.  

Those data gathering and reporting challenges, in turn, make it difficult to engage the many stakeholders that should be involved in sustainability projects. This includes not only employees, but also suppliers, investors, regulators, and so on. This is also why sustainability initiatives often meet sponsorship issues.  

So, how can PMOs ensure the successful delivery of projects that come with heightened challenges?  

The benefits of green PPM leaders  

While it won’t magically remove all obstacles, having environment-savvy project leaders can go a great way towards delivering these transformative projects.  

Any self-respecting sustainability project should integrate environmental considerations throughout the entire project lifecycle, from planning to implementation. Considering and assessing the impact of projects at the earliest stages will allow managers to detect potential risk and opportunities and respond accordingly — thereby avoiding costly mistakes. But many PMOs tend to rely on their old habits and leave out sustainability issues in the scoping and planning phases. Hence the importance of having environment-literate PPM leaders who will understand why sustainability should be embedded in projects “by design.” 

A PPM leader with appropriate sustainability training will also find it easier to understand the challenges and opportunities, manage internal and external expectations, and communicate effectively. This may lead to improved stakeholder engagement and help build trust and support for the initiative. 

This is of particular importance when it comes to suppliers. Suppliers are major contributors to the environmental footprint of a business, yet it can be hard to connect with them and trigger change. Trained professionals may be better equipped for that. 

What’s next? 

With an increased focus on sustainability issues and targets, helping PPM leaders get a better grasp on CSR and environmental principles and practices can significantly help organizations achieve their sustainability agenda. 

However, training and skills are not all it takes to optimize project portfolio management. PMOs should never forget that successful PPM also requires powerful tools to collect, handle, and analyze the data. 

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