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Relating sustainable development and project management

by Roland Gareis, Martina Huemann, Andre Martinuzzi WU Wien. Vienna University of Economics and Business, Austria

Keywords: project, temporary organization, project management, sustainable development, corporate sustainability

Abstract Over the last 20 years sustainable development has become a recognized integrative component of political and entrepreneurial decision-making. Sustainable development is considered in societies and companies and receives increasing attention in management literatures. Sustainable development in temporary organizations such as projects and

programs is rarely considered. First attempts to relate sustainable development and projects can be found in literature and practice. But the challenges and potentials of relating sustainable development and project management have not yet been researched in depth.

In this conceptual paper we bring these two concepts together to see how project management can be further developed by explicitly integrating the principles of sustainable development. For relating sustainable development and project management we develop a model, which is based on a process related sustainability definition. We use the model to discuss selected relationships between these two concepts and offer first propositions on the challenges and potentials for project management, when considering sustainable

development principles. We then point out the need for further research and show which next steps we have planned in the research project SD&PM.


Introduction Originally, sustainable development can be considered as a political concept (Jacobs 1995, Lafferty 1995). It contains normative principles as inter-, intra-generational and gender equity as well as justice and participation. In the general public the concept of sustainable development acquired wide attention following the publication of the so-called Brundtland Report by the World Commission for Environment and Development in 1987. The Report defines sustainable development as development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (WCED, 1987), and consisting of two key concepts: the concept of needs, in particular the essential need of the worlds poor, to which priority should be given; and the idea of limitations imposed by the state of technology and societal organization on the environments ability to meet the present and future needs (WCED 1987). The Brundtland Report relies not only on technological innovation, but heads for more fundamental processes of institutional, social, economic, cultural and lifestyle changes (Baker 2005). A significant number of attempts to define the term sustainable development were made (e.g. LL 1991, Beckermann 1994, Redclift 2005).

In the last 20 years sustainable development has found application in organizations. The 1990s were dominated by the diffusion of environmental management systems (i.e. ISO14001, EMAS), while recently the concepts of corporate social responsibility and corporate sustainability receive increasing attention. While sustainable development is a normative societal concept, corporate sustainability is a corporate concept and corporate social responsibility can be seen as a strategic management approach aiming at increased competitiveness and building the bridge between the societal demand and the success of an individual company (Steurer/Martinuzzi 2005). A company is increasingly seen as a social actor with an array of responsibilities towards a broader group of societal actors than just


the companys shareholders or its subcontractors or employees i.e. communities as a whole, regulators, interest groups and others. The tension between societal demands and shareholder demands is also reflected in the Triple Bottom Line approach to performance measurement of enterprises (Henrique/Richardson 2004), separately focusing on economic, environmental and social performance, and Social and Economic Accounting and Reporting.

Increasing interest in the topic of sustainable development is observable in organizational management and strategy research (Margolis/Walsh 2003; Cummings/Daellenbach, 2009). Researchers have tried to link the consideration of sustainability to company performance (Orlitzky et al. 2003) and point out the necessity of integrating it into the core processes and functions of a company to receive performance benefits (Wagner 2007). The sustainability balance score card has been discussed as one method of linking sustainability management to business strategy (Figge et al. 2002).

Research problem and research approach We consider projects as temporary organizations (Lundin/Sderholm 1995; Turner/Mller 2003) and as social systems (Gareis 2005) and thus seek to relate the concept of sustainable development to projects management. First attempts to relate sustainable development and project management can be found in research and practice.

Ethics for project management and project managers is discussed (Godbold 2007; Helgadottir 2008) and is of relevance also in the discussion of the profession of project management. Recently cases studies on sustainability projects such as reduction of emissions, alternative energy, humanitarian aid & development have been published to raise awareness for this topic in the project management practice community (PMI, 2008).


Project management approaches and instruments were put together in toolboxes and handbooks to manage sustainability projects. Project sustainability checks have been developed for specific project types such as facility and infrastructure projects (ACEC 2009). Case studies of appraising sustainability in projects have been reported for example for construction projects (Edum-Fotwe/Prince 2008). The focus lies on the achievement of

sustainability in the project results of specific project types, rather than the consideration of sustainable development in the project management process.

Some project models like for instance the IPMA Project Excellence Model (Huemann 2004), consider sustainability and social responsibility in project management as well as in the project results. The Project Excellence Model considers the importance of the identification and consideration of relevant project environments in the formulation of the project objectives and advocates the internalization of social interests in the project.

Although increasing interest in sustainable development is observable in the project management practice and research community, concepts how to explicitly integrate principles of sustainable development in project management and operational methods are missing. As shown in figure 1 in this research paper we relate the topics sustainable

development and project management are related to each other. Our focus is the research area where sustainable development and project management overlap. Sustainable

development and project results are only considered as a relevant context, as we suspect that the consideration of sustainable development in project management supports the achievement of sustainable project results.


The challenges and potentials of sustainable development in project management have not yet been researched in depth.1 This paper tries to take a first step into this direction, by developing a model for relating principles of sustainable development to project management.

Fig. 1: Research area

In this research paper we concentrate on discussing the research questions: 1. How can sustainable development be related to project management? 2. Which challenges and potentials arise for project management when integrating principles of sustainable development?

To discuss this research question we developed some basic working hypotheses, which are: While a content related definition of sustainable development is appropriate for consideration in the project results, a process related definition of sustainable development is appropriate for consideration in project management.

The research team is aware of research currently conducted in Australia, at Bond University as well as in the Netherlands at Utrecht University of Applied Science. The researchers in Utrecht under the lead of Prof. Gilbert Silvius relate the concept of sustainability to the project life cycle.


Sustainable development principles are of relevance in most objects of consideration of project management, such as project objectives, project scope, project schedule, project costs, resources, and project risks, project organization, project culture, project personnel, project infrastructure and the project context.

To consider sustainable development is important in the overall project management process. We suspect no major differences of the relevance of sustainable development in the sub processes project starting, project coordinating, project controlling and project closing. Sustainable development principles are of relevance in the designing of the project management process.

The research is based on the organizational paradigm of the Social Systems Theory (Luhmann 1995) and the epistemological paradigm of the Radical Constructivism (von Glasersfeld 1995). The model and the working hypotheses are results of a cyclic research process. In this conceptional paper, we report the model development. The model and

working hypotheses are based on literature review and on a communication process in the researcher team, consisting of project management as well as of sustainability development researchers. The model and the working hypotheses are explicitly framed as social constructions and will be further developed in the next step of the research, which is outlined at the end of this paper.

The working hypotheses introduced earlier in this paper are guiding us in our research and also in this paper. They will be discussed in the next sections of this paper and lead us to the model. To draft a model we derive the principles of sustainable development from the literature and identify adequate ones to relate them to project management. Then we

describe project management and introduce the objects of consideration of project


management. Finally, in the model we will bring these two concepts together and develop further working hypotheses.

Process related principles of sustainable development We differentiate content related definitions of sustainable development and process related definitions. An example of a content related definition of sustainable development is published in the renewed EU sustainable development-strategy. The current SDI framework (as of the beginning of 2008) comprises 122 indicators (accompanied by 14 contextual indicators) grouped into 10 themes: Socioeconomic development Climate change and energy Sustainable transport Sustainable consumption and production Natural resources Public health Social inclusion Demographic change Global partnership Good governance

Content related definitions of sustainable development have been linked to the contents of projects and their results, but are not all relevant when it comes to discuss a possible integration to project management. For expanding to the management perspective of

projects and assessing potentials and challenges deriving from sustainable development for project management, we shift from a content related view of sustainable development to a 7


process related view. In doing so, we follow Kates et al., who highlighted the fact that the creative tension between a few core principles and the openness to re-interpretation and adaptation to different social and ecological contexts is what has given sustainable development its staying power (Kates et al. 2005). A process related view is provided in the guiding principles of sustainable development (Hopwood et al. 2005; Fergus/Rowney 2005). We therefore define sustainable development with the following seven guiding principles: Holistic approach Long-term orientation Large spatial and institutional scale Risk and uncertainty reduction Values and ethical considerations Participation Capacity Building

Holistic approach
The holistic approach, requiring to proportionally integrate economic, ecological and social considerations in decision-making, was well established in the Agenda 21 from Rio de Janeiro 1992, the most comprehensive strategic document to implementing sustainable development to date (UN 1997). Horizontal policy integration (Lafferty/Hovden 2003; Steurer/Martinuzzi 2005), integrated/sustainability impact assessments (Lee/Kirkpatrick 2006), decision-support tools such as the multi-criteria analysis (MCA), as well as involvement of various societal actors in decision-making to foster legitimate choices about trade-offs between the three dimensions are all examples of procedural answers to the challenge of holistic approach and the associated challenge of complexity.


Long-term orientation
The sustainability of ecosystems over time (as introduced in the sustainable forestry principles) as well as the consideration of the needs of future generations (intergenerational equity, introduced in the Brundtland Report) is in direct contradiction with the todays ever shortening time horizon of decision-makers. Increasing complexity of decision situations is quickly making traditional planning, dealing with the future and uncertainty through prediction and preparation, obsolete. Long-term orientation requires improvements in our capacity to address complex, evolving systems which main attribute is uncertainty, and shifting to a paradigm of perceiving and adapting to change, with the key elements of social learning, innovation and design (Bagheri/Hjorth 2007).

Large spatial and institutional scale

Ecological, economical and social processes affecting our well-being take place

simultaneously at various spatial and temporal scales (Holling 2001). In order to efficiently address these nested and interlinked processes sustainable development has to be a coordinated effort playing out across several levels, ranging from the global to the regional and the local (Martens 2006), and institutional responses have to correspond to the problems at hand (Young 2002). These principles are already reflected in the themes of new governance such as multi-level governance, network governance and horizontal policy integration (Lafferty 2004; Baker/Eckersberg, 2008).

Risk and uncertainty reduction



The understanding that in environment-society system interactions, characterized by complexity, indeterminacy, irreversibility and non-linearity, it is more efficient to prevent rather than ameliorate damage, has led to the formulation of the so-called precautionary principle2. However, it is increasingly evident that decision-making about complex systems in the conditions of uncertainty, ambiguity or ignorance (rather than in the conditions of probabilistic risks) is a significant challenge for how we produce, distribute and use knowledge (see e.g. Funtowicz/Ravetz n.d.; Munda 2003; Giampetro/Ramos 2005).

Values and ethical considerations

Sustainable development has been understood as a normative concept from the very beginning (see Davidson 2000; Robinson 2004; Martens 2006) and thus reflecting values and ethical considerations of the society. The underlying assumptions in decisions about tradeoffs between the present and future generations (intergenerational equity) and about distribution of welfare in the present generation (intragenerational equity) should always be made explicit and legitimized (e.g. through involving relevant stakeholders).

Involving social actors in projects which can potentially affect their lives builds on one of the key principles of sustainable development: sustainable development requires a process of dialogue and ultimately consensus-building of all stakeholders as partners who together define the problems, design possible solutions, collaborate to implement them, and monitor and evaluate the outcome (Hemmati 2002). Participation encourages social and individual learning which enriches both society and individual citizens, reduces the uncertainty caused

See the Rio Decalaration: In order to protect the environment, the precautionary approach shall be widely applied by States according to their capabilities. Where there are threats of serious or irreversible damage, lack of full scientific certainty shall not be used as a reason for postponing cost-effective measures to prevent environmental degradation. (Principle 15)



by imperfect scientific knowledge and the indeterminacy of complex processes and supports implementation and defuses conflict (Blackstock et al. 2007).

Capacity Building
In respect to the above, implementing sustainable development requires significant capacity and a reflexive and process-wise approach (Bagheri/Hjorth, 2007). We need to build social systems and processes capable of learning, which are supportive of institutional innovation, reflexive and adaptive.

Project Management Different approaches to project management exist (Hodgson/Cicmil 2006). Some project

management approaches are method-oriented (PMI 2008), others are competency-oriented (IPMA 2006), or process-oriented (OGC 2002; Turner 2009). In this paper we consider project management explicitly as a management process distinct from the content processes of the project. We therefore not apply a project life cycle model, but consider project management as a business process, which includes project starting, continuous project coordinating, project controlling and project closing-down (Gareis 2005). The objectives of the project management process are to (Gareis 2005): successfully perform the project according to the project objectives, contribute to the optimization of the business case of the investment, initialized by the project, manage the project complexity and project dynamics, continuously adjust the project boundaries, and manage the project-context relationships. 11


Project management as process needs to be explicitly designed. In the project start the project management process is designed in accordance with the specific requirements of the project. Elements for designing the project management process include the application of appropriate project management methods, selection of standard project plans and project management checklists, the selection and the design of appropriate project communication structures (Gareis, 2005: 185). Following our basic working hypotheses that sustainable development is relevant for most objects of consideration of project management and in designing of the project management process, we following describe what we mean by objects of consideration in project management.

Traditional project management focuses only on the management of schedule, costs and scope. But as mentioned before we consider projects as temporary organizations and as social systems. Based on an identity model to describe social systems (Gareis/Stummer) we derive additional objects of consideration, which are of relevance for project management. A comprehensive list of objects of consideration in project management is: project objectives project scope, project schedule project resources, project income, project costs, project risks project organization, project culture, project personnel, project infrastructure project context

Project objectives
From the characteristics of projects as goal-determined organizations project success can be evaluated in correlation to the positive achievement of the project objectives. One can 12


distinguish between content, schedule and budget-related project objectives (Gareis, 2005:204).

Project scope and schedule

The project scope describes all products, features and requirements the results of a project should generate. Furthermore performance criteria as well as quality standards are included in the project scope (Gareis, 2005:209). The basis for project scheduling is the work breakdown structure. Based on this plan further scheduling is possible regarding work package durations, start and end dates as well as resources needed to complete the tasks. The detail of the planning may vary from rough to detailed and has to be adapted to the respective needs. Methods like bar charts, CPM (critical path method), milestone planning and others complement each other and should guarantee a proper project scheduling (Gareis, 2005:213-214).

Project resources, project income, project costs, project risks

Resources in project management terminology are required to carry out the project tasks. They can be people, equipment, facilities, funding, or anything else required for the completion of a project activity. By comparing project requirements with project resources bottlenecks can be made visible. Hence these scarce resources can be planned appropriately and shortage can be avoided (Gareis, 2005:229). Project costs contain all costs arising during the course of a project. They can be calculated for individual work packages, for individual objects of consideration, for internal assignments and for the whole project. Project costs do not include the costs of the post-project phase which need to be considered in a business case analysis (Gareis, 2005:223). Project income includes for example payments from customers, sponsoring or subvention payments (Gareis, 2005:227).



A project risk can be described as possibility of a negative or positive deviation from a project objective (Gareis, 2005:263). Therefore risks can affect the success of a project and have to be managed properly.

Project organization, project culture and project personnel, and project infrastructure
Designing the adequate project organization for a particular project may be considered as a central project success factor. Project require adequate organizational designs including roles such as project owner, project manager, project team members and project team and sub teams. Further the project organization must be related to the project executing company or companies. Central project management methods are the project organization chart and project role descriptions (Gareis, 2005:69). A project has specific values, norms and rules, i.e. project specific culture. The objective of the development of a project specific culture is to develop a project identity which promotes the identification of the members of the project organization (Gareis, 2005:127). The project needs to be staffed with project personnel such as the project manager, project team members, project contributors. Specific Human Resource Management activities are required on projects such as assigning, developing, appraising and dispersing project personnel (Huemann et al. 2007). Project infrastructure comprises appropriate information and communications technology infrastructure as well as spatial infrastructure, such as work space and project office. (Gareis 2005: 193).

Project context
A project is considered as social systems, thus it is constituted by differentiating it from its context. But as it is related and embedded in its context, project management needs to design and manage these relations to the relevant context. The project context dimensions include, pre and post project phase, the relationships to the relevant environments, to other 14


projects, and to the company strategies. Project management methods for designing the context relationships are for example project environment analysis and business case analysis (Gareis 2005:234).

Relating sustainable development to project management The model provided in figure 2 provides a possible answer to the research question: How can sustainable development be related to project management? Sustainable development is represented by the process-oriented principles: holistic approach, long term orientation, large spatial and institutional scale, risk and uncertainty reduction, values and ethical consideration, participation. Project management is represented by the objects of consideration of project management. To stress the relevance of project management as business process we have added the criterion design of the project management. All the criteria have been described in the previous sections of this paper.
Project management Project objectives Project scope, schedule

Sustainable development Holistic approach Long-term orientation Large spacial and institutional scale Risk and uncertainty reduction Values and ethical considerations Participation Capacity building

Fig. 2: Draft model: Sustainable development and project management


Design of the project management process

Project organization, culture, personnel, infrastructure

Project resources, income, costs, risks

Project context


First potentials and challenges for project management can be discussed when relating the principles of sustainable development to project management. Selected criteria will be related to each other in the following discussion. These propositions are new working hypotheses, we derive at this stage of our research:

Holistic approach and project objectives, project context, project infrastructure

In the definition of project objectives economic, ecological and social interests can be considered, which might lead to an internalization of external interests. Relationships to relevant project environments are a context dimension to be managed in projects. Based on a participatory and holistic approach the quality of a project environment analysis can be improved. In designing the appropriate project infrastructure travel times can be limited by working in virtual project organizations and applying for instance video conferencing.

Long term orientation and project context

On first thought the temporary character of a project contradicts the long term orientation of sustainable development. Projects are temporary organizations to initialize investments in new products, markets, organizations, or infrastructure. Projects always contribute to realize long-term business objectives. The long term orientation of sustainable development can be taken care of by considering the project context: planning the post project phase and by performing a business case analysis.



Participation and project organization

New organizational approaches for the organizational design of projects consider integration (e.g. of representatives of suppliers and customers in the project organization) as well as empowerment of the project team members.

Some principles of sustainable development are implicitly considered in project management

Depending on the project management approach, some principles of sustainability development are implicitly considered in project management. The possibilities to consider sustainable development in project management depend on the situation. The project type (e.g. construction project, reorganization project) and the structures and cultures of the companies performing a project influence the project management approach applied.

Conclusions and further research In this paper we showed the development of a model to relate sustainable development and project management. At this first stage of our research we may conclude that there is potential and challenges for learnings in project management, when relating principles of sustainable development. In discussing the model we have derived further working hypotheses, which will be further developed in the next stages of our research project SD&PM, which we outline here.

In our further research, we will analyze if and which principles of sustainable development are implicitly considered in project management of particular projects.



conceptualize how sustainable development can be explicitly considered in project management.

further analyze which challenges and potentials arise from the consideration of sustainable development in project management.

draft instruments for explicitly considering sustainable development in project management.

In our further research we will apply research methods such as focus groups, case studies, qualitative interviews and research workshops. Figure 3 provides an overview on the project work break down structure and the overall research process within the research project SD&PM. Phase 1.1 of the work break down structure is project management to ensure a professional management of the research project. The phases 1.2 1.6 show the work packages of the research process. Phase 1.7 shows the work packages for the dissemination of the research results. Phases 1.2 1.6 are summarized as following:

Phase 1.2 As-Is analysis: In the as-is analysis on Sustainable Development and Project Management a in-depth literature review and a focus group with project management and sustainable development experts are performed. The results of the as-is analysis are analyzed and reflected in an internal research workshop of the research team.

Phase 1.3 First draft models/hypotheses: Based on the learnings of the as-is analysis, in this phase the models and hypotheses are drafted. A research workshop is conducted to support the model development. The draft models are documented and are the basis for the case studies, which will be conducted in the following phase.



Phase 1.4 Case studies: In this empirical phase case studies of projects are conducted with the aim to analyze how sustainable development is considered in project management.

Phase 1.5 Further development of models/hypotheses: Based on case studies the models and hypotheses are further developed in a research workshop. Interviews with project managers as well as other project management experts are conducted to finalize the models and hypotheses and gain first ideas for the conceptualizing draft instruments that explicitly consider sustainable development in project management.

Phase 1.6 Draft instruments: To operationalize the findings draft instruments that explicitly consider sustainable development in project management are

conceptualized by the research team. These draft instruments are discussed with project managers as well as other project management and sustainable development experts in interviews. If appropriate these instruments will be applied on real case projects. Phase 1.7 Publication and congress: The research results will be published in journals papers and at congresses.



Fig. 3: Work breakdown structure of the SD&PM project


IRNOP IX Organizing by Projects

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