Project Leaders Will Make or Break Your Sustainability Goals


Procter & Gamble (P&G)’s top marketer Marc Pritchard recently described some of the profound ways in which the world’s biggest consumer goods company is embracing sustainability to transform its brands. As part of its Ambition 2030 plan, P&G has pledged to make all its packaging fully recyclable or reusable to use 100% renewable energy and have 0% net waste by the end of this decade. Working with the Brands for Good coalition, P&G seeks to use its $7 billion annual advertising spend to educate and inspire consumers to make sustainable lifestyles desirable.

P&G’s goals are ambitious and inspiring — and they also sound familiar these days. Sustainability is perhaps the most critical transformation program of our time and a priority topic on every CEO’s agenda. Customers, shareholders, and financial analysts are watching more closely than ever whether companies are implementing plans and achieving their promised goals.

We hear lots of companies announcing big climate goals, but we hear less about how these goals will be reached. P&G’s recyclable and reusable materials conversion will require thousands of substitutions and re-engineerings of plastic, paper, adhesive, and metallic components.

This level of complexity helps explain why so many organizations are struggling to make these ambitious changes happen. To stay on track for 2030, significant transformation must occur in the next two to three years. But despite short timeframes and vast scope, the CEO-driven sense of urgency, which led to extreme focus, prioritization, and resource allocation that we saw at the beginning of the pandemic, is missing from the sustainability conversation. Few CEOs and senior leaders go deep enough into the details to realize how challenging and how resource-intensive it will be to reach these goals. And when targets are set top-down by senior leaders, the bottom-up analysis it takes to generate buy-in from the middle and lower levels of the organization is missing.

Bringing the sustainable future into our grasp relies upon the successful execution of thousand of well-conceived projects. But we don’t want to return to the dire pandemic days when CEOs were de facto chief project officers. Instead, CEOs should empower a new kind of sustainability-focused project manager to lead organizational transformation.

The Sustainability-Focused Project Manager

Historically, project leaders have been responsible for delivering the outputs of projects — the “what” of a project, such as implementing a new customer service platform. Achieving the outcomes and benefits — the “why” of a project, such as “to improve customer retention by 10%” — has been the responsibility of the sponsor or senior leaders in the business. This separation in accountability, which I call the “delivery-value gap,” has led to many projects failing to achieve their targets.

Sustainability projects can be even more difficult to implement successfully because they can fail for the same reasons as any other projects — too few resources, poor planning, executive sponsors spread too thin, initiative overload, or conflict with other strategic priorities. They also bring their own unique challenges:

  • Experts in sustainability matters are scarce and may become a bottleneck
  • Even if sustainability criteria are embedded in business cases, capital and operational projects are still usually decided based on traditional financial measures
  • Sustainability-related data and metrics (such as the predicted carbon footprint of a product or a project) are hard to obtain, standardize, consolidate, and monitor
  • Suppliers are often the primary source of an organization’s footprint, yet it is hard to create leverage with them if they serve different clients or don’t have the means to adapt to the core of their operations

In this ambiguous landscape, project management and project leaders play a critical role in the achievement of more sustainable practices. Executives must provide them more flexibility in the management of projects, moving past the traditional “iron triangle” of project management — managing time, budget, and quality. Sustainability cannot be achieved simply through rigid planning and traditional project targets. Project managers must be unleashed to reach these goals innovatively. Here are three steps to help you accomplish this.

1. Empower project leaders to embed sustainability in every project.

Even during a decade-long sustainability transformation, many of a company’s projects won’t be built around sustainability goals. Organizations will continue to invest in product development, reorganizations, acquisitions, expansion, new technologies and all the other projects that make up their business activities. Project managers have the extraordinary opportunity to embed sustainability elements in the design, planning, and delivery of all of their projects. Promoting the use of recycled materials, green energy, sustainability-conscious vendors, less water-intensive and energy-consumptive processes, and a plan for end-of-use protocols or decommissioning can make a big difference in the overall footprint of an organization.

Project managers must also recognize that project deliverables can positively or negatively impact sustainability. Remember that just because something is digital rather than physical, does not mean it has no environmental impact. “At 2% of total emissions,” says technology reporter Andrew Griffin, “the IT industry’s carbon footprint is roughly the same as the entire airline industry.”

A central Project Management Office (PMO) can play an important role when analyzing the new project ideas. It should develop new guidelines for sponsors and managers to increase the focus of their projects on such sustainable outcomes and benefits. Adding the Triple Bottom Line (economic development, social development, and environmental protection) and the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals to your prioritization and project selection discussion is a good starting point.

In reality, your organization may need to run a project that is key to strategic or bottom-line goals but has poor sustainability outcomes, such as building a new plant in a water-stressed region. In these cases, the PMO should add offsetting or remediation costs to the business case when appraising a project. If a project cannot be sustainable on its own, project managers can still raise sustainability awareness, bring a more holistic view of the investment, and prepare for stakeholder management issues surrounding the project. Ultimately, the decisions on these kinds of projects must be made by the executives of the firm.

2. Design and champion projects where sustainability transformation is the goal.

Today, there is no doubt that sustainability transformation creates business value. Some projects will pay back more quickly than others, but in aggregate they result in lower costs, reduced risk, more innovation, and enhanced brand value. Modern project managers have the unique ability to create, rally, and maintain positive momentum around sustainability transformation using these four key methods:

Dispel myths about sustainability projects.

Two major myths about sustainability persist, and project managers should be prepared to counter them. The first is that green and sustainability involve a zero-sum trade-off with growth. In fact, many projects associated with sustainability save money, even in the short term. Some green initiatives may improve efficiency, save energy, or reduce waste. Of course other projects, such as circularity, green sourcing, or improving the lives and wages of workers in the supply chain might cost more. But these initiatives, whether offering a quick payback or longer-term value, should be seen as investments, not costs.

Second, many still believe that green and sustainability results can be achieved without significant changes, investments, or resources. In fact, changing the roots of how an organization operates, produces, and sells requires a significant shift in resource allocation. Leading organizations in this space, such as Maersk, Aramco, and Starbucks, have already announced billions in new spending directed to sustainability projects to achieve their 2030 targets.

Accelerate the benefits of sustainability projects.

Project leaders control the throttle of transformation, and they should do what they can to accelerate it. They should be empowered to determine the trade-offs required in order to prioritize and speed up sustainability improvements and present them to senior leaders. Some of these trades-off may be painful, and they may even mean the discontinuation of initiatives or products with highest footprint. But in some instances, this will be the price to pay to a company’s ability to create positive environmental and societal impact.

Execute partnerships.

Project leaders should seek out like-minded organizations and establish sustainability partnerships. By collaborating with other organizations, they can share infrastructure and innovations in ways that are beneficial to all parties. Since Unilever went zero-waste with its non-hazardous waste in at least 240 factories and 400 sites, it has saved £174 million. It went even farther by partnering with telecommunications company 2degrees to share its zero-waste model with other organizations.

Build trust inside and outside the organization.

The ambiguity around sustainability performance and how to measure it effectively leads to fewer stakeholders having full faith in the sustainability promises that executives make. This can lead to accusations of greenwashing and erosion of trust. Project managers and the PMO can play a leading role in developing the organization’s knowledge of sustainability in terms of benefits achieved, progress toward targets, and overall performance.

In the near future, it is likely that regulators and investors will demand that companies publish the carbon footprint of their products, just as they do today with ingredients. CEOs can empower and encourage project managers to start collecting this data from their project today and build a company-wide data intelligence system. Together, these actions project managers take to earn trust will help CEOs succeed with their sustainability agendas. 

3. Apply the project canvas to design your sustainability transformation.

Sustainability projects bring a high degree of technical and stakeholder complexity. For nuanced projects such as these, I recommend using the Project Canvas, a one-page strategic template that is focused on value and benefits rather than processes and controls. (I explain the canvas in detail in my book, the HBR Project Management Handbook.) The following guidance on how to embed sustainability into each of the nine building blocks that make up the canvas will help project leaders ensure these sustainable practices are present throughout the life cycle of any project:

Foundation

  • Purpose: When defining the “why” of your project, consider whether it can be linked to one or several of the sustainability development goals. A sustainable purpose will create significantly more engagement from stakeholders and employees.
  • Investment: Sustainability often comes with a higher short-term price tag and thus requires a different set of criteria. When drafting business cases, include the footprint of the project, and consider sustainable elements, such as recyclable products, sustainable vendors, and end-of-life costs, even if their price is higher than a less environmentally friendly path.
  • Benefits: Link any positive impacts with the triple-bottom-line goals and how any increase in footprint could be offset by the benefits of the project.

People

  • Sponsorship: The project sponsor should have a strong affinity for sustainability, understand its essentials, and be ready to challenge traditional organizational mindsets if needed, putting sustainability before profit.
  • Stakeholders: Sustainability should be regularly discussed when addressing stakeholder needs and expectations. Identify strong advocates for sustainability and involve them in your project either in the steering committee or your core team. Consider less obvious stakeholders, such as public procurement, who can be of great help for your transformation if they increase the weight of sustainability elements in public tenders.
  • Resources: Project managers should understand the essential elements of sustainability, involve the right experts, and consider the implications when defining and implementing the project. They should put the social aspects of sustainability (such as work-life balance, equal opportunity, personal development) into practice on the project team.

Creation

  • Deliverables: Apply eco-design principles when defining the scope: the solution delivered is built, used, and discarded in a way that poses no significant threat to the environment. Use sustainable materials and suppliers when your team is designing deliverables.
  • Plan: Schedule and sequence as efficiently as possible, minimizing waste and environmental impact, reducing delivery costs, making better use of resources, finding opportunities to increase labor skills, creating jobs in poorer locations, considering the economies of mass production. Accept also that sustainable materials may take longer to procure. Look at the durability, reusability, and recyclability of all the components at the decommissioning or end-of-life stage of the project’s deliverables.
  • Change: Sustainable projects emphasize the imaginative use of motivation, which includes rewards that are extrinsic (pay and benefits), intrinsic (satisfaction and a sense of purpose that comes from the work itself), and social (the benefit of working collaboratively with others, of belonging). Sustainability also requires creating a psychologically safe environment, which encourages people challenge old ideas and offer alternative ways of doing things. Following the principle of transparency and accountability, leaders of sustainable projects communicate proactively and openly about the project and its social and environmental impact.

. . .

If you thought that the disruption caused by digital has been far-reaching, just wait to see how companies struggle with transforming their businesses to become truly sustainable. But if they are supported by the executive team, sustainability-focused project leaders and modern project management will rise to the occasion to drive this giant transformation. Organizations that achieve these capabilities today will be best positioned to rethink and remake their businesses as triple-bottom-line goals continue to be a top priority in the years ahead.



Source link

Leave a Comment