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Sustainability in Project Management: Reality Bites

SECOND EDITION

A.J. Gilbert Silviusab [1], Ron Schipperb & Snezana Nedeskia

aHU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht, Utrecht
bVan Aetsveld Projects and Change Management, HM Amersfoort

The Netherlands
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Abstract

The relationship between project management and sustainable development is rapidly gaining interest from both practitioners and academics. Studies on the integration of the concepts of sustainability into project management, approach this topic mostly from a conceptual, logical or moral point of view. Given the fact that the relationship between sustainability and project management is still an emerging field of study, these approaches make sense. However, they do not diminish the need for more empirical studies to understand how the concepts of sustainable development are implemented in practice.

This paper reports an analysis of 56 case studies on the integration of the concepts of sustainability in the way organizations initiate, develop and manage projects. The research question of the study was: To what extent, do organizations consider the concepts of sustainability in the initiation, development and management of projects? The study uses the maturity model for sustainability integration that was presented at the 2010 IPMA World Congress for the assessment of the level of sustainability consideration.

The study found an overall average level of sustainability consideration in the actual situation of 25.9%. For the desired situation, this score is almost 10 percent higher, showing an ambition to take sustainability more into consideration. The study also showed that the way sustainability currently is considered, shows the traditional ‘less bad’ approach to sustainability integration and not a more modern social responsibility approach.

Keywords: Project Management; Sustainability; Sustainable development; Maturity 

1. Introduction

The relationship between project management and sustainable development is rapidly gaining interest from both practitioners and academics. Silvius (2012) reports over 85 publications and studies on the topic. The nature of these studies is mostly interpretive, giving meaning to how the concepts of sustainability could be interpreted in the context of projects (for example Barnard et al, 2011; Maltzman and Shirley, 2010; Gareis et al., 2011, Oehlmann, 2011). Some publications add a normative angle, prescribing how sustainability should be integrated into projects (for example, Silvius et al., 2012; Labuschagne and Brent, 2006). These studies approach the integration of the concepts of sustainability into project management from a conceptual, logical or moral point of view. Given the fact that the relationship between sustainability and project management is still an emerging field of study (Gareis et al. 2009), these approaches make sense. However, they do not diminish the need for more empirical studies to understand how the concepts of sustainable development are implemented in practice. The study reported in this paper aims to do just that. It reports an analysis of 56 case studies that were performed over the years 2010 and 2011. The study builds upon the maturity model for sustainability integration that was presented at the 2010 IPMA World Congress in Istanbul (Silvius and Schipper, 2010). Based on the concepts of sustainability, the maturity model assesses the level of consideration of sustainability in projects and project management, in terms of resources, business processes, business model and products/services. It thereby answers the following research question: To what extent, do organizations consider the concepts of sustainability in the initiation, development and management of projects?

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Editor’s note:  Second Editions are previously published papers that have continued relevance in today’s project management world, or which were originally published in conference proceedings or in a language other than English. This paper was originally presented at the 26th IPMA World Congress, Greece, published in the Congress Proceedings and video recorded (http://pmgreece.gr/video.pdf).  Paper  republished here with permission of the author and PM Greece, organizers of the 26th IPMA World Congress

About the Authors 

flag-netherlandsaj-gilbert-silviusA.J. Gilbert Silvius 

Gilbert Silvius (1963) is professor at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht in the Netherlands. He is Program Director of the first Master of Project Management programme in the Netherlands. This innovative programme focuses on project management from an organizational change perspective. The Master of Project Management has a special focus on the integration of the concepts of sustainability in projects and project management. Also in research, Gilbert focuses on sustainability in projects and project management.  In addition to being an established academic, Gilbert is an experienced project manager with over 20 years of experience in various business and IT projects. As a principal consultant at Van Aetsveld, Project and Change Management, he advises numerous organizations on the development of their project managers and their project management capabilities.  Gilbert is a member of IPMA, PMI and the ISO/PC 236 that develops the ISO 21500 guideline on project management. In the Dutch IPMA national association, Gilbert is board representative for higher education.

flag-netherlandsron-schipperRon P.J. Schipper 

Ron Schipper (1971) is project manager and principal consultant at Van Aetsveld, a leading consulting firm in project and change management in the Netherlands. He has more than 15 years of experience as a project manager in realising (organizational) change in various organizations. As well as executing projects, he is interested in developing the profession of project management and transferring this knowledge to other people in the Netherlands and developing countries. As sustainability emerges as a theme for the world, his attention has focused on the implications for projects and project management. Ron is also an external examiner in the Master of Informatics programme at HU University of Applied Sciences Utrecht in the Netherlands. E-Mail: [email protected] 

snezana-nedeski flag-netherlandsSnezana Nedeski

Snezana Nedeski has a MSc in International Business from Maastricht University. During this time she also taught the class ‘Sustainability in Project Management’ at the School of Applied Sciences in Utrecht. Her interest in this topic led to additional research in this area, and several co-authored conference and journal papers. Her goal is to implement this theory in the future, starting with a tech startup in Amsterdam where she will be part of the management team and will aim to create a platform for sustainability principles. While implementing the theory in practice in this setting, she hopes to continue theoretical research on an academic level as well.  E-Mail: [email protected]


[1] Corresponding author. Tel.: +31 88 481 6335. E-mail address: [email protected]