Sustainability in the Management of Projects


Project management is a complicated process incorporating the application of a variety of techniques, tools, and skills to meet the requirements and complete a project successfully. This process involves many tasks and engages numerous specialists, which makes it quite a complicated and important endeavor. If a project is sustainability-related, the process becomes even more complicated and responsible. Sustainable project management is such an execution of a project in which particular attention is paid to the environmental, economic, and social impacts of the planned process. The complexity of sustainability in project management is driven by the fact that frequently, projects are concerned with construction works, industry events, and other types of changes that inevitably affect the environment. Therefore, to arrange sustainable project management successfully, one needs to be cautious of the possible barriers to implementation. At the same time, there are evident opportunities in sustainable project management. The present paper aims at identifying both advantages and disadvantages of sustainability in the management of projects.

Sustainability in Project Management

The need for combining sustainability and project management has emerged as a result of the continuous development of the project management discipline. As Padalkar and Gopinath (2016) note, the methodological and thematic diversity of project management has led to the evolution of trends and the involvement of new branches in the process of project management arrangement. Sustainability is one of the most crucial new trends, and many businesses endeavor to pursue it in their practices. Silvuis and Schipper (2016) consider sustainability as one of the most significant challenges of the present time. Whereas there is some experience of companies integrating sustainability in their communication and marketing techniques, this trend has not been incorporated in project management until recently. The main connection between project management and sustainability is that the latter demands change, and the former aims at realizing it. Furthermore, the success, which project managers strive to achieve, can be promoted by sustainability to a great extent.

Scholars identify several distinct strategies that organizations typically utilize to gain sustainability objectives. Aarseth et al. (2017) have singled out the following strategies: setting strategic and tactical sustainability goals, generating sustainable supplier practices, prioritizing sustainability in project design, defining sustainability policies, affecting the sustainability of project practices and systems, incorporating sustainability-promoting agents in the organization of projects, establishing sustainability competencies, and emphasizing sustainability in project portfolio management. By using any of these strategies, or a combination of them, project managers increase the likelihood of making their work more sustainability-directed. Without the implementation of sustainability strategies, project management remains at the traditional level of development. The main differences between traditional and sustainable project management are as follows: orientation (short-term and deliverable versus long-term and life-cycle), interests (of current stakeholders versus of present and future generations), boundaries (scope, time, and budget versus people, planet, and profit), and complexity (reduced versus increasing) (Daneshpour, 2015). Therefore, to gain sustainability in project management, it is necessary to reconsider virtually all stages and strategies incorporated in the process.

Sustainability in business operations has generated many alterations in all dimensions of project management, from planning to completing projects. One of the core reasons emphasizing the significance of sustainability in project management is the scarcity of natural resources (Chawla et al., 2018). Another aspect to consider is the instability of access to these resources. A sustainable approach to project management, therefore, presupposes that resources should be used wisely to gain maximum profitability at present but, at the same time, to leave a sufficient amount for the generations to come. The concept of the Triple Bottom Line, which was introduced in the 1990s, suggests that business objectives cannot be separated from environments and societies in which they function (Sánchez, 2015). Therefore, to achieve sustainability in project management, it is necessary to take into account both the project’s purpose and its financial, environmental, and social outcomes.

An important point of discussion and analysis is the potential of projects to promote sustainability. Silvius (2017) argues that sustainability has given a start to a “new school of thinking” in project management (p. 1479). The main features of this school include the utilization of the Triple Bottom Line concept, the acceptance of projects from a societal point of view, and the application of the stakeholder approach by the management. Silvius (2016) remarks that the question of the project manager’s role in sustainability is an acute one. It may seem that the materials and resources used, as well as the project’s deliverables, are decided upon by the clients or sponsors of the project. However, there is an opinion that project managers have a great influence on the implementation of sustainability endeavors (Silvius, 2016). Specifically, the role of a project manager enables him or her to affect many aspects of the project since their functions extend far beyond merely executing it.

Furthermore, it is crucial to analyze the role of sustainability in project managers’ decision-making process. Silvius et al. (2017) have conducted a Q-methodology research to find out the consideration of sustainability dimensions (people, environment, finance) in project managers’ decision-making process compared to the triple constraint criteria (scope, time, and cost). Scholars have found that project managers take into account an insufficient number of sustainability criteria (Silvius et al., 2017). The four perspectives most frequently considered by project managers are people and quality, people and risk, time and cost, and quality, time, and risk. Since the present level of natural resources’ usage is far from being sufficiently sustainable, the inclusion of sustainability in project management is an opportunity for positive development (Huemann and Silvius, 2017). However, it is important to view the connection between sustainability and project management not only from the project’s product perspective but also from the process of delivery one.

Due to the low degree of sustainability in current projects, researchers and practitioners come up with suggestions on how sustainability efforts might be promoted with the best outcomes for organizations. Marcelino-SĂĄdaba, GonzĂĄlez-Jaen, and PĂ©rez-Ezcurdia (2015) have presented a conceptual framework for sustainable project management, which includes such four dimensions as products, processes, organizations, and managers. Scholars argue that the use of this framework will have a positive effect on projects whose managers strive for sustainability. Carvalho and Rabechini (2017) have offered a structural model that has the potential to increase a positive association between sustainable project management and project success. In this model, project sustainability management contains product and project perspectives. The product outlook incorporates the design for the environment and environmental technologies (Carvalho and Rabechini, 2017). Meanwhile, the project perspective includes project management processes, knowledge focused on sustainability, social accountability, and green procurement and partnership (Carvalho and Rabechini, 2017). Based on the model suggested, scholars have confirmed a hypothesis that it is possible to promote a project’s success with the help of sustainable project management.

To gain sustainability in project management, specialists recommend managers utilize not only frameworks and models but also certification as a potential tool for promoting better outcomes. Martínez-Peralez et al. (2018) suggest management systems certification as a method of measuring the effect of sustainability on the success of a project. Martínez-Peralez et al. (2018) have performed an analysis of four variables: budget, project duration, funding date, and management system certification. The results of the study indicate that certification has the greatest effect on project sustainability success. Apart from certification, researchers also recommend holistic project control as a means of gaining a maximum sustainability effect (KivilÀ, Martinsuo, and Vuorinen, 2017). The abundance of scholarly studies on sustainable project management signifies that this issue is highly important. At the same time, the diversity of research angles means that no unanimous recommendations on the implementation of sustainable project management have been made so far. There are several critical success factors for sustainability in the management of projects, as well as certain challenges toward sustainable projects exist.

Critical Success Factors

Although the sphere of implementing sustainability in project management is still understudied, many efforts have been made to promote the understanding of the most viable factors leading to the success of such an endeavor. First of all, risk management and knowledge management are considered critical success factors of project sustainability (Doskočil and Lacko, 2018). Other crucial success indicators are the commitment of the client to other stakeholders’ needs, the implementation of sustainability-supporting policies, and the precise definition of goals for all stakeholders (Banihashemi et al., 2017). Apart from these, such factors as constructive relationships, knowledge of sustainability in project management, emphasis on commitment to sustainability, an emphasis on high-quality cooperation, and the level of project manager’s competence play an important role (Banihashemi et al., 2017). Hence, before implementing the strategies of evaluating the success of sustainability in a project, the manager must make sure to pursue as many critical success factors as possible to gain the most productive outcomes.

Other viable approaches to increasing sustainability efforts in project management include agility, business intelligence, and information and communications technology (ICT). Agility is referred to as an emerging need for project managers who intend to add sustainability to their practices (Obradovič et al., 2019). Business intelligence is viewed as a prospective tool for extracting the most relevant data based on the value chain, which can lead to a more effective utility of sustainability elements in the project (Muntean, 2018). Meanwhile, ICT is important as it promotes the process of “amortization,” like sustainability does (Bifulco et al., 2016). The mentioned critical success factors, if wisely approached, can enhance the organization’s chances for introducing sustainability in project management.

It is important to note that key success factors of sustainability in the context of project management are contingent on the project managers’ view. In this respect, such aspects as the innovation business model, economic and competitive advantage, stakeholder management, and environmental resources and policies should be emphasized (Martens and Carvalho, 2017; Martens, de Carvalho, and Martens, 2016). Finally, creating a holistic strategy aimed at meeting the needs of all stakeholders has the potential to increase the project’s benefits from sustainability (Keeys and Huemann, 2017). Thus, there is a variety of critical success factors, but every organization should take into consideration stakeholders’ expectations and sustainability opportunities first of all.

Challenges in the Process of Sustainable Project Management Implementation

Along with several benefits and opportunities offered by sustainability in project management, there are also some challenges, without coping with which, managers will achieve neither sustainability nor success. The major obstacle on the way to implementing sustainability is that the environmental, social, and economic expectations are constantly changing, thereby disabling project managers to predict their character in the nearest future (Kapogiannis, Gaterell, and Oulasoglou, 2015). Hence, sustainable project management requires the management of uncertainty (Brink, 2017). Additionally, organizations’ focus on work affects their sustainability concern (Martens and Carvalho, 2016). For instance, companies running projects in the public sector are likely to concentrate on the social aspect of sustainability, thereby underestimating the environmental and economic ones. Therefore, every project requires careful consideration of sustainability perspectives as early as the conception phase to minimize the likelihood of challenges and barriers.


The introduction of sustainability in project management processes is an inevitable and highly significant step on the way to increasing the opportunities for resources’ availability both for present stakeholders and future generations. Sustainable project management holds numerous positive perspectives for organizations and societies alike. The most crucial dimensions of sustainable project management are people, planet, and profit. However, before implementing sustainability in the project, the manager has to perform a careful analysis of the possible obstacles that may hinder the success of the endeavor. Only by paying due attention to the benefits and limitations of sustainability will project managers be able to promote the success of their work and gain the best final result for each stakeholder group.

Reference List

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