Sustainable Project Management: Overview


Sustainable project management is the management of project-arranged alterations in organizations or their policies with specific attention to environmental, social, and economic effects of the project and its outcomes and impacts both for the present and future generations. With the rapid growth of interest in sustainability prevailing in all spheres of humans’ existence and collaboration, project management could not but join this trend.

Whether small or large, projects inevitably affect people, the environment, and society. Hence, the aspect of sustainability has penetrated the sphere of project management, which increased researchers’ interest in the newly formed entity: sustainable project management. The paper critically reviews the literature on sustainable project management by dividing the located sources into major topics of research and synthesizing the findings.

Sustainability in Project Management

A considerable number of studies under analysis are focused on the investigation of sustainability as a critical challenge of the latest decades. Scholars inspect the possibility of sustainability to be included in project management processes and the effect of such a combination. Articles by Kwak and Anbari (2009) and Padalkar and Gopinath (2016) discuss the evolution of project management and its connection with sustainability. Kwak and Anbari (2009) remark that the history of the development of the project management notion is ambiguous and largely linked to the perspective of management.

Scholars note that being a complicated notion, project management should be investigated in various dimensions since it requires a broader scope. Sustainability is viewed as a new area of interest related to project management. The article was published over a decade ago, and it is viable to assert that scholars were right in their predictions about the rising connection between project management and sustainability.

According to Kwak and Anbari (2009), project management incorporates such aspects as governance, optimization, behavior, decision making, and success. In their turn, Padalkar and Gopinath (2016) add such areas as innovation, performance, and product development to this list. Both studies draw a connection between the evolution of project management and the need to enhance its processes to gain more success in the future. Although sustainability is not directly discussed in these articles, scholars mention the significance of new trends’ development for better project performance.

Chawla et al. (2018) and Silvius and Schipper (2014) focus on the achievements in the sphere of sustainable project management and predict the future opportunities connected with it. Scholars emphasize the significance of sustainability in project management as a tool for gaining financial, environmental, and social improvements in business operations (Chawla et al., 2018). The need for integrating sustainability in everyday operations leads to alterations in the process of project management.

Specifically, as Silvius and Schipper (2014) note, project managers who pursue sustainability have to change their focus from controlling and predicting to being complex and flexible. Chawla et al. (2018) express a similar opinion, reporting that sustainable project management affects the way companies arrange their processes of project planning, organizing, and enforcing. Thus, this group of studies presents a deep analysis of the impact of sustainability on project management, as well as supports the need to incorporate sustainability in projects due to its effect on the environmental and social spheres.

Finally, a group of studies is aimed at analyzing the levels of responsibility and maturity in project management as related to sustainability (Moneva, Archel and Correa, 2006; Mullaly and Thomas, 2010; Pope, Annandale and Morris-Saunders, 2004). Furthermore, this group of articles pays attention to the need for sustainability assessment as a tool for promoting companies’ movement towards sustainability.

Mullaly and Thomas (2010) investigate project maturity as an option for evaluating the level of organizations’ readiness to improve. Scholars note that the available research on the connection between performance and process is not sufficient, whereas it is highly essential to study this link. Mullaly and Thomas (2010) emphasize that sustainability is rather concerned with the ability to adapt and alter than with a position in which the project is located.

Moneva, Archel, and Correa (2006) and Pope, Annandale, and Morris-Saunders (2004) support the ideas expressed by Mullaly and Thomas (2010). The authors note that the assessment of one’s sustainability is a crucial step toward developing it. Pope, Annandale, and Morris-Saunders (2004) mention that there is a lack of effective solutions to sustainability evaluation. Meanwhile, Moneva, Archel, and Correa (2006) analyze the Global Reporting Initiative as a viable tool for self-assessment of project sustainability. Hence, scholars support the need for project managers’ growth in the direction of sustainability and emphasize the increasing concern of sustainability assessment of one’s projects.

Utilizing Project Management as a Way to Sustainability

Another group of articles can be united due to their focus on the integration of sustainability aspects into project management. Niemeijer and de Groot (2008) analyze environmental indicators, whereas Labuschagne and Brent (2006) investigate social indicators for project management sustainability. Meanwhile, the articles by KivilÀ, Martinsuo, and Vuorinen (2017), Marcelino-Sådaba, Gonzålez-Jaen, and Pérez-Ezcurdia (2015), and Sånchez (2015) dwell on various approaches to connecting sustainability and project management and their collaboration.

Environmental and social indicators are the most important elements of sustainable project management apart from the financial ones. Thus, the studies by Niemeijer and de Groot (2008) and Labuschagne and Brent (2006) bear particular significance for the present literature review. In their research, Niemeijer and de Groot (2008) emphasize the growing role of sustainability assessment as a critical element of project management decision-making.

Scholars remark that the growth in environmental indicators both at the national and international levels is related to the pressing need for evaluating companies’ activities’ impact on the environment. Niemeijer and de Groot (2008) report that by evaluating the ecological risk of projects, it is possible to mitigate the prospective adverse outcomes and gain sustainability. Meanwhile, Labuschagne and Brent (2006) connect the need for environmental protection with the social responsibility of project management.

The scholars single out such social indicators of sustainability as community involvement, product responsibility, employee health and safety, and others (Labuschagne and Brent, 2006). Based on these findings, it is evident that the two articles concentrate on a vital issue of project management’s opportunities to gain sustainability.

The analysis of integrating sustainability into project management is also the focus of attention in SĂĄnchez’s (2015) research. The author notes that while the significance of sustainability is realized by organizations, it is not always easy and possible for them to implement sustainable practices in their projects. Hence, SĂĄnchez (2015) suggests introducing a portfolio selection option that would help companies to select project goals in relation to sustainability demands and track these goals’ fulfillment. KivilĂ€, Martinsuo, and Vuorinen (2017) also analyze the need for controlling sustainable project management as the tool to gain eco-friendly and ethical outcomes of projects. It is impossible not to agree with the scholars who conclude that sustainable project management control requires not only indicators (as mentioned in previously analyzed studies) but also a holistic control mechanism that would lead to a whole-scale assessment of a project.

Marcelino-SĂĄdaba, GonzĂĄlez-Jaen, and PĂ©rez-Ezcurdia’s (2015) study is contradictory to the articles investigated earlier. Unlike other sources, such as the studies by Labuschagne and Brent (2006), Niemeijer and de Groot (2008), and SĂĄnchez (2015), this article holds the position that there is no integration between project management and sustainability. One cannot agree with the opinion expressed by Marcelino-SĂĄdaba, GonzĂĄlez-Jaen, and PĂ©rez-Ezcurdia (2015). Indeed, the connection between sustainability and project management is a complicated matter. However, other scholars have successfully proven that such integration is possible under the condition of following the requirements.

Benefits of and Challenges to Sustainability in Project Management

The next group of studies was classified due to their focus on success factors and uncertainties pertaining to sustainable project management. Banihashemi et al. (2017), Heising (2012), and Keeys and Huemann (2017) investigate the favorable options for sustainability in projects, whereas Kapogiannis, Gaterell, and Oulasoglou (2015) analyze the uncertainties that may arise in the process of creating sustainable projects. Research by Banihashemi et al. (2017) explains that despite the existence of challenges to the implementation of sustainability in project management, there are factors with the potential to increase the success of the endeavor.

Among such factors, Banihashemi et al. (2017) single out a high degree of trust among the member of the project’s team, a clear definition of objectives, commitment to project’s methodologies, political and economic stability, and effective resource allocation. Other elements that can positively affect the integration of project management and sustainability are concerned with the competence of the project manager, the ability of the team to adapt to people’s needs, and favorable organizational culture that supports sustainability of project management (Banihashemi et al., 2017).

Heising (2012) supports Banihashemi et al.‘s (2017) views on the need for critical success factors when implementing sustainable project management, but this scholar also emphasizes the need to view projects as united portfolios instead of managing single projects separately. As well as SĂĄnchez (2015), Heising (2012) sees the potential of such portfolios to offer a holistic view of the project, which leads to an easier introduction of sustainability to projects.

Keeys and Huemann (2017) also discuss the need to implement sustainability in projects as the factor having the power to benefit various stakeholders. The findings of Keeys and Huemann (2017) are close to those of Banihashemi et al.’s (2017). Namely, Keeys and Huemann (2017) acknowledge the importance of a shared vision, adaptive learning, continuous training, and transparent objectives as determinants of successful sustainable project management.

Finally, Kapogiannis, Gaterell, and Oulasoglou (2015) also admit the significance of sustainability in project management, but note the presence of factors that can hinder the introduction of change. Specifically, researchers note that since project sustainability is contingent on characteristics that can alter with time, there is a need to adjust these features regularly. Although Kapogiannis, Gaterell, and Oulasoglou’s (2015) findings indicate the difficulties in sustainable project management implementation, results from other scholars’ studies show that any challenges can be overcome with thoughtful management and a well-organized team.

Integrated and Green Project Management

The last group of sustainable project management studies can be united by the topics of green construction and integrated infrastructure. Hwang, Leong, and Huh (2014) and Hwang and Tan (2010) focus their investigations on the factors influencing the development of green construction. The scholars reveal that project cost is the major obstacle in sustainable construction project management (Hwang and Tan, 2010).

Also, such projects usually take 8% more time than non-sustainable building projects of similar size and scope (Hwang, Leong and Huh, 2014). However, both studies indicate a growth in green construction projects, which means that there is a positive tendency in companies’ and communities’ realization of sustainable development’s importance.

The articles by Amorim (2014) and Wong et al. (2014) focus on the creation of integrity between project management and sustainability. Similar to previously analyzed studies, these ones emphasize the need for raising public concern about sustainability. Researchers emphasize the decisive role of an experienced project manager in the process of implementing sustainable projects (Amorim, 2014; Wong et al., 2014). These findings are consistent with those presented by Banihashemi et al. (2017) and Keeys and Huemann (2017).


The review of literature allows making the following conclusions regarding sustainable project management. First of all, even though this notion is relatively new, it has gained much attention from researchers, which is promising in terms of improving the trend. Secondly, there are several opportunities in making the organizations’ project management teams sustainable, and every company can make use of them. Thirdly, challenges to sustainable project management, which are largely related to shifts in the environmental, economic, and social spheres, can be overcome if the project manager remains aware of new trends and approaches and continuously enhances the processes.

Reference List

Amorim, E. V. (2014) ‘Sustainable energy action plans: project management intercomparison’, Procedia Technology, 16, pp. 1183-1189.

Banihashemi, S., et al. (2017) ‘Critical success factors (CSFs) for integration of sustainability into construction project management practices in developing countries’, International Journal of Project Management, 35(6), pp. 1103-1119.

Chawla, V. K., et al. (2018) ‘The sustainable project management: a review and future possibilities’, Journal of Project Management, 3, pp. 157-170.

Heising, W. (2012) ‘The integration of ideation and project portfolio management — a key factor for sustainable success’, International Journal of Project Management, 30(5), pp. 582-595.

Hwang, B.-G. and Tan, J. S. (2010) ‘Green building project management: obstacles and solutions for sustainable development’, Sustainable Development, 20(5), pp. 335-349.

Hwang, B.-G., Leong, L. P. and Huh, Y.-K. (2014) ‘Sustainable green construction management: schedule performance and improvement’, Technological and Economic Development of Economy, 19(Suppl. 1), pp. 43-57.

Kapogiannis, G., Gaterell, M. and Oulasoglou, E. (2015) ‘Identifying uncertainties toward sustainable projects’, Procedia Engineering, 118, pp. 1077-1085.

Keeys, L. A. and Huemann, M. (2017) ‘Project benefits co-creation: shaping sustainable development benefits’, International Journal of Project Management, 35(6), pp. 1196-1212.

KivilĂ€, J., Martinsuo, M. and Vuorinen, L. (2017) ‘Sustainable project management through project control in infrastructure projects’, International Journal of Project Management, 35(6), pp. 1167-1183.

Kwak, Y. H. and Anbari, F. T. (2009) ‘Analyzing project management research: perspectives from top management journals’, International Journal of Project Management, 27, pp. 435–446.

Labuschagne, C. and Brent, A. (2006) ‘Social indicators for sustainable project and technology life cycle management in the process industry’, The International Journal of Life Cycle Assessment, 11(1), pp. 3–15.

Marcelino-SĂĄdaba, S., GonzĂĄlez-Jaen, L. F. and PĂ©rez-Ezcurdia, A. (2015) ‘Using project management as a way to sustainability. From a comprehensive review to a framework definition’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 99, pp. 1-16.

Moneva, J. M., Archel, P. and Correa, C. (2006) ‘GRI and the camouflaging of corporate sustainability’, Accounting Forum, 30, pp. 121-137.

Mullaly, M. E. and Thomas, J. (2010) ‘Re-thinking project management maturity: perspectives gained from explorations of fit and value’, Paper presented at PMI¼ research conference: Defining the future of project management, Washington, DC. Web.

Niemeijer, D. and de Groot, R. S. (2008) ‘A conceptual framework for selecting environmental indicator sets’, Ecological indicators, 8, pp. 14-25.

Padalkar, M. and Gopinath, S. (2016) ‘Six decades of project management research: thematic trends and future opportunities’, International Journal of Project Management, 34, pp. 1305–1321.

Pope, J., Annandale, D. and Morris-Saunders, A. (2004) ‘Conceptualising sustainable assessment’, Environmental Impact Assessment Review, 2, pp. 595–616.

Sánchez, M. A. (2015) ‘Integrating sustainability issues into project management’, Journal of Cleaner Production, 96, pp. 319-330.

Silvius, A. J. G. and Schipper, R. P. J. (2014) ‘Sustainability in project management: a literature review and impact analysis’, Social Business, 4(1), pp. 63-96.

Wong, K. K. W., et al. (2014) ‘Building integrated project and asset management teams for sustainable built infrastructure development. Journal of Facilities Management, 12(3), pp. 187-210.

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