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The Environmentally Aware Project Manager
By Michelle Symonds

Project Management is often concerned with managing limited resources – there never seems to be enough time allocated to complete the project or to complete individual tasks within the project. Neither does there ever seem to be enough budget to cover everything that needs to be done to deliver the project successfully. Even those projects that start off on-track with time and costs very often veer off course when the inevitable change requests start to roll in.

In many parts of the world we have already become used to the idea of recycling our household waste and large organisations are taking the recycling of (particularly paper) waste seriously too. But wouldn’t it be better if we restricted our use of precious resources in the first place so we had less to recycle?

So how can we integrate an awareness of the environment into project management?

Perhaps the first step is to ensure that every decision made on a project is viewed from an environmental perspective. From the basic decisions on how to share and distribute project documentation right up to the design and production methods for the end product.

A simple way to make a start is to display a small message at the bottom of every email reminding the reader not to print it out unless absolutely necessary. And the obvious next step is to always use electronic documentation, never paper copies. There may be some resistance to this, particularly in meetings discussing requirements when everyone wants their own paper copy to make their own comments on. But consider this – how many of those attending the meeting already have a laptop, iPad or other electronic device that could easily take the place of a paper document?

And what about travelling (particularly flying) to meetings when video-conferencing is so readily available. We could probably all minimise our own personal carbon footprints by keeping flying for only those really essential project meetings.

But being an environmentally aware project manager is not simply about these basic and obvious steps. It is also about viewing the product to be delivered in an environmental light, particularly where production methods may not be energy-efficient or where the end-product itself may not be energy-efficient.

The benefits of energy-efficient production methods and end-products are not purely environmental ones. There can be significant cost reductions to this approach and the bottom line is always easy to sell to stakeholders. Outdated production methods can often be upgraded to provide substantial savings over time.

Take as an example Apple who is committed to designing and producing energy efficient products. The energy a technology gadget consumes when plugged in and switched on contributes significantly to the environmental footprint of the company who produced it. It also contributes significantly to the individual’s environmental footprint. Energy efficient products are good for the user as they reduce electricity bills and energy-efficient production methods are good for business as they reduce costs of production. Both contribute to a reduction in the environmental impact of greenhouse gas emissions from power plants.

So every project has the opportunity to improve its environmental credentials in both small and large ways and project managers who are well-trained in techniques for making the most of limited resources are well-placed to have an influence over decisions, large and small, that might have an environmental impact on projects that they lead and direct.

Michelle Symonds is a qualified PRINCE2 Project Manager and believes that the right project management training can transform a good project manager into a great project manager and is essential for a successful outcome to any project.

There is a wide range of formal and informal training courses now available that include online learning and podcasts as well as more traditional classroom courses from organizations such as Parallel Project Training.

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