Project Management for Climate Change

Date: 14/05/2024| Category: Project Management|

Climate change is an increasingly present topic and it has become an emergency particularly relevant to the younger generation. For this reason, the world of project management is changing and new development needs are arising both from below (e.g., professionals and organisations) and from above (organisations and institutions in the fields of both Project Management and climate protection).

The macro-roles of Project Management

On the one hand projects are about ‘achieving a goal and doing what is needed’. However, this view may be slightly limiting, and therefore we have to add that projects are not only made of operational and executive aspects. They also have a strategic and political-cultural impact.

Project management has two kind of roles:

  • Strategic role: a project sets the direction to achieve objectives.
  • Transitional role: a project leads towards new technologies.

Strategic direction of Project Management

With this distinction in mind, two types of projects can be identified:

  • Exploratory and educational projects, whereby new skills and possibilities are explored.
  • Operational, delivery and execution projects, i.e. Business as Usual (BAU) projects.

To have a balanced organisation, we need both: the strategic direction of exploratory projects is aimed at learning and developing new skills and techniques, discovering and entering new markets while also initiating industrial change.

These projects allow people to learn new skills that, if efficient, result in BAU and can be integrated in the more operational parts of a company.

The importance of practices

Practices are not only about the how and when of a project. They also have a strong impact on the why, what and who.

Are there any practices that we find in projects explicitly focused on climate change?

  • Framing: defining the project’s goal in relation to the overall business objectives.
  • Definition: aligning with project objectives.
  • Selection: selecting projects and their priorities, i.e. which project will bring the greatest benefits in opposing climate change? How difficult is it to initiate this project?
  • Staffing: the team culture and buy-in of the employees involved with regards to the challenge the project is trying to address are crucial for a successful project.

EU guidelines for Project Managers

The European Commission for Climate Action, that is the European Union’s Directorate-General for Climate Action, has published some guidelines on the work of project managers in the field of climate action: Guidelines for Project Managers: Making vulnerable investments climate resilient.

These guidelines refer to long-term projects with a duration of more than 20 years and belonging to one of these two types:

  • “Climate-influenced projects”: infrastructure projects and goods whose well-being and success can be affected by not opposing climate change.
  • “Climate adaptation projects”: whose main objective is to reduce the project/programme’s vulnerability to climate risks (e.g., flood management programme).

The three pillars of sustainability

In 1987, the UN World Commission on Environment and Development produced a report, known as the Brundtland Report, in which three pillars of sustainable development were theorised:

  1. Social pillar: the company upholds values that promote fairness and respect for individual rights. The company is committed to opposing social exclusion and discrimination, promoting solidarity and collaborating for the well-being of stakeholders.
  2. Economic pillar: this is based on the company’s ability to develop a responsible economic system. The organisation must be committed to supporting the environment and promoting climate action by limiting the risks caused by its products, such as recycling or carefully selecting raw materials.
  3. Environmental pillar: The objective is to protect the environment by reducing risks and controlling the environmental impact of the organisation’s activities. Companies must set themselves targets in order to improve their performance and ensure a concrete commitment.

3 pilatri Project Management cambiamento climatico

Environmental action is only one of the three fundamental pillars needed to achieve real and effective sustainability. The work of project managers must therefore be integrated with the concepts of sustainability. Naturally, starting with activities to overcome the climate emergency is a great first step, but one must not forget what the real end goal is, i.e. becoming 100% sustainable.

Project Manager and climate change: first steps

Specifically, what are the first steps a project manager must take to become an active participant in the fight against climate change?

  • Materials: choose materials that are sustainable, focus on location and production methods, environmental impact of production and disposal.
  • Processes: favour ecological processes, paying particular attention to CO2 emission levels.
  • New solutions: develop solutions that are as environmentally-friendly as possible by relying on renewable energy or clean forms of energy.

Sustainability and brand reputation

Brand reputation is one of the main benefits that a company can improve with its commitment to sustainability: companies that promote sustainability and actively fight climate change are better perceived by potential customers.

This climate and environment focused approach has been found to be particularly appealing to the younger generation, who can become a company’s future loyal customers. Securing a strong brand reputation is certainly a winning strategy for any company that wants to establish itself on the international market, especially in today’s age where communication is extremely important.

Learn more

If you want to learn more about this topic and are interested in how it is evolving, have a look at the following sources we have collected for you, including papers, reports and webinars:

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