SEVEN THINGS PROJECT MANAGERS CAN DO ABOUT CLIMATE CHANGE
By Dr Rick Graham PMP
A recent article asked what COP26 (26thUN Climate Change Conference, Glasgow, Autumn 2021) has to do with project management. The clear answer: projects deliver the technology and behavioural changes necessary to meet our climate targets. 'Projects are where the rubber meets the road'.
In addition to such critical value-added projects, there are many things that project managers could and should be doing right now. Here are some of the things that the experts are telling us.
- 1.Be aware and spread awareness: It's all about people, but be aware that researchers have shown that individuals' attitudes and behaviours in regard to climate are not necessarily rational. And not everyone has the same evangelistic belief in the need for changes, so we need to think carefully about how we advocate the changes that may be necessary.
Pin up a copy of Joel Pett's iconic cartoon: a speaker is presenting the benefits of controlling climate change: energy independence, preserving rainforests, sustainability, green jobs, liveable cities, renewable, clean water/air, healthy children, when a heckler stands up and shouts 'yes, but what if it's all a hoax and we build a better world for nothing?'
- 2.Get it measured: the first step for any organisation wanting to reduce its carbon footprint is to get it measured. There are many certified organisations that are qualified to do this and to advise on a whole-company approach to reducing greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions. There is a growing body of research that such an approach is essential: the alternative often becomes an internal mish-mash of uncoordinated measures.
- 3.As ever, scope is important. Not scope as in project scope, but GHG emissions scope. 'Scope 1': from direct business activities. 'Scope 2': from indirect emissions such as purchased power. 'Scope 3': lifecycle emissions from the entire supply chain through to end of life disposal of your products. Scopes 1 & 2 are where we can take obvious actions (reduce and green energy, reduce waste, optimise transport and so on), but Scope 3 is where we have real leverage, for example where we mandate standards on our suppliers (or even markets).
- 4.People want to work with climate pro-active companies. Just as people want to work with safe companies, so people want to work with companies with a proactive approach to climate. Who are these people? Well suppliers, customers, banks, insurers, partners, governments, funders, regulators, employees, need we continue?
- 5.Promote a culture of climate pro-activity. We work in organisations in which safety culture is taken as fundamental, with clear expectations not only from the organisation, but from colleagues. We must advocate and promote a similar culture of pro-activity in the area of climate action. Some teams start every day with a 'safety moment'. Why not introduce a 'climate moment'?
- 6.Project managers are influential: Remember that as project managers we play a critical part in the organisation. We are excellent communicators, facilitators and persuaders. People (and organisations) listen to what we say.
- 7.Remember that organisations have power: As individuals everyone can do their part, but when it comes to influence, organisations are more than the sum of their parts: businesses can achieve what individuals cannot. Individuals can remember to turn the lights off, but organisations influence politicians and indeed nation states where they are unwilling or slow to act. And this has already been demonstrated in the area of climate action (for example corporate and individual US State actions after the Trump administration pulled out of the Paris Agreement).
This list is not complete, it is not the only seven things, it is not in any ranked order, and it is not a list of what we probably already know. But it is a list of some of the bigger pictures elements that we as project managers must bear in mind. Hopefully it gives some food for not just thought, but also action.
About the author
Dr Rick Graham PMP is a project management consultant with a background in the pharmaceutical industry. He is currently working with clients on large rail and communications programs. He is a member of the Digital Events Team within the PMI UK Chapter.
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