Published here June 2017


Musings Index

Sustainability in Project Management: Darya's Daydreams

In recent months,[1] there has been some discussion amongst my colleagues about the move to try and introduce the concept of "sustainability" into the published standards for managing projects. In effect, should "sustainability" be a part of every project manager's professional responsibility on any and every project they manage?

And so it was that my good friend Darya Duma[2] and I got into an Email exchange on this subject. Indeed, since I have already written some earlier Musings on this topic, I pointed Darya to them for some consideration.[3] Moreover, to spark the discussion, I suggested that maybe to contain population growth perhaps wars are a good thing after all. (Oh, what heresy!) Here is what Darya had to say.

Darya Duma's Daydreams

"Hi Max!

I gave your comments a good think and I agree that people in projects need to take a wider view of the environment and change.

I say people in projects on purpose — it is often completely out of the hands of the project manager. The executive level, for the most part, just does not want to hear about it. They set targets for performance and it becomes the driving factor overriding all other thoughts, including ethics. But it remains our duty, as project managers to provide a full and thorough assessment of project impacts.

I have been giving this a lot of thought since my CSA[4] days. In response to your "Max's Musings" — you can call this "Darya's Daydreams". I do not take such a dim view that we need wars to cut population growth. I am realistic enough to admit that it has been our tradition to do so and still tends to be, unfortunately. I hope we as a global community grow out of it some day.

I look at Canada and other well-developed countries, and the birth rate in those countries is falling. The key to all of this is not war, but education and access to family planning resources. There are very few women in this world who actually want to have 10 children. And only 100 years ago, families even in this country were encouraged to have as many children as possible to sustain the family farm. It is no surprise that the birth rate is high on First Nations reserves. Health care has improved, but education and access to family planning has not.

Population growth has slowed: but, of course, any population growth will still lead to a strain on global resources, eventually.

But we need population growth to sustain our capitalistic system. At least the way it is currently structured. The system is broken, but we are probably repeating the same song that many sang at the turn of the 19th century, when systems changed to create a middle class, that is starting to decrease again.

As human beings though, I believe it is our duty to not give up, but persist in searching for the right balance. Sustainability must be part of the equation. And we must think about more than just making money and getting ahead, even if it is our deep-seated natural instinct to do that, just like trees that grow higher than other trees to compete for sunlight. I am loosely citing Christopher Hitchens.[5]

But if we want humanity to continue to exist, we have to recognize that instinct — and curb it. I would like to think that we have a wider capacity to think and develop solutions than trees do.

In fact, I take a broader view of sustainability than simply being efficient about using resources. For the last 100 years, we have been driving to "do it cheap, do it fast", that's what keeps everyone busy. For example, don't make bridges that last 100's of years, make bridges that last 25 or perhaps even 10, so we have business in the future rebuilding and repaving the bridge.

So this is where PM's come in — to influence that equation and balance better quality outcomes with sustainability. Unfortunately, we are often hired just to plan and execute (especially if we are the vendor building the bridge), so all we can do is submit the equation for decision making at a higher level. But program managers stick around for much longer, and may own the responsibility for sustaining and maintaining the project outcomes (not always — I agree). Hence, this is my reason for supporting sustainability as part of the program management body of knowledge.

Incidentally, I was a witness to how the oil & gas companies manipulated the Kyoto protocol to create something that was doomed to fail. I heard many of the phone calls and the discussions (I should have taken notes). It is the foundation of my lack of faith in the executive level being interested in anything except making money.

I feel that it is absolutely imperative that the discussion on this topic needs to continue. By including sustainability in global standards, it is my hope that it will at least make people think about the concept. We will not change the world tomorrow, and probably not even in our lifetime, but perhaps we can exert some influence for change in the next generation."

I think that Darya makes many good points. Of course, responsible project managers do concern themselves with sustainability in their work — in the sense of minimizing the impacts of the project work in the interests of effectiveness and efficiency. It is the long-term impact of the product that is the more significant factor.

So, perhaps the starting point for that "discussion", that Darya suggests "needs to continue", would be to first reach agreement on what "sustainability" should mean in the context of program (not project!) management, and therefore whom should be the most aware and active.

1. Back in October, 2016, I wrote a Musing that talks about "Green Project Management" ( That Musings attempted to explain that the title really means talking about "sustainability", and that, as presented, it doesn't really make sense.
2. Darya Duma PEng PMP Prince2™ Practitioner, PSP, MCT has been an Instructor and Consultant since 2000 with specialties in scheduling and risk management, development of PM Methodology, and scheduling software applications. She has had particular experience with the elevator industry. She has also worked extensively with ISO on ISO project management standards.
3. Interestingly, I was writing Musings about sustainability some sixteen years ago. Here are samples: Ethics and Sustainable Development Initiatives in Construction, June 2001 ( and The Biggest Project of All, June 2001 ( /a>
4. CSA stands for the Canadian Standards Association.
5. Christopher Hitchens was a controversial political author, 1949-2011, see
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