Embrace sustainability to transform business performance
Making major projects more sustainable
Major projects, from building roads, railways and factories to developing new products and reshaping cities, are big contributors to economic growth and prosperity. But they can also have long-term consequences for the environment. With sustainability and climate action growing priorities for businesses and governments, the people behind major projects have an opportunity to cut the environmental impact of their work. To do so effectively, they need the right support to make sure their decisions focus on the planet and people, as well as profit.
We saw a chance to give them that support by working with the Major Projects Association to establish a new sustainability network, a community of practice for organisations engaged in the initiation and delivery of major projects, programmes and portfolios. The Sustainability Ambassador Network is raising the profile of sustainability and giving key project staff at some of the world’s best-known companies the tools to steer projects to more sustainable results.
Made sustainability and climate action a part of the Association’s strategy from 2019 onwards
Formed the Sustainability Ambassador Network to inspire and educate the Association’s members about sustainability
Built one of the first digital tools of its kind to help project planners and managers build sustainability into their decisions
Major projects, such as building factories, developing new products and reshaping cities, are key to economic growth. But they also have long-term consequences for the environment. They’re contributing to the prediction that the planet is close to the point of no return on climate change.
Delivering on international commitments to stop global temperatures rising more than 1.5 degrees will mean rethinking how organisations design and run major projects. Familiar yardsticks like time, quality and cost are no longer enough. Instead, projects need to focus on planet, people and profit. But that’s easier said than done for project managers, even if they realise the urgent need for sustainability.
We’re working with the Major Projects Association to make sure its members understand how they can influence the projects they’re involved in, so sustainability is a fundamental part of their thinking.
The Association counts globally recognised companies like BAE Systems, Siemens and BP among its members, as well as government departments. And its role is to share knowledge, experience and ideas that lift the quality of major projects. So, it’s in prime position to make a difference. But, as a member ourselves, we spotted an opportunity to make sustainability more prominent in what the association offered and give members more guidance. With our help, it’s now taking up the challenge.
Isabelle Linden and John Kerambrum, PA sustainability and circular economy experts and key contributors to the Association, saw an opportunity to do more to help members build sustainability into projects. They knew that by bringing together a range of members into a Sustainability Ambassador Network, they could raise the profile of sustainability and provide tools to steer projects to more sustainable results.
Project planners and managers have such a big role in defining the environmental and social impact of their work. The decisions they make, especially early on, define crucial things like what materials a project will need, what measures will show the value of the work and what its lifetime impact on the environment will be. They need practical help to make sure those decisions are the right ones.
Due to the passion of Isabelle, the Association decided to make sustainability and the circular economy the theme of their 2019 annual conference, from which several plans emerged – including the Sustainability Ambassador Network.
Since the conference, the Sustainability Ambassador Network has secured pledges from over 35 members to put sustainability at the centre of their work, shared case studies to show sustainability-led thinking in action and run events to let project leaders and managers share experiences and hear from leading practitioners.
And, to support the Network, the Association commissioned PA to help improve access to tools, resources and methodologies that would support members in boosting their projects’ sustainability.
Our team of sustainability experts created an online Framework to help make sustainability part of decision-making on major projects. Launched in September 2020, it’s one of the first sustainability toolkits for projects. It covers every stage of a project, from concept and design to maintenance and disposal. The Framework pulls together advice and tools from 71 sources around the world, from the UN Global Compact and the Ellen Macarthur Foundation to ING bank and Exeter Business School. It means project planners and managers have a tool that can help them across industries. They can also rate the resources in the Framework.
The PA team organised the Framework to emphasise the need for long-term thinking. Decisions have an impact long after the project itself is over. An office building, for example, will last up to 60 years. The framework encourages project decision makers to assess the sustainability of the project’s whole lifespan. That includes looking at the emissions they’ll produce, how sustainable the supply chain is and how to offset any negative environmental impact.
The framework helps project managers set targets, track performance and quickly access thought leadership to make sure their project is in step with sustainability and circular economy principles. It also puts information, which would otherwise take too long to search for, at members’ fingertips.
PA technology and infrastructure expert Jonathan Evans, who co-created the framework, said: “Having this help so close at hand is critical to the ideas becoming part of how people think and work. When time is short, you need simple tools to help you do the right thing, like assessing which project options are compatible with the UK’s net zero carbon target.”
The Sustainability Ambassador Network continues to meet regularly with the focus now on realising the benefits of the Framework by promoting and encouraging project professionals to use it on their own projects. The Network also works to continually improve the facility by identifying new resources, so the Framework has the latest market leading sustainability tools and methodologies available.
John Kerambrum, PA delivery expert, continues to lead the Sustainability Ambassador Network subcommittee for tools and methodologies, and explained: “Resources to support the management of projects in a sustainable and circular way continue to develop. We continue to work with our colleagues within the Major Projects Association to capture the latest best practices.”
Our organisation is about sharing best ideas and thinking to produce the best results on projects. PA has opened a new dimension of that by inspiring us to focus on sustainability. The Sustainability Ambassador Network is a springboard for that. The new online resource, plus the case studies and events we’re developing, are a really tangible start and we hope they inspire members to share more of their own sustainability insights.