You might have heard of the Earth Overshoot Day (EOD). This is the day each year by which the humanity starts using the resources of the following year. It is calculated by dividing the world’s biocapacity by the global ecological footprint and multiplying this by 365. The biocapacity is understood as the amount of natural resources generated by the planet in a given year and the ecological footprint is understood as the humanity’s consumption of those natural resources in that year.

According to this measure, in 2019, we started using the resources of 2020 on the 29 of July. In 2020 that day has been pushed by three weeks, to the 22 of August. An ironic impact of the coronavirus global epidemic. It looks like if the humanity stops moving for a while, the Earth catches it breath. More specific information about the EOD approach and methodology is available from New Economic Foundation and Global Footprint Network.

Obviously, we are all looking forward to the end of the pandemic. We are looking forward to all our usual activities, including travel and tourism. But that places the theme of sustainability at the centre of the stage. Reduction of activities is not sustainable. Neither is an excessive use of the planet’s resources. Can we let the Earth keep its breath and renew its resources while we come back to our usual activities? Project Management, being a way of introducing change in organisations and communities, offers an avenue of doing that. Such approach has been provided by Green Project Management Association, which has contributed two major components of sustainable projects: the P5 Standard and PRISM methodology.

P5 Standard

Traditionally, projects aimed at the delivery of a defined product, at the desired quality level, within the key constraints of time and cost.

The overall objectives were to achieve an outcome that would generate some measurable benefits. The project context was recognised but to a more or less limited extent.

In 1994 another baseline appeared, with the publication of the book under an all-telling title Cannibals with Forks, by John Elkington. In that book, Mr Elkington put forward a Triple Bottom Line, composed of three elements:

  • Profit – the traditional measure of business effectiveness,
  • People – the measure of the business impact on communities concerned and of its social responsibility,
  • Planet – the measure of the business impact on the natural environment and its environmental responsibility.

GPM brings these two sets of constraints together, leading to a new triangle of constraints. The traditional project triangle is placed in a context where the risks, value and benefits are integrated into project considerations from the start, and these are not only perceived from the organisational perspective but also from the social and the environmental perspective. The full model is presented in Picture 1.

Picture 1. Project constraints and impacts
Source: The P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management, V 2.0, GPM Global, 2019

With such a view of project constraints and contexts, GPM has developed a methodology that places sustainability at heart of project management. The foundation of that methodology is to be found in the P5 standard, where the five letters ‘P’ stand for: Product, Process, People, Planet, Prosperity.

Such a configuration of areas translates into a tool of project context analysis that brings the attention to many possible impacts of projects on their environments. In the P5 Standards each domain is broken further down into detailed subdomains and areas of focus, offering directions for specific insight. And so, in the Product Impacts we will find the Life Span of the Product and Servicing. In process impacts we find effectiveness, efficiency and fairness of project management.

Going further down, the P5 map features detailed sets of social impacts (People), environmental impacts (Planet), and economic impacts (Prosperity). The P5 tool requires a degree of selectiveness as well as broad thinking. Perhaps, protection of indigenous and tribal Peoples (in Social Impacts – Society and Customers domain) will not apply to every project. But if that is understood as the consideration of local cultures and languages, it will be important in regions such as Kaszuby or Occitania.

Project Management Integrating Sustainable Methods (PRISM)

PRISM is not a new and distinct approach to project management. Rather, it integrates elements of sustainability into the existing methods. First, PRISM brings in a specific understanding of project benefits and dis-benefits. It is inspired by the benefits mapping and modelling of PRINCE2, but it adds the broader societal and environmental benefits and dis-benefits to the picture. The task for a project team committed to sustainability is to go beyond the pure business benefits and identify those that may concern the broader community and the natural environment. The PRISM approach to benefits is illustrated in Picture 2.

Picture 2. Project costs and benefits in the entire product life-cycle
Source: GPM Global

This model also brakes away with the cradle-to-grave thinking and prefers the cradle-to cradle approach. Many products at the end of their life generate both the divestiture costs and benefits from recycling and reuse of components. If the reuse is taken into account from the early design, projects acquire a regenerative power. This trend is already visible in the automotive sector.

From process perspective, in project initiating (PMI vocabulary) or starting up (PRINCE2 vocabulary), PRISM makes a strong reference to the organisation’s corporate sustainability strategy and the environmental management system, assuming that the organisation has developed those. The project charter or business case should be levelled with such strategy and system.

Following this, PRISM introduces key steps and tools that allow the sustainability to be integrated into the project from the first steps. The project team should carry out an impact analysis, using the P5 impacts map. Having full clarity of specific impacts, the sustainability objectives of the project can be defined and written down in a Sustainability Management Plan. In this way PRISM introduces a specific management product oriented towards the definition and control of the sustainability aspects of the project.


From the methodological point of view, Green Project Management, with its P5 impact mapping and sustainability elements integrated into the established methodologies, may not amount to a revolution. And it is not its purpose. But it is a major philosophical shift. It is ethically substantiated, with a strong value set. It encourages the project managers and teams to think in broad terms about the projects contexts and environments and consider all possible impacts, both positive and negative, on these environments, with the aim increasing the positive and reducing the negative ones. This is not to argue that such broad thinking is all absent from many projects undertaken globally. But there is certainly room for improvement.

As projects are means to introduce organisational and societal change, sustainable project management may be a platform upon which to introduce sustainability into all spheres of business. Project management systems and organisational structures, such as project management offices, may become the source of organisational sustainability.If there is a critical mass generated in that direction, this may be a stepping-stone to avoiding the devastation of the planet that we inhabit.