Sustainability - the common thread

7th July 2013

Common thread

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Darren White explains how CH2M HILL is weaving sustainability into projects using programme management principles

Companies are starting to incorporate sustainability into their marketing, corporate communications, annual reports and their actions – whether it is designing and constructing a major infrastructure project or producing a household product.

To effectively integrate sustainability, it must be a key theme in programme management methodologies and practices, in the same way as cost, delivery and efficiency.

Organisations approach the delivery of sustainability in different ways, whether it is through a stakeholder/client led approach or through the implementation of their own internal management systems.

Over the past few years, CH2M HILL, a global consultancy, design, operations and programme management company, has developed a set of principles, which integrate, monitor and report on sustainability during the design of a building or throughout its construction, delivery and operation.

It is an approach that goes much further than conventional project management.

From projects to programmes

One of the major contributing factors to poor sustainability in the construction sector is the disconnect between the engineering, procurement and construction disciplines.

It is relatively straightforward for designers to produce a sustainable design; however, the principles can be either diluted or lost once the design moves to procurement and the construction phase, unless the requirements are embedded in the supply chain.

The original aims of the design must be integrated into the contract documents as specific key performance indicators (KPIs) or deliverables that can be used to track the design through the various stages of the project.

Traditional project management is usually concentrated on the delivery of a single project that satisfies the client and the lead organisation for the duration of that project.

A more up-to-date approach incorporates the requirements of other stakeholders and the operation of the asset – similar to whole life costing. By contrast, sustainable programme management (SPM) looks at the local and the wider societal context of a development and provides a collaborative and integrated approach to deliver benefits beyond the life cycle of the project.

SPM is defined as: “The organised management of change in policies, assets or organisations, integrating the economic, social and environmental aspects of the project, its result and its effect, for now and future generations.” To ensure the successful delivery of sustainability, it is important that it is embedded in:

  • project and programme management processes and methodologies;
  • project and programme reporting; and
  • project and programme management competencies.

When developing reporting mechanisms, it is important to ensure that the end result is a clear performance report, which summarises the status of a particular sustainability theme or issue in a similar way to how financial performance or safety is displayed.

By reading the report, the target audience – whether it is the chief executive, an NGO or the client – should be able to immediately assess the project’s sustainability performance.

The report should be informed by a raft of data-collecting tools, including audits, KPIs and monitoring reports of individual aspects of the organisation’s sustainability policy, such as material selection, diversity of workforce and resource efficiency.

This information should be able to provide a “single source of truth” that can be traced back should further analysis be required (see panel, below).

When reporting on performance, it is essential that the scoring criteria are clearly defined and quantified. This will avoid the potential of the ratings being considered to be inaccurate or influenced by personal opinion.

SPM in practice

SPM was used successfully during the construction of facilities for the London 2012 Olympic and Paralympic Games, where the Olympic delivery partner CLM – a joint venture between CH2M HILL, Laing O’Rourke and Mace – adopted it as a method of reporting.

During construction of the Olympic park, the performance report for one project revealed it was at risk of not achieving its target on recycled content of materials. This would have affected the whole programme’s performance against a key sustainability target.

As the problem was identified during the design phase of the project, it was possible to review material selection to see if the amount of recycled material being used could be increased and put the programme back on track to meet its target.

It was identified that changing just one product would ensure that the project would achieved its goals. The product was a non-concrete kerb, which could be installed where kerbs were not susceptible to damage by heavy vehicles.

The alternative product contained 88% recycled content and was predominantly made from recycled plastic – approximately 182 plastic bottles in each kerb. It was easier and quicker to install than traditional concrete kerbs owing to its lighter weight, with each plastic kerb weighing less than 6kg compared with 70kg for concrete.

Replacing this single product led to significant benefits in construction delivery time, recycled content and potential for end-of-use recovery, project performance and the wellbeing of the installer. Without adopting a programme management approach to monitoring and reporting performance, this might not have been identified at a suitably early stage.

Value adding

There are several potential benefits to adopting a SPM approach. These include:

  • clear and consistent communication of expectations;
  • progress is measured objectively and consistently;
  • validated data are used as a “single source of truth” to generate multilevel and audience outputs;
  • helps to establish a strong governance function;
  • assists in the identification and management/mitigation of unsustainable trends;
  • enhances reputation and stakeholder satisfaction;
  • ensures alignment throughout supply chain;
  • human resources, development and training (job creation, competencies retention, etc.); and
  • a motivated workforce benefitting from shared culture and objectives.

Integrating sustainability into project and programme management involves the entire project delivery process and generates added value for project managers, communities, stakeholders and the natural environment.

While the principles of SPM are the same irrespective of the project, the mechanisms must be tailored based on location, feedback from building owners and end-users, and a willingness from the design team to collaborate with stakeholders.

By adopting a SPM approach to delivering sustainability, organisations take a collaborative and holistic view of the strategic benefits to their firm of designing effective management and control systems that lock in sustainability to the programme process.

This article is dedicated to landscape architect and sustainability champion John Hopkins, who died in January 2013. He oversaw the design and delivery of the widely acclaimed London 2012 parklands.

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