The Mother of All Stakeholders

How big do stakeholders get?

I was personally pleased when I recently worked with a major multi-national organization that puts sustainability right at the heart of everything it does – including new projects and programmes.

The question is, how to fit it into your projects, if it is not baked into everything that your organization does? As project managers, we have choices and I’d like to highlight four approaches to building sustainability into your projects.

Choice 1: The Financial Approach

You can build sustainability into your projects by ensuring that that your investment appraisal and business case are predicated around whole -life costs and returns or, if this is not possible, for any reason, at least look at the longest time horizon possibly. An example is schools building and renovation: why do so many public authorities insist on a payback on energy efficiency investments that is substantially shorter than the planned lifetime of the school and the assets that might be installed?

Choice 2: The Specification Approach

The second approach sees sustainability as an element of the quality of your project, to be explicitly balanced against time and budgetary objectives. The problem with this approach comes when the organization chooses to prioritise time or cost, leaving sustainability as the poor relation that gets abandoned. This is an application of the right principle, but puts sustainability at the back of the queue.

Choice 3: The Risk Approach

The commonest approach I have seen is a deeply pessimistic one. Sustainability and environmental concerns make their only appearance in projects, via the risk register. Whilst proactive risk management is recognized by most PMs as an essential component of planning and control, this approach effectively relegates sustainability to an after-thought.

Choice 4: The Stakeholder Approach

My preferred approach is to treat Mother Nature as a stakeholder in your projects. The stakeholder revolution that began in the 1930s with E Merrick Dodd and matured in the 1980s with R Edward Freeman’s Strategic Management: A Stakeholder Approach, which put people on an equal footing with profit on organisation’s agendas.

I’d like to see that go a step further, and John Elkington’s concept of ‘the triple bottom line’ seems to me the best framework. Elkington saw three equally important bottom line measures: the profit account, the people account and the planet account.

Let’s start to consider our planet as a real stakeholder in everything we do as PMs. This does not mean it should come first, but it would require us to take full account of its needs throughout our projects, from definition to decommissioning. Only when you do this will you be sure you are thinking through all aspects of your project’s viability and the wellbeing of your other, human, stakeholders.


This article was first published on the APM (Association for Project Management) website on 1 July, 2014.

Dr Mike Clayton is the author of The Influence Agenda, published by Palgrave Macmillan – www.theinfluenceagenda.co.uk

The Influence Agenda by Mike Clayton

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