Project managers can be the missing link in achieving sustainability goals

The energy sector is moving quickly to deliver sustainable solutions. Unfortunately, most Danish companies across industries do not integrate sustainability into their projects. Therefore, project managers should be involved and further trained because their role can become a crucial driving force in achieving ambitious sustainability goals, says expert Berit Kristine Bøggild.

When this year’s major report on project management compiled by RUC and Mannaz was released, one figure stood out: only 11% of companies are actively working on sustainability in projects*.

However, the low figure does not surprise Berit Kristine Bøggild, who is an expert in sustainability. In her daily work, she assists private and public organisations in achieving sustainability goals through her role at the training and consulting firm Mannaz.

“Many of the project managers and leaders I speak with have the perception that the sustainability agenda is something handled by someone else – even in companies with ambitious Net Zero targets,” she explains.

She continues:

“They instead point to flagship projects or the ESG department as those responsible for fixing sustainability goals. But if a company has set Net Zero targets, relying solely on flagship projects and the ESG department will not suffice. The challenge is not made easier by the fact that project managers often have a narrow perception of sustainability, focusing only on the environmental aspect. However, as the EU’s ESG standards (ESRS) clearly show, sustainability encompasses much more, including aspects like equality, diversity, and inclusion.”

Not focused on sustainability

Strategy and change are executed in many companies by project managers, and momentum is lost when this important group of employees feel disconnected.

“In my opinion, project managers have not yet fully realised how important a catalyst they are in sustainability execution. This is a challenge because goals become harder to reach – both externally with customers and internally – without the drive, knowledge, and creativity of project managers,” explains Berit Kristine Bøggild.

It surprises Berit Kristine Bøggild that top management is not more concerned that their project managers are not focused on sustainability.

“Perhaps top management believes that project managers themselves will make the connection to their crucial role. They are an intelligent and competent group of employees, but in a busy day focused on delivering traditional project goals, they may not necessarily be aware of the company’s sustainability goals.”

Project managers have important skills

Berit Kristine Bøggild emphasises that project managers’ unique skills should be utilised and strengthened.

“The tools that project managers already possess should not be discarded; they should be expanded. Elements such as risk assessment should be expanded to include a focus on sustainability. And the good old project management triangle is still useful, but it should be augmented with sustainability dimensions. Regarding stakeholders, new ones may emerge in the analysis, and prioritisation may change when weighing the importance of different stakeholders’ agendas. So, the familiar project models still work, but they need to be unfolded with new dimensions,” she explains.

One of the companies Berit Kristine Bøggild collaborates with regarding project management and sustainability is the prestigious company Alfa Laval, which is at the forefront of developing sustainable solutions in various industries. Alfa Laval is working diligently on its sustainability transformation.

“We incorporated Alfa Laval’s strategic focus areas within sustainability into their project management universe. This means we have integrated them into ten project management tools in Alfa Laval’s internal project management training—among other things, in the form of an expanded project management triangle, expanded stakeholder mapping, and expanded risk assessment.”

For Alfa Laval, the effort is primarily about integrating sustainability more comprehensively so that the company’s goals and, just as importantly, customers’ goals can be achieved.

Read more about Alfa Laval on their website or read this case about how Alfa Laval develops their leaders to navigate in an environment of constant change.

Do you help customers get closer to achieving their goals?

Overall, Berit Kristine Bøggild believes it is a good exercise for a company to ask itself whether it helps customers get closer to their sustainability goals—or whether it leads customers in the wrong direction?

“It is definitely a competitive parameter for companies to be able to produce data that demonstrates they are a positive factor in the sustainability balance sheet. I have met several decision-makers who express that when faced with choosing between two capable partners, they choose the one that also can help deliver sustainability goals,” she says.

She continues: “In general, you can only greenwash to a certain extent, to put it bluntly. Results and data need to be on the table. Sustainability data have become gold—and here, once again, project managers play a crucial role. After all, much of this data needs to be provided by project managers.”

What makes the energy sector a frontrunner in sustainability?

According to Berit Kristine Bøggild, the energy sector is actively working on sustainability because energy plays a significant role in the success of both businesses and society in addressing the climate agenda.

“The energy sector can make an enormous difference for all of us. Fortunately, they are also focused on it, and they also see business opportunities in succeeding. The world demands their knowledge and solutions. Here, big ambitions and big business potential go together,” she explains.

However, she points out that despite their focus on sustainable energy solutions, the energy sector still has a long way to go to achieve sustainability.

“No matter what industry you’re in and whether you’re a public or private company, the interaction between top management and the project management layer must be strengthened to achieve sustainability goals. There needs to be support from management because if steering committees get a sense that sustainability is not a top priority, they will deprioritise it. Success is best achieved when top management, steering committees, and project managers are united in the sustainability agenda -and when words are followed by appropriate actions.”

Meet Berit

If you’re curious about the driving force behind your sustainability goals, you can talk to our expert in the field, Berit Kristine Bøggild.

Client Director
+45 4517 6000

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