Sustainability is one of the most important challenges of our time. How can we develop prosperity, without compromising the life of future generations? The pressure on companies to consider sustainability in their business practices is increasing, and the integration of sustainability into core business functions is considered one of the most important leadership challenge facing business today . Integration of the principles of sustainability requires rethinking and redevelopment of business strategies, products/services, processes and resources .
In the implementation of strategies, projects play an essential role, and this also applies to sustainability strategies . Marcelino-Sádaba et al.  therefore conclude that “Organizations, nowadays are increasingly keen on to include sustainability in their business. Project management can help make this process a success”. The relationship between sustainability and project management is being addressed in a growing number of studies and publications [5,6] and ‘green’ or ‘sustainable’ project management is considered one of the most important global project management trends today [7,8]. This short article aims to provide guidance on the understanding of this emerging theme of sustainable project management, by discussing the main aspects and topics discussed in literature. In the conclusion of the article, the author will develop an overview model that links the different topics and aspects to each other.
As project management is often described in a life-cycle of project management processes or process groups, for example initiating - planning – implementing – controlling – closing , it is not surprising that several authors apply this perspective in their analysis of the impact of sustainability on project management. An early study that took this perspective was done by Eid . In this study, a forum of project management practitioners was asked about the impact of sustainable development on project management processes. The respondents saw opportunities for the integration of sustainability in all process groups, however, the area of integration of sustainability aspects, differed. In their view, the initiating and planning processes of the project provided opportunities for integrating sustainability into the content of the
project, whereas the executing and controlling processes of the project provided opportunity for integrating sustainability into the processes of the project.
This differentiation between the impact of sustainability on the content of the project, and thereby the deliverable or product of the project, and the processes in the project, that realize the deliverable or manage this realization, can also be found in other publications [11,12]. However, in one of the first publications on sustainability and project management, Labuschagne and Brent  link process and product by elaborating the concept of life-cycle orientation to the project life-cycle. In the context of projects, the concept of life-cycle orientation, logically implies that the full life-cycle of a project, from its conception to its disposal, should be considered. Labuschagne and Brent argue that when considering sustainability in project management, not just the total life-cycle of the project should be considered, but also of the ‘result’ the project produces, being a change in products, assets, systems, processes or behavior. In other words, considering sustainability in project management suggests that both the process and the product of the project need to be considered .
Next to the processes of the project life-cycle, project management is often also described in content related themes, addressed as knowledge areas , subject groups  or themes . Also, these themes provide a structure for analysis of the impact of sustainability on project management. For example, based on a structured analysis of 164 publications on sustainability in project management, Silvius and Schipper  conclude several ‘areas of impact’ of sustainability that largely coincide with the content related themes of project management. Other studies focus on specific themes, such as specifications [10, 6] , stakeholder management [16,17,18], procurement , risk management , communication , materials , business case [23,24], quality , success  and the project team .
Studies that focus on the content related aspects of projects often focus on operationalizing the ‘Triple Bottom Line’ concept of sustainability  by developing sets of indicators on the different perspectives of the Triple Bottom Line concept , for example [28-31]. However, addressing sustainability through a set of indicators tends to be more adequate for the content and
product of the project than for the delivery and management
processes of it . For this, a more process related view, based
on a set of guiding principles, such as the UN Global Compact,
should be preferred [33,34]. In short, principles provide guidance
for future behavior, where indicators measure the impact of past
behavior. Both are relevant, but principles are more useful in the
assessment of project management processes, whereas indicators
are more useful in the assessment of project deliverables and
So far, this article has addressed that the impact of
sustainability on project management is analyzed in academic
studies by applying either principles or indicators of sustainability
to project management processes and/or themes. However,
sustainable project management in the end evolves about
the behavior of the project manager. And despite the growing
attention for sustainability in project management, Økland 
still observes a gap between the literature on sustainability in
project management and what is carried out in practice.
The behavior of the project manager with regards to
sustainability has been addressed in the study by Silvius, Schipper
& Visser . They found that the beliefs of the project manager
with regards to sustainability play a key role in his/her behavior.
Some project managers are intrinsically motivated to consider
sustainability. They care about nature, the planet and the future
and they feel that considering sustainability is something they
should do. The characteristics of the project, or the opinion of
others, probably do not play a large role in this behavior. These
project managers will consider sustainability because they
consider it ‘the right thing to do’.
Another group of project manager is less self-motivated
and more task-oriented. They will consider sustainability when
it is part of the project’s requirements or objectives, when the
client asks for it or when they are rewarded for it. This group is
sensitive to the opinion of the project owner on sustainability
and can be stimulated to consider sustainability by external
pressure or rewards. The third group of project managers is most
of all pragmatic. This group is also not strongly self-motivated for
sustainability but will consider it when they see a good application.
This group is stimulated by practical knowledge, tools and
instruments . Sustainability may be understood intuitively,
but remains difficult to express in concrete, operational terms
. Unfortunately, the literature still provides “little guidance
… on how to apply sustainability to specific projects”  and these
practical tools are less developed.
A specifically sustainability-oriented standard for project
management is Projects Integrating Sustainability Methods Prism
. Prism is based upon the ISO 21500 project management
processes  and integrates the consideration of sustainability
into these processes. It does so by integrating a sustainability
impact analysis in the project initiating phase, that feeds into
a Project “Sustainability Management Plan” (PSMP) for the
project. The PSMP is managed throughout the life-cycle of the
project, and during the initiation and the closure of the project.
The sustainability aspects aspects are reviewed in a meeting that
includes also the sustainability or CSR officer of the organization.
Silvius  developed a template for this PSMP and reported the
first experiences with the application of it . The findings of this
study show that the development of a PSMP for a project provides
an added value to both the projects and the organizations involved.
An important part of an PSMP is the analysis of the sustainability
impact of the project at hand. In the last years, several structured
‘project sustainability impact analysis’ instruments have been
published (For example the Sustainable Footprint Methodology
, the Sustainability Project Management Maturity Model
(SPM3) , the P5 standard for sustainability in project
management , the Project Sustainability Excellence Model
(PSEM)  and the Project Sustainability Impact Assessment
(PSIA) . It is hard to say which instrument is most used, but
the experiences with the SPM3 model are documented in several
Next to tools and instruments, project managers also need
competences to be able to assess the sustainability of their
projects. The IPMA Individual Competence Baseline version 4
, explicitly addresses this competence, by stating that the
project manager should be able to “assess the impact of the project
on the environment and society” and that he/she “researches,
recommends and applies measures to limit or compensate
negative consequences”. Silvius and Schipper  analyze what
competences the project manager would need to be able to assess
this impact and conclude that project managers may typically be
strong on the ‘strategic’ and ‘interpersonal’ competences that are
required to assess sustainability. However, they also conclude that
the ‘anticipatory’, ‘systems thinking’ and ‘normative’ competences
are less present in project management competency standards.
This article intended to give some insights into the different
views and aspects that can be found in the emerging literature
on sustainable project management. Based on the observations
described above, we constructed the following overview model
(Figure 1). At the heart of the model are the actions and the
behavior of the project manager. Sustainable project management
needs to be substantiated in actions and behavior that consider
sustainability, otherwise nothing will happen. What sustainability
means for a specific project, can be derived from the numerous
publications that show principles or criteria/indicators of
sustainability. Principles are more useful in the assessment of
project management processes, whereas indicators are more
useful in the assessment of project deliverables and products.
It is important to realize that the materiality of sustainability
indicators will depend on the type of project and the industry
in which the project takes place. The criteria that are applied to
assess the sustainability impact of a project should therefore be
aligned with the strategy and values of the organizations involved.
How sustainability may or should impact project management
processes and themes has also been addressed in several
publications. However, in order to influence the behavior of the
project manager, these impacts need to be operationalized in
practical tools and instruments. Project managers in general
do not have the time to ‘translate’ models and conceptual
views into practical instruments. We rely on authors, standards
and researchers to ‘package’ the sustainability perspective in
practically applicable tools, in order to change the behavior of
Next to instruments and tools, the project managers also need
to be educated in what sustainability is and how they can integrate
it into their projects. Building sustainability competences lets
individuals see and understand more about sustainability, which
creates awareness and may also change individual beliefs. Also, in
these believes, the values and culture of the organization plays a
With the overview model presented in this short article, the
author aims to provide the readers with a ‘map’ that will help
them to position publications and studies on the topic and to
‘make sense’ of Sustainable Project Management.