What is PRINCE2 Sustainability management? 

 October 27, 2023

By  Dave Litten

What is PRINCE2 Sustainability management?

PRINCE2 Sustainability management contains the procedures, techniques, responsibilities, and standards to be applied.

It includes the project’s sustainability performance target and expected success level against which the project management will be judged.

All projects impact their environment, and project management teams need to know the sustainability performance targets for the project work and the products required of the project.

PRINCE2 has been designed to work within any context, including organizational and commercial context, delivery method, sustainability requirements, and project scale. 

The sustainability management approach

This forms part of the Project Initiation Documentation and defines the actions, reviews, and controls that will be established to ensure that sustainability performance targets for the project are achieved.

Sustainability tolerance

These are the permissible deviations in the sustainability performance targets allowed before the variation is escalated to the next management level. Sustainability tolerance is documented in the business case.

Sustainability tolerance defines the permissible deviation above and below the plan’s sustainability target without escalating the variation to the next management level. Tolerance is applied at project, stage, and team levels.

Sustainability context

The business case is likely to have sustainability objectives and commitments that the project must adhere to or contribute to, which will inform its objectives and how it is established and managed. 

PRINCE2 addresses sustainability requirements by including Sustainability as one of the seven performance targets used to manage the project. 

Sustainability is included in the PRINCE2 method through the roles (sustainability responsibilities), documentation (such as plans and reports), practices (such as the business case), and processes (such as activities to confirm sustainability requirements).

In everyday usage of the term, Sustainability is often synonymous with the environment, but Sustainability can mean different things to different organizations. 

For some, it may relate to the environmental impact of the project work, while for others, it may relate to the whole-life cost of the products delivered by the project and their resilience in operations. 

Some projects may have Sustainability as their very purpose, such as installing solar panels.

Manage By Exception

Accountability is established by:

Delegating authority from one management level to the next by setting tolerances against the seven aspects of performance (benefits, cost, time, quality, scope, Sustainability, and risk) for the respective level (project, stage, team) 

Sustainability tolerance

The degree to which the project product or activities required to deliver the project can vary from sustainability targets; for example, a new production line operated within five per cent of an emissions target and was provided using around 70 per cent of the workforce from the local community.

The permissible deviation in the sustainability performance targets allowed before the variation must be escalated to the next management level. Sustainability tolerance is documented in the business case.

Business Case economic perspective

Identifying the option that delivers the best value, including broader social, environmental, and Sustainability considerations.

The United Nations defines 17 sustainability development goals to improve health and education, reduce inequality, and encourage economic growth while tackling climate change. 

What Is Prince2 Sustainability Management? What Is Prince2 Sustainability Management

Many organizations have signed up to align with these targets. Organizations may define specific business objectives related to improving Sustainability and specific organizational policies, targets, and frameworks to achieve their ESG commitments. 

It is essential that the sustainability targets for the project align with the organization’s broader objectives along with any ESG targets it has defined.

If a project’s primary purpose is to satisfy a sustainability objective, traditional investment appraisal methods may not be effective when assessing its business justification. 

For example, a project to build a flood defence barrier, where benefits may not be achieved for 20 or 30 years, may be difficult to justify using discounted cash flow methods, where the future value of money, and therefore benefits, is worth less than today. The approach to assessing business justification may need to be adapted for this type of project.

Sustainability targets: specific targets relating to Sustainability that the project must meet. The targets include sustainability tolerances.

Sustainability management approach

The sustainability management approach is part of the project initiation documentation.

The sustainability management approach aims to define the actions, reviews, and controls that will be established to ensure that sustainability performance targets for the project are achieved.

Sustainability scope describes what sustainability targets are to be managed and measured. In contrast, the measurement describes how to measure the achievement of sustainability targets, when they can be measured, and the baseline measures from which targets will be calculated.

It defines responsibilities, resources and tools for sustainability activities, including who is accountable for measuring the achievement of the sustainability targets.

Role responsibilities for Sustainability

Directing (project board)

The project board authorizes the start and completion of each stage, including setting stage tolerances (such as people, timelines, resources, and sustainability targets).

Project Executive

Accountable for the business case for the duration of the project. Approve the sustainability management approach and be accountable for the project’s duration.

The project executive ensures the project remains aligned with the business objectives. This typically includes targets for environmental, social, and governance (ESG) objectives, the UN’s sustainable development goals (SDG), net zero, waste reduction targets, reuse of materials,

Ensure sustainability risks are identified, assessed, and controlled. Make decisions on escalated risks, with particular focus on continued business justification

Senior supplier

Responsible for sustainability reporting from the supplier perspective.

Senior user

Accountable for agreeing on a sustainability management approach. 

Agree on the digital and data management approach from a user’s perspective. For example, product data handover for operational and maintenance needs defines sustainability reporting requirements from the user perspective.

Commit people and user resources.

The Project Manager 

Has primary responsibility for managing the relationships within the project to ensure that the project produces the products following the agreed requirements (such as quality, Sustainability, time, cost, scope, benefits, and risk performance goals).

Monitoring and supporting the safety and wellbeing of team members and the Sustainability of the project approach.

Developing the sustainability management approach as delegated by the project executive.

Assess and update the business case, benefits management, and sustainability management approaches at the end of each stage.

Responsible for sustainability reporting from the project perspective.

Produce lesson reports, highlight reports, exception reports, end stage reports, and the end project report. 

Project assurance

Advise the project manager on the sustainability management approach and confirm with the project board that it complies with business policies.

Assure the project board of the implementation of the sustainability management approach (such as whether the value-for-money solution is constantly reassessed)

Project support

Maintain baseline and change control for sustainability management approach.

Team Manager. 

Monitoring and supporting the safety and wellbeing of team members and the Sustainability of the team’s approach. Responsible for sustainability reporting for the team.

Produce checkpoint reports and responsible for sustainability reporting to the team.

PRINCE2 Sustainability Delivery Method.

Projects are often the vehicle for driving forward an organization’s sustainability targets, whether that is their primary focus or as a by-product of how they are delivered. 

To support this, there should be clear accountability for sustainability targets across the project ecosystem captured in the business case, the requirement setting, and people’s role descriptions. 

The organization of the project impacts its ability to deliver sustainably. 

The Project Approach should empower team members to deliver sustainably, embedding sustainability considerations into all decision-making and ensuring a diversity of perspectives to challenge the way things have always been done.

The project management team structure and role descriptions should define responsibilities for delivering the sustainability targets, including how they will be managed once the project is concluded. 

The commercial management approach should ensure that the way products are ethically procured and the performance measures applied enable meeting sustainability targets.

Projects rarely have the luxury of fulfilling all user expectations without regard to constraints. For example, a desirable product option with a high energy demand may conflict with sustainability constraints set for the project. 

For this reason, it is helpful to prioritize quality specifications for each product to ensure that the most critical requirements are met.

Plan Sustainability

Plans can address Sustainability in at least three different ways:

product sustainability

In identifying and describing the required products, it is helpful to determine the product’s environmental impact through its entire lifecycle, including disposal where appropriate.

Delivery sustainability

Projects often face choices in planning work packages and stages that can affect the climate impacts of the delivery activities. 

Agreeing to sustainability tolerances is an effective way for the project manager and project board to keep things like fuel consumption and production wastes aligned with the organizational strategy.

Benefits sustainability

Projects often deliver benefits long after they have been closed and may fail to achieve the expected benefits because there are only limited means to sustain these benefits. 

For example, ongoing training and user support are not considered when defining the project’s scope. An effective way to avoid this problem is by identifying requirements to ensure benefits sustainability.

Targets and tolerances

The permissible deviations for scope, cost, and time at the level of the plan. Stage plans and team plans may also include sustainability and risk tolerances.

Product sustainability

Sustainability is a crucial consideration in describing and specifying the project products. 

Sustainability requirements should address the organization’s ability to sustain expected benefits after delivery (for example, the Sustainability of a product) and its ability to achieve its expectations for the project’s environmental impacts and its products (environmental Sustainability).

Both aspects can be addressed at a high level in the project product description. 

Product descriptions should include product sustainability requirements captured as quality specifications or acceptance criteria. 

Product sustainability considers both the environmental impact of the product and the characteristics that will ensure that the product can realize its benefits over its expected lifetime. 

Consider how a product will be decommissioned if that work represents a significant portion of its overall environmental impact.

The quality specifications associated with product sustainability can usually be derived from information about the product’s supply chain and how the business intends to use and support the development. 

Quality specifications related to environmental Sustainability may need to reference regulatory or advisory standards.

Sustainability Risk planning

Threats and opportunities can impact the project’s objective of delivering an agreed scope and benefits to an agreed time, cost, and quality within agreed sustainability targets.

The use of risk categories helps projects identify and prioritize risks. 

PESTLE (political, economic, social, technological, legal, and environmental) analysis and SWOT (strengths, weaknesses, opportunities, threats) analysis can analyse the internal and external context for risks. 

These techniques also help to identify sustainability risks that may affect the project and can also help to identify the most appropriate owners.

Business Case Sustainability

A project will incorporate specific sustainability targets and tolerances into its business case, which should be assessed for risks. 

Sustainability Risk management considerations can include:

Defining the approach to managing risks relating to the Sustainability of the project work (for example, the project not meeting its sustainability performance targets)

Defining the approach to managing risks relating to the Sustainability of the project product (for example, one or more products not meeting their sustainability performance requirements)

Incorporating the cost of responding to sustainability risks into the risk budget (for example, extreme weather events that may affect the project or the resilience of the supply chain)

Documenting risks and actions relating to Sustainability into the risk register and including them in regular risk communications.

Issue and changes Sustainability

Sustainability can be a source of significant issues and changes outside the project, particularly in regulatory requirements and supplier capabilities. 

Suppose sustainability and environmental impacts are significant aspects of the project. In that case, the issue management approach should ensure that someone in the project management team is responsible for monitoring external sources of potential issues and changes.

Progress control involves measuring actual progress against the performance targets of Sustainability, and this information is used to make decisions, such as whether to approve a stage or work package, whether to escalate deviations, or whether to prematurely close the project and take actions as required. 

Sustainability progress can be monitored at the work package, stage, and project level.

Sustainability tolerance types by layer

Limits on the agreed metrics for Sustainability will be included in the Business Case, Stage Plan, Work Package description, and Product descriptions.

The project board may set more specific stage-level sustainability tolerances when authorizing a stage or by the project manager and when approving work packages, especially from external suppliers.

Some areas of Sustainability will fall under legislation, regulation, or business layer policies; therefore, it will require evidence to support compliance. 

Progress Management Sustainability

Progress management will gather data on those aspects of Sustainability recorded in the project implementation document that are critical success factors for the project. 

This is to check that the project remains within its sustainability tolerances and the parameters established by the business layer.

Progress management must be able to identify and report on the data required to support this evidence.

The project executive may request an audit of the project if compliance against sustainability regulations is required. Advice should be sought from the quality assurance function with the business or programme.

Sustainability reporting should not be separate from the agreed reporting requirements but rather integrated into the cyclical analysis of the project data by the project manager, team managers, and project support. 

The activities in the plans should consider the data needed to satisfy sustainability analysis, just as they should for the other tolerances within the project. 

This is so that evidential reporting on Sustainability is a consequence of progress management rather than something that requires additional activities or resources.

Applying Sustainability to the PRINCE2 Processes

Sustainability application to Directing a Project

The project board approves the initial and updated versions of the sustainability management approach for alignment with the business case and business approach. 

The project board agrees on level benefits and sustainability tolerance with the business and sets the stage level tolerance for them.

The activity Give ongoing direction by the project board and provides general advice on the project (for example, explaining the business’ sustainability objectives and ESG reporting requirements relevant to the project)

The management approaches are derived from sustainability expectations captured in the project product description. 

When the approaches have been defined, it is possible to establish the project controls to create the sustainability management approach. 

Sustainability application to Initiating a Project.

The outline business case in the project brief is developed further into a full business case ready for approval by the project board based on a better understanding of the project and the proposed option. 

The sustainability management approach is developed to support the business case and provide input for establishing controls.

Application of Sustainability to Controlling a Stage

The business case is regularly checked to ensure it remains viable. Otherwise, the project board must be informed. 

The sustainability management approach is applied, and their requirements are included in work package descriptions for the stage.

Ensure that each product in the work package has gained its requisite approval as defined in the sustainability responsibilities in their product descriptions.

Application of Sustainability to Managing Product Delivery Process

Sustainability management requirements defined in the work package description are fulfilled when executing the work package.

Application of Sustainability to the managing a stage boundary process

It is a PRINCE2 principle that a project must ensure continued business justification.

The project board is ordinarily authorized to continue while the project remains viable, meaning the benefits will be realized within the sustainability parameters established in the currently agreed business case.

The project’s performance at the end of the stage is assessed, and the business case is updated to reflect any changes to forecast costs, risks, and benefits, as well as any changes external to the project that affect the business case. 

The sustainability management approach is reviewed and updated if required.

Application of Sustainability to the closing of a project process

The performance of the project at the end of the project is assessed, and the business case is updated to reflect the actual costs and benefits as well as a forecast of benefits yet to be realized. 

If required, the benefits and sustainability management approaches are reviewed and updated for post-project responsibilities.

Sustainability within the management documents

Business Case

Specific targets relating to Sustainability that the project must meet. The targets include sustainability tolerances.

The Plan document.

The performance targets and the permissible deviations for scope, cost, and time at the level of the plan. Stage plans and team plans may also include sustainability and risk tolerances.

PID content

The sustainability management approach is created to define the actions, reviews, and controls that will be established to ensure that sustainability performance targets for the project are achieved.

The sustainability management approach defines the actions, reviews, and controls will be established to ensure that sustainability performance targets for the project are achieved.

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Dave Litten

David spent 25 years as a senior project manager for USA multinationals, and has deep experience in project management. He now develops a wide range of Project Management Masterclasses, under the Projex Academy brand name. In addition, David runs project management training seminars across the world, and is a prolific writer on the many topics of project management.

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