The Front Lines With a Sustainability Project Professional

Business and political leaders, civil society representatives, environmental activists and changemakers of all kinds are joining forces to address the serious challenge of climate change. On the front lines of this effort is sustainability project manager and PMI member Joshua Williard who, armed with his PMP certification, is on a mission of his own to help save the planet.

Written by Joshua Williard • 25 January 2024

The Front Lines With a Sustainability Project Professional

If you’re interested in the latest on climate science, check out the website of the new U.S. Greenhouse Gas Center (US GHG Center), a new multi-agency initiative to consolidate information about greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions drawn from the latest scientific observations and models.

The center is a joint effort of the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA), the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), and the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration (NOAA). The goal is to gather and curate the latest data on greenhouse gas emissions to aid researchers, climate change experts, policymakers, and concerned citizens in mitigating the effects of natural and human-caused GHG emissions.

To this list of interested parties, I’d now add project professionals. Project management, after all, is all about turning intention into action. As project professionals, we know how to bring cross-functional teams together and align them around a common purpose. Harnessing the power of project professionals is thus the key to driving action on climate change.

I hope to tap into the Greenhouse Gas Center in my own journey to make a positive contribution to the environmental challenges facing the world. An environmental engineer by training, I’ve interned for an environmental advocacy group, worked for a mechanical engineering firm, and served in the Peace Corps, overseeing the design and construction of portable water systems in rural Peru. Each of these experiences exposed me to different aspects of project management.

It wasn’t until I returned to the U.S. in 2020 that I decided to formalize my project management experience and pursue the Project Management Professional (PMP)® certification. Earning the PMP opened a new door for me. By blending my technical environmental background with newly honed project management skills, I was able to land a role with the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), where I’m part of the group that oversees national implementation of the federal Superfund Program.

I’ve seen first-hand how applying sustainability concepts and decarbonization strategies through project management can bring about real change. This ability to make an environmental and social impact through project management is, for me, hugely rewarding and motivating. I’m no longer pigeonholed as an engineer but as a sustainability project professional – a unique role that I believe is very much needed these days.

I further built on this role with a master’s degree in Sustainability Management at Columbia University, supported by the PMI Educational Foundation (PMIEF) Kerzner Scholarship. A lot of project management practices I learned studying for my PMP are woven into my coursework at Columbia.

Indeed, my PMP certification helped me understand why certain decisions are made from a management perspective and how organizations deliver on their mission – a critical part of sustainability. I also have an excellent grounding in the different ways of managing projects depending on the situation (agile, predictive, or hybrid). The PMP has set me up for success in managing the complex projects we undertake at EPA.

I’m grateful to PMIEF and the Kerzner Scholarship for supporting me on my mission to help safeguard the planet. And I’m grateful to be able to substantiate my skills through PMP certification. The PMP, of course, is well known across many industries and sectors. Being a certified PMP has boosted my resume and helped me stand out from the competition, especially as an early career professional

Even if you’re not working for the EPA, however, you can still have enormous impact in advancing your organization’s sustainability goals. As a project leader, you are already deeply familiar with your organization's complexity and the strategies employed across the organization. Working with your sustainability teams, you are uniquely positioned to tie business and sustainability goals into your projects and ensure that sustainability practices are incorporated into every function, process, and decision.

If you’re new to the sustainability space, you can tap into the latest insights and practices of your peers, to better understand what works in different industries and settings. To aid in this effort, PMI last year introduced a dedicated ESG Resource Hub to support project teams in their sustainability learning journey.

I truly believe that by working together, project professionals can affect change for the better. In addition to visiting the new Greenhouse Gas Center site, check out PMI’s Most Influential Projects. There are plenty of examples of how projects are delivering the innovations the world needs for a greener future! And through the work of its many chapters and volunteers in the Hours of Impact program, PMI’s global community is already committed to supporting the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

I’m proud to be a member of PMI, an organization that is enabling sustainability changemakers around the world to take action to effect real, measurable change. #Actionism, #TogetherWeCan

Joshua Williard headshot

Joshua Williard
Project Manager/Environmental Engineer | US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)

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