Project Management Institute

Green means go! Building sustainability into the PMO


Sustainability, according to the United Nations World Commission on Environment and Development, is “Meeting present needs without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their needs.” (UN-WECD, 1987) This means in effect, reducing consumption of energy and materials to meet or exceed current outputs. Reducing waste, reducing energy consumption, and increasing use of recyclables can all contribute to this goal. Program Management Offices (PMOs) can play a unique role in merging these sustainable, green practices with increased productivity, more effective management, and reduced costs. The net result being that, even while creating a more sustainable planet, we can also save money and improve the bottom line.

The Program Management Office (PMO) can serve various purposes, depending on our needs. It can serve as an umbrella for reporting. It can present standards to an otherwise unruly project or program management group. It can also lead the way in introducing new management paradigms and communicate across organizations to promoting worthwhile goals and practices.

Leading with sustainability or even mentioning sustainability can set off alarm bells. Some may say that sustainability is not a worthy approach as project management is simply about focusing on the mission to get things done. Sustainability does present some interesting opportunities for the program and project manager in getting things done, and perhaps serving some higher goals in the process.

Regardless of one's stance or belief in climate change, the core value of sustainability is cost. By looking at environmentally conscious views of the program, it is possible to discover paths to cost containment, improvements in workers satisfaction, while still meeting or exceeding the business mission requirements for productivity.

Program Portfolio Management

The current legacy systems may not be able to pivot to best practices, but the next generation may be able to adopt some of these practices to have an immediate effect.

In order to understand why this is important, it is critical to think about what happens when we adopt any change from the status quo. If things do not go smoothly at first, depending on the organization's culture and tolerance for ambiguity, there could be political fallout and even a cancelation of the initiative.

For this reason, it is critical, no matter what the task, that there be clear objectives with smaller incremental goals at first. These early wins and smaller scopes are usually the path of least resistance to bigger projects and heavier investment. The other tradeoff is skill sets, such as green skill sets, which are not built overnight. There are institutional paths that have to be trodden multiple times in order for there to be a clear value to the organization. These lessons learned serve as important guideposts for what may need to be reinforced in order for larger undertakings to succeed.


Assessment or measurement is usually the first step in any process improvement. In order to understand the impact of various changes in process and procedure, the baseline of current practices must be established.

The traditional method of measurement from the standpoint of sustainability is measuring inputs and outputs, such as water, raw materials, waste, energy consumption, use of renewable resources with perhaps a more granular approach involving the carbon emissions. Energy is direct use, how much electric, how much gasoline. Carbon is organized slightly differently, using measures such as direct, indirect, and third party. Direct is simply the burning of fossil fuels. If your project uses and tests gas turbines, you will have a direct carbon emission. If the building that houses your developers uses natural gas for heating and cooling and occasionally fuel cells for power generation.

  • Scope One Emissions: These are direct emissions generated if a utility uses carbon-based fuels like coal or natural gas. Also counted is natural gas-driven water heating and/or heating, ventilating, and air conditioning (HVAC)
  • Scope Two Emissions: These are indirect emissions caused by using electricity. The source of electricity is important because the emissions of the producer ultimately fall on the consumer.
  • Scope Three Emissions: These are emissions used or consumed by third parties. Included in Scope 3 is employee travel to and from work. Emissions of the suppliers that work on your project also count as Scope 3.

Some organizations, such as Walmart, are asking suppliers to report what they are doing to improve sustainability and even giving preference to vendors that score higher if they voluntarily report their carbon emissions to the Carbon Disclosure Project (cdproject, 2011), because this usually cuts current and future costs of production and translates to a corresponding future reduction or at least containment in their costs. (Walmart, 2011)

Self Assessments

Self-assessments are questionnaires for evaluating current behavior and take the form of questions, such as:

  • How much electricity are we using as a development group?
  • How much paper does IT use each year for printing reports?
  • How many workstations are in place?
  • How many are powered down before the occupant goes home?

These statistics can form the basis for the initial projects for a Green PMO. Identify what the current baseline of inputs and outputs are required to just keep the lights on and everyone working. From this, bring together interested stakeholders who want to play a role in blending in green best practices, identifying the potential net savings and benefit to the organization.


Identify potential areas for savings and quantify the savings available. Use of individual surveys could bring grassroots support for the project, but be wary of raising too high a profile until clear opportunities for savings are identified. Finally, create a plan for implementation and present this as a potential savings given a range of options. We would generally recommend looking for low cost, no cost solutions to start.

  • Reducing the number of reports or creating PDF versions of reports for distribution instead of printing
  • Look for ways to power off or create low power settings for workstations and laptops
  • Examine the organization's telecommuting policies and how well the current IT infrastructure would support more telecommuting employees
  • Distribute surveys using online tools to determine what staff attitudes and awareness are toward lowering energy use (Global Stewards, 2011)


Why should we care? Well, for one thing, if there is some truth to climate change, which scientific minds seem to think is strongly the case, and then it is only prudent that we all do what we can to forestall or reverse the effects.

Another is, quite simply: cost. By reducing the consumption of energy on your project, you are also directly cutting costs.

A third reason is prevalent mostly in regional settings; if there are incentives for reduction or penalties for over consumption, it is your best interest to participate. Incentives can also take the form of direct incentives by utilities and commercial real estate ventures to finance energy improvements.

Penalties are embedded in the time of use charges from your local utility company. There is great value to the utility companies for their incentive programs, also known as Demand Side Management or DSM. If your costs and consumption are reduced, this can delay or cancel the need for building future power plants.

U.S. Data Center Electricity Use

Data Centers are some of the highest intensity users of electricity in the world. The facts regarding data and video, Internet growth, and use have skyrocketed. EPA forecasted as early as 2007 that data center electricity use comprised nearly 1.5% of all usage in the United States, with projections showing that this could nearly double by 2011, to 3% of all usage. (EPA, 2007) (Exhibit 1)

Comparison of Project Electricity Use, All Scenarios, 2007 to 2011 (EPA, 2007)

Exhibit 1 - Comparison of Project Electricity Use, All Scenarios, 2007 to 2011 (EPA, 2007)

There are more cell phones, smart phones, and other mobile devices in use than any other time in our history, with over 5.3 billion phones in use. (Mobithinking/International Telecommunications Union, 2011) More of these mobile devices combine voice and data applications, including video, which is driving storage capacity requirements through the roof. This growth requires more data storage, applications, and hybrid applications to support what was previously a relatively slow growth curve.

Data Center Consolidation and Efficiency Models

Data centers are notoriously underutilized. The reasons for this are clear. Data center managers are graded on availability and performance, seldom efficiency. If a DC manager is purchasing computer power at 1000 servers a month, they might bump that to 1,100 hundred servers just in case. If the servers are down, or over utilized, they will not hear the end of it.

However, after hours or after peak usage, in our 24/7/365 parlance, it is critical to understand that these servers run nearly at full power regardless of the current utilization. If most peak usage is during the day and even approaches 70%, the average use for the data center will be somewhere in the 20% to 30% efficiency range.

Consolidating workloads allows the DC operation to take advantage of “following the sun” operations, one center covering multiple time zones can maintain a higher utilization. When one area drops off, another comes aboard to maintain a more constant demand curve. What is at stake here is, by taking two 30% workloads and matching them, the organization can eliminate 50% of their hardware computer footprint, which leads to very impressive savings.

In June 2010, the EPA announced a new program, granting EnergyStar designations for data centers that score in the top 25% as compared with their peers. (EPA, 2010) This designation recognizes the efforts of data center operators to reduce energy consumption. By adopting energy efficiency best practices, data center operators can not only reduce their operating costs, they can gain some recognition of their efforts, which in turn could lead to more business if their customers are focused on energy efficiency or if a captive data center, could position to becoming the internal consolidation site for other organizational DCs that are not as efficient.

Other key trends are using cloud computing to share resources. According to a Verdantix study commissioned by the Carbon Disclosure Project, widespread adoption of Cloud Computing could run into billions of dollars through energy savings alone. (Verdantex, 2011)

From the IT standpoint, instead of standing up dedicated servers for development, increasingly we are seeing virtualization of development and pre-production environments. Because they are not required to support the full workload of production and are idle much of the time, this can result in striking opportunities. By a “follow the sun” approach, assuming there are ample bandwidth available to get to these consolidated servers, there may be more savings here than most realize at the outset.

Adoption of “off peak processing” can serve to reduce peak load requirements for the data centers. Because off peak service is at a discount, this may result in some savings. As more of the workload is increasingly online instead of batch processing, this may not provide as much savings but could be useful in some instances.

Virtualization is the first step in most cases; virtualization enables consolidation and monitoring of workload. If workload approaches maximums, it is possible to bring more servers online or else branch out to public or private providers to provide the extra horsepower. Since the peak load capacity does not have to be maintained in house, the model calls for operating expenses to peak instead of capital investment. If an IT manager has to buy equipment, he or she will always go higher than required because the budget may be tight and when funds are available they opt for the maximum, rather than the minimum required.

The availability of cloud computing either through centrally managed shared services or by renting the computer and storage from a commercial source provides an avenue to shift from a capital expense to an optimal operational expense. The downsides are that security may not be enough or the right type. The data transferred to the cloud may reside there even if deleted. Copies and backups of cloud data are difficult to track and may get out into the public. There are no guarantees the cloud provider has the same human resource standards for hiring. Even your organization's CEO may not be able to know who has access to the organization's data without a court order.

Human Capital Management

Some of the possibilities for low cost solutions are implementing flexible employee work weeks. If you can adopt flexible schedules or compressed schedules, a four-day, 10-hour work day, translates into one less commuter day per week. If the schedule allows for telecommuting, this is another option. Regular telecommuting also pays off in more subtle ways; with the advent of flexible, home-based workers, if your organization can master the complexities of remote management may translate into future reductions in real estate needs and reduced turnover of high performing employees. (, 2007)

Advancements in telecommuting technology with voice, video, and collaboration tools that are dramatically less expensive, remote workers can interact nearly seamlessly without the overhead and stresses of the daily commute. In Washington DC alone, it is estimated the average commuter spends 70 hours per year in traffic. (Texas Transportation Institute, 2011) This translates into an enormous amount of carbon emissions; the reduction of even 1% would have a significant impact.

Another benefit is reduced turnover. The average time to replace some federal workers is 365 days! The commercial sector spends between 30% and 400% of an annual salary recruiting and training replacement staff. (Blake, 2006) The time spent on training is enormous. It is clear that there is a value in increasing retention. Telecommuting may reduce enough daily stress to perhaps keep some high-performing workers longer, along with the positive effect on emissions.

Awareness campaigns can serve to reduce the impact and engages the staff in becoming part of the solution. This can help set the agenda for a wider involvement with other sister units in the organization that may be interested in the same thing. It can lead to an Earth Day year-round mentality, in which employees shut their own lights and computers down instead of waiting for the machine.

“Turn It Off” campaigns and “Social Media: What Is Your Footprint?” can engage employees to take this from the office to the home. Commuter benefits can encourage using mass transit instead of driving. All of these can have a an impact.

Coping With Change

The most important issue is coping with this as part of change management. Change is a constant. Managing change is a skill. By looking forward to a future with perhaps fewer or certainly more expensive resources, by building in the green and sustainable philosophy, we can start to turn the tide toward a lower intensity culture. Lower intensity usage will result in lower costs. Giving your teams the awareness and incentives to use these tools will make a difference in not only the PMO, but also the organization as a whole. (2007). Adapting to teleworker trends. Retrieved from American Management Association:

Blake, R. (2006). What turnover really costs your company. Retrieved from

cdproject. (2011). Retrieved from Carbon Disclosure Project:

EPA. (2010). Energy Star Data Center Program. Retrieved from!OpenDocument

EPA. (2007). Report to Congress on Server and Data Center Energy Efficiency. Retrieved from

Global Stewards. (2011). Global Stewards Energy Challenge. Retrieved from

Mobithinking/International Telecommunications Union. (2011). Latest # of Mobile Subscribers. Retrieved from

Texas Transportation Institute. (2011). 2010 Urban Mobility Report. Retrieved from

Verdantex. (2011). Cloud Computing, the IT Solution for the 21st Century. Retrieved from Carbon Disclosure Project:

Walmart. (2011). Walmart Sustainability Index. Retrieved from

This material has been reproduced with the permission of the copyright owner. Unauthorized reproduction of this material is strictly prohibited. For permission to reproduce this material, please contact PMI or any listed author.

© 2011, Kevin T. McDonald, Molly Janis
Originally published as a part of 2011 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Dallas, TX



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