Enabling green project management by using information technology (and other stuff!)


Hot, Flat, and Crowded: Why We Need a Green Revolution—and How It Can Renew America, a current book by Thomas L. Friedman, challenges the American public to think “beyond green” in order to achieve energy independence in the United States. How does information technology (IT) project management fit into this equation? What can be done immediately to enhance energy efficiency through project teams and project manager leadership? This paper will describe potential places in which an information technology project team may “go green” while still satisfying project sponsors and stakeholders. Also, there are basic practices that any project team may employ to improve its carbon footprint!

The Beginnings of this Paper

The inspiration for this white paper came from a party I attended a few years ago. As I walked toward the entrance of the house where the party was being held, I noticed a row of plastic bags lined up (but not fastened shut) and filled with plastic partyware. I sat down with my diet drink and started conversing with the host; I mentioned that I saw all the plastic partyware sitting outside in large plastic bags, ready to be dumped into the garbage. The host laughed and said, “Yeah, that’ll show Al Gore!” And, the sad thing was, that this person was serious! There was no effort made to recycle the plastic ware that had been used for this get together and it all ended up in a local landfill!

Raising awareness about global warming (actually, climate change.) or environmental issues is not just Al Gore’s problem and can still be challenging in a polarized political environment in today’s world. (McCright & Dunlap, 2011, p. 155) Enabling Green Project Management will enable the project manager working with stakeholders to not only discuss and implement the merits of improving organizational environmental programs, but also to teach and encourage practices that minimized or erase the footprint of the project on the environment.

Some Background on the Environment and Sustainability

In recent American history, the will to preserve resources, combat pollution, and develop environmental policies has been a bi-partisan effort. For example, Theodore Roosevelt, a Republican, started the first wildlife refuge and set aside large tracks of land that eventually became the United States’ National Park system, preserving natural wonders for future generations. President Richard M. Nixon started the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and the Endangered Species Act. President Jimmy Carter was the first to install solar panels on the White House, but President Ronald Reagan had the solar panels removed. And, finally, Democratic Senator Gaylord Nelson from Wisconsin and Republican Representative Paul McCloskey from California introduced legislation to create the first Earth Day on 22 April 1970. The first Earth Day had over twenty-two million participants and exceeded organizers’ attendance expectations.

Beyond governmental actions, there has been pressure to change environmental policies in the private sector. Investors demanding sustainability policies, financial institutions looking at businesses that have adopted green programs, and international trade agreements that have integrated environmental components are just a few examples that have encouraged businesses to create programs and frameworks as a business strategy. (Labuschagne & Brent, 2005, p. 160)

One author articulates this movement as part of the “corporate social responsibility” (CSR) that many organizations have found to be an important part of their community efforts to not only market their businesses but to truly give back to the nation and local communities. CSR is made up of economic, ecological, and social responsibilities, also known as the “triple bottom line.” (Schieg, 2009, p. 316) One may surf many corporate websites to see these initiatives descriptions and how they are being applied in various communities.

At the Social Venture Network (www.svn.org), the main principles of corporate social responsibility (CSR) are spelled out. Ethics, accountability, governance, financial returns, employment practices, business relationships, products and services, community involvement, and environmental protection are the nine components that make up CSR.

Specifically, and as relating to product outcomes, the following needs to be done to help the environment:

  • Reducing the material intensity of goods and services

  • Reducing the energy intensity of goods and services

  • Reducing toxic dispersion

  • Enhancing material recyclability

  • Maximizing sustainable use of renewable resources

  • Extending product durability

  • Increasing the service intensity of products (DeSimone, 1997, p 89 )

There are materials available, which are specific to CSR, specifically, the Corporate Responsibility Magazine that may be accessed at www.thecro.com.

Project Management and Information Technology

How does project management and information technology become a part of a sustainability program? Clearly, project management is practiced in every discipline, knowledge area, and industry, thus making it a catalyst or change agent for an organization to leverage their resources to support a sustainability policy.

Project Management Dominion

Exhibit 1: Project Management Dominion

Accordingly, project management is central to the innovations and operations of many organizations. (Schieg, 2009, p. 317) (See Exhibit 2)

Systems in the environment of the project organization (Schieg, 2009, p 317)

Exhibit 2: Systems in the environment of the project organization (Schieg, 2009, p 317)

Project management is also central to many of the systems within an organization, as well as a tool to leverage in order to sustain viability.

Like project management, information technology has become central to many organizations’ ability to operate in the 21st century. Clearly, when the “system is down,” a whole organization’s functionality will be crippled. As technology has advanced, it has become more transparent to the organization. For example, an automobile was simply a vehicle driven to move people from place to place; however, as technology has been integrated into vehicles (e.g., sensor systems, complex engines, brakes, and steering components, entertainment systems, and global positioning systems [GPS]), the automobile has evolved into more of an Internet node than just a transportation vehicle. (Richards, 2001, p.17). Not only is information technology used inside the vehicle but it is used throughout the design and building of the vehicle as well.

Both project management and information technology are essential components to an organization’s bottom line; however, both need to be understood in order to be used to support and improve corporate social responsibility programs.

Enabling Project Management with Information Technology

Part of this strategy is to use project management and information technology in a proactive instead of a reactive manner. Instead of thinking about how to clean up a mess, it would be more advantageous to avoid the mess in the first place. In other words, corporate leaders are used to reacting to environmental problems instead of preventing them in the first place. (Marker, Johnsen & Caswell, 2009, p. 28)

Also, it’s not just a question of “How much does it cost?” as “How will we do this?” Creating a “green” building using LEED guidelines has shown that contractors have found ways to stay within budget and still meet sustainability goals. (Morris, 2005, p. 3) And, like most extensive, well thought-out plans, it may take some time to realize a return on the investment. Understanding life-cycle costs (LCC) and total cost of ownership will help an organization gain a better understanding of the costs and benefits of implementing this type of program. (Hodges, 2005, p. 312)

As already mentioned, convincing employees of the importance of sustainability is key to having a successful project. There are five specific areas to concentrate on, and they are:

  1. Stakeholder Engagement
  2. Creating the Culture
  3. Organizational Learning
  4. Holistic Thinking
  5. Measurement and Reporting (Crews, 2005, p. 20)

These should be standard practices in a mature project organization and may be the five lead items in any project management office (PMO). However, others in the project management discipline believe that a life cycle adjustment needs to be put in place and should take the forms of:

  • Planning – Design
  • Building and Testing
  • Production (Operational) (Labuschagne & Brent, 2005, p 162)

Many process frameworks, such as TOGAF, CMM, CMMI, Zachman, and ISO standards may lead the organization to adopt one of them to assist in implementing a corporate social responsibility program. Certainly planning or putting together a team for a project that defines the program would be an excellent step forward.

Some Approaches

There are many ways to go “green” and there certainly isn’t a “one size fits all” solution. However, starting out in the office space with some basic rules may help establish a culture of sustainability; for example, the Sierra Club (www.sierraclub.org/greenlife) has these basic suggestions:

1. Turn Off Lights (Use Energy Star Lights)

2. Turn Off Computers (and Power Strips) US$1 Billion a Year

3. Print Smarter

4. Go Paperless, Get off Junk Mail Lists (www.newdream.org/junkmail)

5. Ramp Up Recycling Efforts

6. Close the Loop (Buy Furniture, Paper, and so forth from Recycled Materials.)

7. Watch What and How You Eat

8. Rethink Travel

9. Reconsider Your Commute

10. Create a Healthier Office Environment

Another approach is within the manufacturing sector of the economy. When the product of the project is a tangible asset such as a consumer item, the project team needs to consider the concept of design for disassembly (DFD) or what will happen to the item once it is no longer in use. Another main idea is to create manufacturing ecosystems where one industry’s by-product may be used as a raw material input for another. (Shrivastava, 1995, p. 187)

Companies have gained efficiencies through supply-chain management. For example, Walmart insists their partners adhere to government environmental guidelines, reduce energy use by 20%, and that the factories that produce their products should be 95% energy-efficient. Whereas CUTCO cutlery corporation cut US$41,000.00 annually out of their budget by using less energy to run their computer hardware, reduced paper use by 27% by having their computer printers print on both sides of the paper by default, turning off lights in the administration building (US$21,000 savings.), and reducing trash by 26% through recycling efforts. (Berthon, Critenden, Desautels & Pitt, 2010, p. 16)

Another example is InterfaceFLOR, a billion-dollar commercial flooring company that has plowed its profits back into green technology. The owner’s motto is, “Doing well by doing good.” Over the years, the stock price of the company has tripled and their goal is to have zero impact on the environment by the year 2020. (Marker, Johnsen, & Caswell, 2009, p. 28)

In Denmark, they are simulating a natural ecosystem by practicing a “waste exchange” project where companies and organizations use each other’s waste to lower the use of natural resources and lower pollution. This requires cooperation between government and private enterprises to coordinate the exchanges between the various entities. The end result is less pollution, use of raw materials, lower costs for all participants, and lower impact on the environment. (Shrivastava, 1995, p. 188)

Starting a Green IT Initiative

As mentioned at the start of this paper, information technology has become the heart of operations in most organizations. As one group of researchers has pointed out, “While sustainability initiatives are a great start, green IT also should be at the heart of all that companies create (strategy formulation) and not just a means to an end (strategy implementation).” (Berthon, Critenden, Desautels & Pitt, L., 2010, p. 18)

Also, a deep immersion into the technology needs to be achieved in order to leverage it for environmental sustainability. As Melville, states, “Information systems are an important but inadequately understood weapon in the arsenal of organizations in their quest for environmental sustainability by enabling new practices and processes in support of belief formation, action formation, and outcome assessment.” (Melville, 2010, p. 14)

Although planning is important, Jenkin and Chan suggests through their research that key alignment processes are found in executing rather than planning processes. In other words, through learning, adaptation and change may point the way forward for a successful green IT initiative in any organization. (Jenkin, & Chan, 2010, p. 35)

The approaches can vary in scope and complexity. Simple things, such as turning off lights or starting a recycling program may be very “low tech” but effective in saving costs and lowering the impact on the environment.

Berthon, Critenden, Desautels and Pitt show that there has been an IT paradox in what has been promised and the results. For example, more information generated by a system, on the face of it, sounds like an advantage but can lead to information overload. Or, the problem of disposing computer hardware can be an environmental issue even though the equipment has been touted as “clean technology.” Clearly, what has been promised has not always been the end result when it comes to using computers, cell phones, and all other technological devices (Berthon, Critenden, Desaultels and Pitt, 2010, p. 16).

However, Greengard shows that most of the top ten IT trends lend themselves to a greener IT sustainability program. For example, cloud computing may offset the need to build new facilities to house computer hardware. Computer server sprawl has been lessened or eliminated by using server virtualization. (Greengard, 2008, p. 22) Data centers are becoming more energy efficient through new technologies and powering down when not in use. Web 2.0 technologies are coming online so that more work may be done virtually, thus cutting down on the need to commute to work or travel for business meetings.

On the other hand, using the technology to gain efficiencies through an “out of the box” approach is just starting to be realized. For example, Salamone describes a computer program written for United Parcel Services (UPS) that minimizes left turns on delivery routes. By integrating new software into the guidance systems of the delivery trucks, UPS estimates that the savings in truck idling at left turns saves three million gallons of gasoline and thirty-one metric tons of carbon emissions annually. (Salamone, 2008, p 29)

Buying equipment that is Energy Star Compliant is another approach to setting computers to automatically power down or off when not in use. The website http://www.energystar.gov can help businesses and consumers buy energy-efficient equipment, housing, buildings, and plants.

Additionally, computer data centers are another important energy consuming facility. Brodkin states that the approach to green IT should be end-to-end solutions instead of just procuring more efficient machinery. The plan should be more holistic and take into account:

  • The Building
  • Overall and Specific Energy Efficiency
  • Waste Management
  • Asset Management
  • Technology Architecture
  • Support Services
  • Energy Sources
  • Operations (Brodkin, 2008, p. 22)

Kaln speaks to IT records managers and how they should make sure to buy supplies that are at least 30% recycled, create electronic documents from paper documents for distribution and storage purposes, create a partnership with the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) in their WasteWise programs, purchase from vendors who also have green programs, print double-sided draft documents, minimize duplicate copies, and establish work-at-home days. Kaln reiterates what Brodkin suggests that operations may be improved through best practices and data centers efficiencies. (Kaln, 2010, p. 18)

Although this is not new, many organizations are using information and communications tools (ICT) to lower impacts on the environment. Such tools as WebEx, Go-To-Meetings, SharePoint, High-Definition Video, and others allow employees to telecommute and collaborate without making the trek to the office. By telecommuting and creating “virtual teams,” using ICT has the added advantage of being able to have the best and the brightest in the organization work on a project even though they are not co-located. Laitner and Ehrhardt-Matinez said, “For every kilowatt-hour of electricity that has been demanded by ICT, the U.S. economy increased its overall energy savings by a factor of 10. (Laitner & Ehrhardt-Matinez, 2008, p. 47)

Roth, Rhodes, and Ponoum said, “We estimate that the four million U.S. workers who telecommute an average of one or more days per week reduce primary energy consumption by an amount equal to 0.13% to 0.18% and 0.16% to 0.23% of U.S. annual primary energy consumption and net CO2, emissions, respectively. In addition, TC decreases U.S. gasoline consumption by about 0.8% of U.S. light-duty vehicle gasoline consumption…” (Roth, Rhodes, and Ponoum, 2008, .p 1)


Think of information technology as an “enabler” and a tool to assist, not only in problem-solving but also in realizing benefits from a green initiative using the technology. Consider adopting a business process framework if your organization has not done already in order to get started.

Think “out of the box” (UPS and left turns!) to utilize the technology (Best way to drive to work? Create a car pool that takes advantage of the technology to identify employees who live close to each other) for things other than just producing a product or service.

Use brainstorming techniques to think of new opportunities through using hardware, software, developing code, or buying commercial off-the-shelf software (COTS). Change the work habits of your team to be more energy-efficient. Use Energy Star compliant hardware.

Buy from vendors who practice corporate social responsibility (CSR) and utilize quality telecommuting tools to have work-from-home days for employees. Always use “lessons learned” to continuously improve your green IT initiative processes.

And, finally, should there be an addition to A Guide to the Project Management Body of Knowledge (PMBOK® Guide) in regard to a separate Sustainability Knowledge Area? Or, perhaps Sustainability Processes in each of the PMBOK® Guide’s Knowledge Areas. Green IT management should be as transparent as the other Knowledge Areas so it becomes a part of the project management culture.

Berthon, P., Critenden, V., Desautels, P., & Pitt, L. (2010). Get the most out of green IT. Industrial Management, 52(5), 14–18.

Brodkin, J. (2008). Power efficiency only first step toward ‘green’ data centers. Network World, November 3, 2008, 22.

Crews, D. (2010). Strategies for implementing sustainability: Five leadership challenges. S.A.M. Advanced Management Journal, 75(2), 15–22.

DeSimone, L. D. (1997). Eco-efficiency: the business link to sustainable development. Boston: MIT Press.

Greengard, S. (2008). Top IT trends for 2009. Baseline Magazine, December 2008, 21–25.

Hodges, C. P. (2005). A facility manager’s approach to sustainability. Journal of Facilities Management, 3(4), 312–324.

Jenkin, T., & Chan, Y. (2010). IS project alignment: A process perspective. Journal of Information Technology, 25(1), 35–55.

Kaln, J. (2010). Tips for growing a green organization. Information Management, 44(3), 16–19.

Labuschagne, C. & Brent, A. (2005). Sustainable project life cycle management: The need to integrate life cycles in the manufacturing sector. International Journal of Project Management 23(2), 159–168.

Laitner, J. A., & Ehrhardt-Martinez, K. (2008). Information and communication technologies: The power of productivity (Part I). Environmental Quality Management, 18(2), 47–66.

Marker, A., Johnsen, E., & Caswell, C. (2009). A planning and evaluation six-pack for sustainable organizations: The six-p framework. Performance Improvement, 48(8), 27–34.

McCright, A.M. & Dunlap, R.E. (2011). The politicization of climate change and polarization in the American public’s views of global warming, 2001-2010. Sociological Quarterly 52(2), 155–194.

Melville, N. P. (2010). Information systems innovation for environmental sustainability. MIS Quarterly, 34(1), 1–21.

Morris, P., & Matthiessen, L.F. (2005). Budgeting green: A comprehensive methodology. AACE International Transactions. ES61–ES64.

Richards, D.J., Allenby, B.R., & Compton W.D. (Eds.). (2001). Information systems and the environment. Washington, DC, National Academies Press.

Roth, K.W., Rhodes, T., & Ponoum, R. (2008). The energy and greenhouse gas emission impacts of telecommuting in the U.S. IEEE International Symposium on Electronics and the Environment, (pp. 1–6). San Francisco: ISEE 2008.

Salamone, S. (Fall, 2008). End note: Energy issues increasingly Drive Changes . Innovations 3(4) 29.

Schieg, M. (2009). The model of corporate social responsibility in project management. Business: Theory & practice 10(4), 315–321.

Shrivastava, P. (1995). Environmental technologies and competitive advantage. Management Journal 16, 183–200.

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.

© Dr. Loran W. Walker
Originally published as a part of 2011 PMI NA Global Congress Proceedings – Dallas/Fort Worth, TX



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