Fundamentals of project sustainability


Author/Project/Sustainability Consultant


Sustainable development is a systematic concept relating to the continuity of economic, social, institutional, and environmental aspects of human society as well as the non-human environment. It is characteristic of a process or state that a business can be maintained at a certain level indefinitely. The Brundtland Commission of the United Nations in 1987 defined sustainable development as “development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” But the definition of sustainability may vary depending on the area of studies or interaction or the context or situations over many scales of space and time from small ones to global balance of production and consumption.

Project sustainability is now a common approach related to the management of projects, programs, institutions, organizations, people, and other entities requiring effective and efficient production, marketing, distribution, and the delivery products and services. Generally, for projects to be sustained, certain metrics and standards need to be set from project identification through feasibility studies, formulation, design, appraisal, funding, implementation, monitoring, and evaluation. It is a proven truism that most projects are failing because of the lack of an appropriate sustainability plan. It is therefore very necessary for a comprehensive analysis of the social, economic, legal, cultural, educational, and political environments for project implementation. The project philosophy, mission, vision, values, goals, and objectives should be fully articulated and stated in the plan. The involvement of stakeholders and advocates is of paramount importance since it facilitates some logistical preparation. Beneficiary assessment, legal and regulatory framework studies, marketing and competition analysis, partnership development and institutional analysis give room for effective and efficient implementation.

Sustainability analysis will determine project relevance, acceptability, political expediency, viability and adaptability of the project. Other factors such as financial analysis, risk analysis, communication and network determination, operational plan, training, human resource development and capacity building, environmental and community analysis all help to determine the sustainability of projects. Funding requirement have to be analyzed and evaluated to determine whether the project is a franchise, independent project, cooperative, joint venture, Non-Governmental or Governmental organization etc.

A project always describes the rationale, demand and supply basis, costs, anticipated outcomes or outputs, and performance metrics which all need to be met for it to qualify for funding. Demographic studies analyses needs, income, interests, cultures, education, and other human, social and economic factors in order to determine affordability. The legal and regulatory framework deals with licenses and authorizations and various rules, regulations, by-laws and protocols required by law for the implementation of projects in that environment. Technically, the information, communication, and technology (ICT) infrastructure required for the project should be properly assessed especially access to modern technology and systems.

The philosophical and analytical framework of sustainability draws on and connects with many different disciplines and fields and has tended to be problem-driven and oriented towards guiding decision-making. The focus ranges from the total carrying capacity (sustainability) of planet Earth to the sustainability of economic and social sectors, ecosystems, countries, municipalities, neighborhoods, home gardens, individual lives, individual goods and services, occupations, lifestyles, behavior patterns, academic and research institutions, political institutions and business operations.

Sustainable development is a state where the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future generations. The fundamental principle is for businesses to perform tasks and services that are effectively and efficiently produced and promote sustainability in the society as a whole. In order for a business to be sustainable in the marketplace services and products should have little or no competition in terms of image, power, quality, packaging, prices, etc.? Instead products and services should be provided in a way so as to reduce consumption, energy use, distribution costs, economic concentration, and other forms of business and environmental damage. Generally, the main strategies for managing an organization according to sustainable development principles are stakeholder analysis, development of policies, and objectives and designing.

Keywords: project sustainability; sustainable development; total quality management (TQM); capacity building; monitoring and evaluation; knowledge management; configuration management; ISO standards; six sigma methodologies; SWOT analysis; SMART technique; quality assurance; continuous quality improvement (CQI); strategic plan; process development; implementation plan; project sustainability management (PSM)


A project always describes the rationale, demand and supply basis, costs, anticipated outcomes or outputs, and performance metrics which all need to be met for it to qualify for funding. Demographic studies analyses needs income, interests, cultures, education, and other human, social and economic factors in order to determine affordability. The legal and regulatory framework deals with licenses and authorizations and various rules, regulations, by-laws and protocols required by law for the implementation of projects in that environment. Technically, the information, communication, and technology (ICT) infrastructure required for the project should be properly assessed, especially access to modern technology and systems.

Project sustainability management (PSM) is now gaining grounds in project management and is changing the dynamics of the implementation of a variety of projects. Business sustainability is a state where the demands placed upon the environment by people and commerce can be met without reducing the capacity of the environment to provide for future generations. The fundamental principle is for businesses to perform tasks and services that are effectively and efficiently produced and promote sustainability in the society as a whole. In order for a business to be sustainable in the marketplace, services and products should have little or no competition in terms of image, power, quality, packaging, prices etc. Instead products and services should be provided in a way so as to reduce consumption, energy use, distribution costs, economic concentration, and other forms of business and environmental damage.

This paper will elaborate on the various sustainability metrics, characteristics, measurement, indexes, and parameters involved in the effective and efficient implementation of projects. Various aspects of project sustainability such as financial, economic, social, cultural, political, legal, environmental, and educational are explored for a comprehensive approach to project implementation. Other contemporary business concepts which affect and impact sustainable development such as six sigma methodology, International Organization for Standardization (ISO), capacity building, knowledge management, SWOT analysis, the SMART techniques, which help in project monitoring and evaluation and ultimate sustainability will be discussed as well.

Some dimensions of project sustainability are:

  1. Institutional stability
  2. Continued operation and maintenance of project facilities
  3. Continuous flow of net benefits
  4. Maintenance of environmental stability
  5. Equitable sharing and distribution of project benefits
  6. Continued community participation

Some elements of sustainable development are:

  1. Efficient use of natural resources
  2. Education
  3. Population stabilization
  4. Integrated environmental systems management
  5. Social and cultural changes
  6. Determining environmental limits
  7. Refining market economy
  8. Reduction in waste and prevention of pollution
  9. Protecting soil from pollution
  10. Reducing disparity in life cycle
  11. Restoring landscapes

Some examples of sustainable business are:

  1. Replacing nationally and internationally produced products with those created locally and regionally
  2. Taking responsibility on the effects they have on the natural world
  3. Avoiding exotic sources of capital for business development and growth
  4. Engaging in productive processes that are human, worthy, dignified, and intrinsically satisfying
  5. Creating objects of durability and long-term utility whose ultimate use or disposition will not be harmful to future generations
  6. Changing of consumers to customers through education
  7. Promoting transparency and systematic dealings with risks, uncertainty, and irreversibility
  8. Ensuring appropriate valuation, appreciation, and restoration
  9. Integrating environmental, social, human, and economic goals in business policies and activities
  10. Promoting and implementing continuous quality improvement
  11. Promoting commitment to the best practices
  12. Understanding projects which illustrate the successful application of sustainability principles to business
  13. Demonstrating that market forces can drive the company to conduct business in a way that benefits shareholders, society, and the environment
  14. Integrating sustainability in all business plans
Sustainability parameters

Exhibit 1 – Sustainability parameters

Characteristics of Project Sustainability


In organizational management, adaptability is the ability to change something or oneself to fit in occurring changes and to cope with the unexpected disturbances in any environment. In a system it is the ability to adapt itself to efficiently fast enough to changing circumstances. A sustainable project should therefore be open and able to fit in any changing environment or part of a system.

Audit Ability

An audit is often an evaluation of a person, organization, system, process, enterprise, project, or product. But this concept also applies to project management, quality management and for energy conservation. Audits are performed to ascertain the validity and reliability of information in order to express an opinion on something under evaluation and to provide a system of internal control. Because of increasing regulations and need for operational transparency, risk-based audits are being adopted by organizations to cover multiple regulations and standards in order to ensure credibility, good governance and sustainability.

Implement Ability

One fundamental principle in project management is that it should be realistic, feasible, attainable, and above all implementable in order for it to be sustainable in the market place.


Scalability deals with the ability of a project to accommodate addition to its capacity or capabilities and expands its scope of operation. It also deals with its ability to increase in size, volume, quantity, or scope to accommodate unforeseen additional components or features of the project.


This is the ability to extend the project through the addition of new functions or modification of existing functions to effect change while minimizing existing project functions.


A project is sustainable when defects can be corrected, it is able to meet new requirements, future maintenance is made easier, and it can cope with the changing environment.


A sustainable project should have an organizational structure specifying roles and responsibilities and duties. This will facilitate the management of the project and enhance its sustainability.

Measurement of Project Sustainability

Sustainability is an integrated process involving social, economic, cultural, legal, political, health, environmental, financial, and a host of other factors which can facilitate continuity and sustainability of an organization, system, structure, or institution in a marketplace.

Sustainability in project operations is measured by:

  • - Financial capital—these are total financial resources for the project
  • - Manufacturing capital—this comprises all equipment
  • - Natural capital—this refers to land and natural resources
  • - Human capital—all professional and experts employed
  • - Social desirability—needed by the society
  • - Cultural acceptability—it should not violate certain cultural values and norms
  • - Economic sustainability—able to withstand competition and exist for long
  • - Technical feasibility—able to be attained or implemented
  • - Political expediency—in compliance with government rules and regulations
  • - Operational viability—should be productive
  • - Environmentally rebuts— positive impact on the environment

Projects that improve the environment will not contribute to sustainable growth unless they also achieve improvement in economic and social measures of progress. A new product, manufacturing process, or communication technology can add value to society and the quality of life by improving hygiene or food safety, contributing to the eradication of diseases, reducing occupational diseases and injuries, providing transportation or housing to people at lower costs, or broadening access to services such as the internet and other mass media services.

The sustainability journey

Exhibit 2 – The sustainability journey

Strategic Plan Implementation

This is a strategic plan designed for an effective and efficient implementation of services in ministries and related departments and divisions, public, non-governmental organizations, parastatal organizations, international organizations, and individual businesses. This implementation plan is also beneficial to small and large-scale businesses, agro-industrial complexes, pharmaceutical industries, and a host of other businesses needing quality in their products and services as well as their overall operation. This plan contains seventeen important implementation steps which include top management commitment, development of a corporate strategic plan, development of an organizational structure, development of an implementation budget, creation of quality council, teams and panels, starting an awareness plan, training of team leaders and facilitators, conducting an initial survey, documentation of the implementation plan, quality system documentation, documentation control, actual implementation, internal quality audit, management review, pre-assessment audit, certification and registration, and continuous quality improvement.

The implementation affects the entire organization from the start and is pursued with total dedication because it will result in a “paradigm shift” and “cultural transition.” The implementation process depends on the sophistication of the society and organization, the size of the organization, and the complexity of the process. The basic elements of implementation planning include specifying program goals to be addressed in the identified time period, determining program logic, targeting specific audiences, specifying desired outcomes, determining the current situation, identifying sequenced learning strategies, determining resource needs, and selection of specific marketing, delivery, and evaluation methods. Some of the benefits of effective implementation planning include:

  • Opportunities for increased program impact,
  • Sequence and continuity in educational programs,
  • Clarification of actions and resources needed to implement a program,
  • Planned program marketing,
  • Improved evaluation and accountability,
  • Improved scheduling and management of time and other resources, and
  • Greater personal satisfaction through a sense of progress and accomplishment.

During the establishment stage, there is planning for leadership training, formation of the executive council, formulation of the philosophy, formation of the quality council, development of the training plan and formation of the quality boards. During the implementation stage too, the assessment of systems occurs, data analysis is ongoing, and intervention strategies are being tried. There is also the adoption of the process improvement method, and the board and the quality departments begin to assist teams with tools and techniques on an ongoing basis.

The implementation of a strategic plan in an organization requires some activities and processes to be carried out for an effective and efficient system operation. Some of these processes are top management commitment, corporate strategic plan, organizational structure, implementation budget, formation of team and panels, awareness programs, training, status surveys, documentation, control, quality audit, management review, certification, registration, and continuous quality improvement.

Project Sustainability Management (PSM)

The demand for project sustainability has given rise to a new concept called project sustainability management (PSM). This refers to a complex mix of systems, structures, plans, resources, laws, regulations, technologies, and other mechanisms put in place for an effective and efficient management of the sustainability process of any project. The project sustainability management process is designed to customize sustainable development project goals and indicators to suit local conditions and priorities and to ensure that project sustainability goals are aligned and traceable to societal goals and objectives.

A project sustainability management system identifies the relevant issues, objectives, and performance levels to be met; it also establishes an ethical framework as the basis for establishing policies, codes of conduct, consults with, and maintains dialogue with stakeholders and accounts for the results achieved.

The global principles of sustainable development are:

  1. Future—This is concern for the future. This involves various innovations to create and improve for the future, anticipating what might come, and enabling information through sharing and greater interaction. Innovation also enhances the collection and assimilation of knowledge about new products and processes.
  2. Participation—This is the participation of stakeholders in decision making for the project. This requires a lot of education and trust to engage stakeholders and build their capacity to identify issues, include local values, and communicate their experiences.
  3. Resources—This is the concern for equity in resource consumption and improvement in its use. This requires continuous improvement in ways to identify and manage the resources and seeking new knowledge and information about it.
  4. Environment—This is concern for the quality and integrity of the environment and requires the alignment of global standards to local conditions. This involves using various indicators to align project goals with global goals while factoring in local conditions.

Project Sustainability Management Plan

Program Summary

This is the process of developing specific strategies and action plan to ensure the long-term sustainability of a project. Consideration focuses on a number of resources and competencies—financial, political, administrative, managerial, educational, cultural, social, and economic—needed for the realization of the project. The SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely) technique may be used here to answer some fundamental questions in project design. Generally questions such as:

  • Who—who does what
  • What—what tasks have to be accomplished
  • Why—reasons or purpose for doing it
  • When—establishment of a time frame of activity
  • Which—identification of requirement and constraints
  • Where—identification of location
  • How—logistics, transportation, and communication issues

All of these questions are answered to facilitate the evaluation of the goals and objectives of the project.

Program Mission, Vision, Philosophy, and Values

  • Define scope of activities and scale of operation
  • Make sure of fit with community needs
  • Define clear vision of what is to be achieved

Identification of Stakeholders and Advocates

  • Develop a list of sponsors with contact information
  • Develop a list of political leaders with contact information
  • Develop a list of community leaders and other resource persons

Results Orientation

  • Adopt a result framework
  • Develop data and use for improvement
  • Communicate results to stakeholders
  • Define success and failures
  • Measure progress and share results
  • Develop systems for collecting and analyzing data

Financial Planning and Analysis

  • Determine resources needed for the project
  • Determine the fiscal needs
  • Make the best use of existing resources
  • Create partnerships
  • Explore national and international revenue sources
  • Program adaptation to changes
  • Develop a program to respond to changes in funding and the environment
  • Participate in collaborative advocacy to encourage change
  • Monitor announced opportunities for funding
  • Consider new ways of making improvement

Management Structure

  • Recruit a multi-disciplinary team for the project
  • Emphasis on professionals with experience
  • Try to build a technocratic team
  • Assign roles and responsibilities
  • Delegate power and authority where and when need be

Support Systems

  • Develop fiscal management, accounting, information, and personnel systems
  • Develop other support systems from the community

Program Monitoring and Evaluation

  • Develop a check list of sustainability analysis

Program Report Documentation

  • Document, save, and file all project documents.

Some Sustainabilty Society Indexes

  1. Basic needs—Sufficient food, sufficient drinking water, safety, good sanitation, appropriate housing, basic health needs, clothing
  2. Personal development—Life expectancy and longevity, relationship, educational opportunities, gender equality, employment, strong family ties
  3. Well-balanced society—Good governance, equitable income distribution, population growth, justice, security, employment, social amenities, freedom and liberty, balanced development
  4. Healthy environment—Air quality, surface water quality, quality available food, available health facilities, available healthcare professionals, good environmental hygiene
  5. Climate and energy—Consumption of renewable energy, emission of greenhouse gases control, pollution control
  6. Natural resources—Use of renewable water resources, forest protection and conservation, mineral resource exploitation control, endangered species control, and biodiversity
  7. Preparation for the future—Material consumption, organic farming, strategic planning, savings, and investment
  8. Economy—Gross domestic product (GDP), per capita income (PCI), consumer price index (CPI), inflation, employment, public debt
Sustainable business system

Exhibit 3 – Sustainable business system

Project Sustainability Management Checklist

  1. 1- Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI)

    The basic principle in CQI is to seek to increase the probability of desired project outcomes, assess and improve processes involved in project activities that processes are carried out by all staffs that people do unintentionally make mistakes and that undesirable project outcomes can be avoided if processes are improved. The outstanding features of CQI are that it is proactive, process-focused, follows functional lines, seeks continued improvement, and requires the responsibility of all employees.

  2. 2- Project Periodic Updates
    Encouraging and supporting clients, customer, sponsors, and stakeholders to incorporate sustainability in statements and requirements and application throughout the project cycle
  3. 3- Project Team selection:
    Incorporating sustainability criteria into selection of team members, contractors, suppliers, their credentials, and various specialists involved in the implementation of the project.
  4. 4- Project Strategies
    This requires considering sustainability as the fundamental options of scoping, phasing, sequencing, sourcing, procurement, contracts, etc.
  5. 5- Project legislation
    Identifying the current legislation (laws, rules and regulations, ordinances etc.) and standards and how to comply with them
  6. 6- Project Financing
    This is devising business benefits, securing monetary incentives, avoiding taxes, penalties and charges that can derail the goals and objectives of the project.
  7. 7- Project Change Management
    This is addressing sustainability aspects when change is under review in order to make tactical decisions for the project
  8. 8- Project Risk Management
    This is the evaluation of all the risk factors and impact on the sustainability of the project.
  9. 9- Project Deliverables
    This is reviewing, updating, confirming, promoting, and implementing the predetermined project sustainability arrangements, corporate standards, and good governance practices, including waste avoidance, packaging, and sequencing effectiveness
  10. 10- Project Communication Channels
    This involves the facilitation of all forms of communication (written, verbal, electronic, etc.) with all staffs, stakeholders, sponsors, and the community.
  11. 11- Project Quality Assurance (QA)
    These are activities directed towards assuring quality of products and service, identification of important aspects of care, establishment of thresholds or benchmarks (eg.100%), monitoring performance, identification of problems, correction of problems, evaluation of effectiveness of systems (i.e., continuous monitoring).

Monitoring and Evaluation

Monitoring is the systematic supervision of activities in progress to ensure that they are on course and schedule in meeting objectives and performance targets. It is a test or sampling on a regular or ongoing basis of a system, program, project, or activity for any changes in application performance, transaction, problems and potentials for changes as well as the effectiveness and efficiency. This involves a systematic collection and analysis of data as a project progresses. Generally, monitoring involves:

  • Establishing indicators of efficiency, effectiveness, and impact
  • Setting up systems to collect information related to these indicators
  • Collecting and recording the information
  • Analyzing the information
  • Using the information to inform day-to-day management

Evaluation is the systematic determination of the merits, worth, and significance of something or following some certain set standards, an assessment of the degree to which a program, project, system, or activity fulfills stated objectives and goals. This requires a comparison of actual project impact against the agreed strategic plans. Generally, evaluation involves:

  • Looking at what the project or organization intended to achieve
  • Assessing its progress towards what it was made to achieve
  • Looking at the strategy of the project or organization
  • Looking at how it worked

The bottom line is that both monitoring and evaluation focus on efficiency, effectiveness, and impact of projects, programs, or activities and through the two processes, we review progress, identify problems and potentials in planning and implementation, suggest possible solutions, raise questions, stimulate some reflection on the goals and objectives, provide information on insight, and make necessary adjustments for improvement.

Continuous Quality Improvement (CQI)

Continuous quality improvement is one of those critical components of the sustainability plan which actually determines the viability and sustainability of any program or project in an organization.

The organization should continually seek to improve the effectiveness and suitability of the quality management system through the use of quality policy, quality objectives, audit results, analysis of data, corrective and preventive actions, and management reviews. The basic principle in CQI is to seek to increase probability of desired patient outcomes, assess and improve processes involved in patient care, that processes be carried out by all staffs, that people do unintentionally make mistakes and that undesirable patient outcomes can be avoided if processes are improved.

The outstanding features of CQI are that it is proactive, process focused, follows functional lines (how patients move through the process), seeks continued improvement, and requires responsibility of all employees (this necessitates a team approach). The institution should continually seek to improve the effectiveness and suitability of the quality management system through the use of quality policy, quality objectives, audit results, analysis of data, corrective and preventive actions, and management reviews. This is extremely important to hospitals and clinics. The basic concepts behind continuous quality improvement are:

1) Quality in fact:

  • img Doing the right thing,
  • img Doing it the right way,
  • img Doing it right the first time,
  • img Doing it on time.

2) Quality in perception:

  • Delivering the right product or service,
  • Satisfying customer’s needs,
  • Meeting customer’s expectations,
  • Treating customers with dignity, integrity, courtesy, and respect.

3) Measurement of quality:

  • Accuracy—whether the target diagnosis or range is hit,
  • Precision—how well a procedure produces a value,
  • Data plotting techniques—statistical graphs,
  • Charts—flow, control, Pareto, histogram, run scatter, pie.

4) Benchmarks of quality:

  • –   Organization’s own standards,
  • –   Utilization reviews,
  • –   Institutional standards (e.g. critical care pathways),
  • –   Peer review/professional standards,
  • –   Country regulations, for example, inspections, proficiency surveys, etc.

5) Quality control:

  • img Monitoring elements of care, e.g. instruments and test procedures,
  • img Testing systems monitored so that the test results are valid,
  • img Statistics validating test results,
  • img Focus on performance not test utility,
  • img Problem-focused not patient-focused,
  • img Seeking random improvement rather than systematic improvement.




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© 2014, John Morfaw
Originally published as a part of the 2014 PMI Global Congress Proceedings – Phoenix, Arizona, USA



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