Saving the planet is the ultimate goal for climate-change initiatives. But before those projects get the green light, their leaders must show how they’re moving the needle. Three project leaders sound off on how they pursue lasting benefits by ensuring that all team members have a strong grasp on strategic objectives.
director of consulting, energy, environment and smart infrastructure, Frost & Sullivan, Toronto, Ontario, Canada
director, program advisory, Aurecon Group, Adelaide, Australia
sustainable finance program manager, Tetra Tech, Jakarta, Indonesia
How does your role help generate benefits for climate-change projects?
Ms. Karsiwulan: I’m focused on building viable business cases that have a strong social and environmental impact. We’re wrapping up the second phase of the Indonesia Clean Energy Development program. It’s a five-year initiative sponsored by the United States Agency for International Development to reduce greenhouse gas emissions through renewable and clean energy projects.
Mr. Kumar: I recently have been part of some very interesting drought projects in New South Wales. Some of the worst droughts on record of late in Australia have been caused by climate change. We’ve been trying to deliver solutions on very tight timelines—and that’s an urgency we should all share for climate change.
Ms. Khaund: I have led research programs and devised implementation strategies for a wide spectrum of clients, including governments, not-for-profit agencies and corporate entities. I focus on strategic engagement in areas like energy-efficient technologies and climate technologies as well as broader issues of sustainability and social responsibility.
What challenges do those responsibilities present for teams in terms of delivering benefits?
Ms. Khaund: I think consensus is one of the biggest challenges. You have to make sure everybody understands the vision and buys in. Those conversations can often exclude personnel from the side of the company tasked with executing and whether they have the understanding, expertise—and the capacity—to manage it.
Ms. Karsiwulan: In the private sector, the decision to pursue initiatives is primarily profit-driven. A power developer, for example, will jump in when they see regulations are favorable and business sounds technically and financially viable. Among financial institutions, the challenges include a lack of organization and personnel knowledge around climate change, lack of buy-in from top management and low demand due to the lack of supporting regulation in the sector.
Mr. Kumar: For me, it’s finding the time to innovate. Often climate-change projects are high-risk, fast-paced, highly visible and of critical importance. This can mean that the business-as-usual approach will not achieve the schedule or cost goals. Special arrangement is often required to ensure project success and address risk issues.
Ms. Khaund: Finding quantifiable measurements also can be challenging, because there are not always clear measurements for climate-change projects. If you’re changing out lightbulbs in a factory that is undergoing a smart-lighting retrofit with smart bulbs, you can quantify the energy savings. But you may need to be more creative to track the measures of success of less quantifiable projects.
How do you zero in on the benefits from the start?
Ms. Khaund: Setting goals is the first step. You could have a wish list of 10 different things you want to do, but looking at your organization’s size, your expertise and your financial backing will help you set limits. Then make sure there’s a prioritizing process for that wish list as well as a time frame for achieving it. You need internal specialists to guide the vision of sustainability for the company and be dedicated to realizing those goals.
Mr. Kumar: I’d argue you need to create a benefit statement that summarizes the business benefit, names the key accountability leads, outlines the systems that will be used to measure outcomes and how those measurements will be validated. From there, company leaders must actively engage with project teams to become integrators and enablers. They need to support the delegation of authority for efficient and effective decision making at all levels.
Ms. Khaund: Along those lines, when leadership communicates the long-term vision for the project, it can’t be just: “We’re doing this and let’s get excited.” Communicate the whys. If the company accomplishes this, where will it be in the next 10 years? And would you feel proud to be associated with the company after achieving that? Sharing those objectives motivates people to be living for a goal that’s greater than what they can achieve today.
So tracking benefits goes beyond traditional ROI?
Ms. Khaund: Yes. Don’t be afraid to redefine success on climate-change projects. For instance, climate-change projects that center on creating more sustainable, smarter and intuitive buildings have the potential to increase employee motivation and productivity, which can be a truly quantifiable measure of success from such a project. State-of-the-art companies look at data like how many sick days an employee takes, their disposition at the office and their contribution to projects becoming more substantial—all of which can improve with climate-change projects.
Ms. Karsiwulan: Tracking helps everyone understand the impact of the project. If outcomes are below the estimated benefits, good monitoring or tracking provides reasons behind the numbers that could generate lessons learned, which can help maintain sponsor support for future efforts.
Mr. Kumar: It’s also an opportunity to work collaboratively with the project sponsor. It keeps them invested while building risk-management processes into day-to-day thinking. They should be involved in conducting a joint review of the goals and benefits to ensure they’re realistic and align with the company’s goals. Sponsors also can help secure support for assignment of key human resources and help create opportunities to develop leaders within the team.
What’s the biggest mistake organizations make in trying to prioritize climate-driven projects?
Ms. Karsiwulan: They forget that leadership-from-the-top management is fundamental. They also fail to truly invest in the project by not including climate change-driven projects into a measured target with a timeline or in team or personal performance indicators. Without that leadership and planning, the project becomes additional work without essential support.
Mr. Kumar: Teams overlook the impact of disruption and the need to maintain business continuity during project implementation. I spend the time to complete detailed planning at the start and involve the supply chain early to find solutions that can be modularized or built with inherent flexibility to service not just the climate-change challenge, but also system resilience or growth.
Ms. Khaund: It all comes down to aligning your projects to your capacities, your expertise and your capabilities. If you fail to do that, you’ll end up taking bigger bites than you can chew, and that’s when projects get unwieldy and fizzle out. It’s easy to take on projects, but it’s the follow-through that counts. PM