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Keeping the green agenda to the fore of business planning

Project management is playing a key role in delivering sustainable infrastructure

The green agenda has become part of day-to-day business. Photograph: iStock

The green agenda has become part of day-to-day business. Photograph: iStock

 

The green agenda’s prominence in business planning rose greatly in tandem with awareness of the threat imposed by global warming. The writings of George Monbiot on the issue, along with others such as the 2006 documentary An Inconvenient Truth, featuring former US vice-president Al Gore, have helped to create awareness on the subject.

The challenge facing all businesses is keeping the green agenda at the forefront of planning, with project management playing a key role in doing so.

“There has been a lot of discussion around the green agenda at the macro level right across the ranges of different businesses. Today, the green agenda has become part of the day-to-day business,” says Paul Gallagher, Coillte programme manager. “In the project management sphere, a key agenda point a project manager needs to consider is what they are delivering and how operationally it will meet that sustainability test; they need to consider how their project can achieve its core purpose and critical success factors, while at the same time aligning to the broader green agendas – this incorporates such things as carbon reduction, which can be recognised as tangible measure of effectiveness.

“From an Irish perspective, we are falling short of 2020 targets for renewable energy, we are ranking in the lower quartile in comparison to our European peers – specifically in the areas of transport, heat and electricity. Therefore, business owners and project managers must realise that it is incumbent upon them to ensure their particular projects and business initiatives are delivered and operate in a sustainable way. This is vital to the future success of any project and fits in with the climate-change agenda.”

Looking to catch up with European peers on green issues, there are a number of countries that lead the way in terms of examples of how best to progress.

“There are a number of mature markets around Europe on green issues,” continues Gallagher. “Denmark would be a case in point. Where they have really stepped ahead of everyone else is that they have engaged with society and communities, and the public have come with them on that sustainable journey. As a result, they have achieved high acceptance levels of renewable-energy generation and consumption across all sectors.

“Renewable energy is a hot topic and particularly onshore wind, as a key leading natural resource, is keenly debated in Ireland. But across more mature markets in Europe, that debate isn’t there because, in part due to clear project management of stakeholders and communications, renewable energy has become part of the normal day-to-day agenda of the public, it has now become part of their DNA. We need to reach the same place. The narrative surrounding project-managing green infrastructure needs to be stronger in Ireland, one which needs to call out all the public benefits louder. To do this, project managers must deliver projects in close collaboration with the community to deliver sound engagement models that work and are repeatable into the future.”

Building directives

Construction represents unique challenges in terms of maintaining a green agenda in an industry that by its nature is not considered environmentally friendly, with new European Union nearly zero-energy building directives hastening the need for project managers in the construction sector to tighten their environmental planning.

“Concrete has very high levels of embedded carbon and that creates problems in the sustainability sector,” says Declan White, Enterprise Ireland competitiveness executive. “But there is a lot of activity there in the construction sector to improve sustainable building. There is an energy and performance buildings directive from the European Union, which is coming into play in the next couple of years, and that will have very strict requirement over the energy efficiency of buildings. The directive states that we must have nearly zero-energy buildings by 2020.

“That puts a huge onus on the construction sector to improve their current practices. Project managers will need to put a greater emphasis on ensuring material used will help to achieve those goals. These requirements will be part of tender requirements in the construction area, which project managers will have to be keenly aware of.”

The planned development by Diageo of 12.6 acres of its St James’s Gate site into a new urban quarter is a prime example of a development where project managers will have to incorporate these new regulations as they look to keep the build in line with nearly zero-energy goals, as well as a wider green agenda.

“Project management will play a vital role in a number of areas in the St James’s Gate Quarter,” says White. “Limiting traffic is key in a new pedestrian quarter, which includes managing public transport and infrastructure links. And also incorporating parks and green spaces: that supports sustainability and shows that project managers are making a commitment to having a green area.

“The over-arching idea is that project managers must make a life-cycle assessment and look at all the impacts of a project on the environment and pinpoint the key areas where they can reduce the impacts on the environment by a particular part of a project.”