Ethical (and Sustainable) Decision Making

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PMI™ has published their “Ethical Decision-Making Framework” (EDMF), and are we excited!  You may ask – “Well how does that fit with sustainable project management?  Isn’t sustainable project management where your focus is? “  And we say, glad you asked. 

Looking through the document, we don’t see many overt references to sustainable project management, and we see it covertly referenced throughout the document.  The framework lists five EDMF steps, Assessment, Alternatives, Analysis, Application and Action.  Let’s looks at a couple of examples.  Granted, we may be looking at this through a “green/environmental or sustainability lens”, but that’s okay.  We asset that a project manager should add that lens to his or her repertoire. 

As an example, “Assessment: Make sure you have all the facts about the ethical dilemma and ask these questions: 

  • Does it abide by the law?
  • Does it align with the PMI Code of Ethics and Professional Conduct?
  • Does it agree with your employer’s and client’s code of ethics and conduct?
  • Does it align with your ethical values and those of the surrounding culture?" 

In other words, does it take into account environmental rules and regulations, is it connected to the organization’s mission vision (their code of conduct perhaps), and does it meet stakeholders expectations of sustainability?  

While you can read it yourself at and draw your own conclusions, we’d like to offer a couple of more examples of our interpretation.  Let’s just look for a moment at the Horizon Deepwater (BP's Macondo Well) disaster that occurred in the Gulf of Mexico in 2010 to illustrate some of the principles of the Framework.  Did they truly consider the pros and cons of their decision to drill where they were drilling and to drill the way they were drilling.  We always asserted that we weren’t in the room when these decisions were made, but we know that they did not even consider any environmental risks in their risk register for the (Macondo Well) project.  You can verify that for yourself at

 One of the overt mentions of sustainability occurs in the Analysis step; “Will your candidate decision have a positive impact or prevent harm to ....the environment or future generations.”  In our book we reference the Bruntland definition of sustainability as “…meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  This question seems to address that.  One of our favorite questions in this section is “Looking back, will this decision seem like a good idea a year from now?”  We don’t think we have anything to add here.  That question says it all.  Not that they all aren’t great questions, and again, we urge you to read the entire framework on PMI’s site, other great (sustainability) questions include; “Would you choice result in the greatest good? (Application Step) and “Could you make your decision public and feel good about it?”  (Action Step) 

We applaud PMI’s effort in capturing a decision making framework that addresses ethics.  It is a great first step in understanding what it takes to be responsible in your decision making processes and from our point of view, to use this framework in conjunction with a “green lens” for the best project  decision that consider sustainability.

Note: We first saw the term "Environmenal Lens" while reading Esty and Winston's book, Green to Gold

Posted by Dave Shirley on: August 22, 2012 10:23 AM | Permalink

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