People, Planet, Profits & Projects

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Richard Maltzman
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Recent Posts

A Half-Sextillion Nematodes (Part 1 of 2)

The Mitsunobu Reaction

Intermingling Risks

Guest Post: The Power of Repeatable Processes

LCA or Scoot Away?

Forest for the Trees, Part 2 of ???

First of all, as we know in project management, estimation is big part of our work. I think it is 34.2228% of work.  Approximately.  That’s just an estimate.

As for this blog post series - I estimated this to be a 3 part series.  Looks like I was optimistic (or pessimistic, depending on your viewpoint).  The latest issue of Nature, which arrived as I started this post, has a cover story, Tree Dimensions.  And, to top it all off, as I was realizing that there was at least one more post justified by the topic, the BBC show, “Science Hour” featured a segment called “The World Wood Web”  on roughly the same topic as Tree Dimensions.  So there is definitely going to be one further post on this topic – a total of four.  At least, that’s my new estimate. 

This post, as promised at the end of Part 1, talks a bit more about how forests play a role in sustainability.  It’s a big role with a lot of big numbers, so get out your seat belts and fasten your calculators.

In the way of full disclosure, much of the inspiration for this came from a commentary piece in the April edition of Scientific American, written by Han de Groot, CEO of the Rainforest Alliance.

The article is called “A Low-Tech Climate Fix”.  It’s a one-pager, but it’s loaded with resources.

De Groot begins by affirming that climate change is asymmetrical in its effects on the world population.  It affects the world’s most vulnerable people, he says, “particularly poor rural communities that depend on the land for t heir livelihoods and coastal populations throughout the tropics”.    We’ve seen this with hurricanes and floods in particular, and sea-level rise in poor island nations (we’ll see more in the next decades, but already it’s a life-threatening situation).

So how can we use forests to help?

Forests have an amazing capacity to absorb and hold (sequester is the preferred word) carbon.  Forests, says de Groot, can help us achieve 37% of our climate target – limiting global warming to a maximum of 2 degrees C above benchmarked levels before the rise of industry.

A single tree can sequester an average of almost 50 pounds a year.

The policies recommended by de Groot – ones that would launch many ‘green projects’:

  • Prevent deforestation
  • Foster reforestation of degraded land
  • Promote the sustainable management of existing forests

Why?  Again, forests are capable of:

  • Producing oxygen
  • Filtering Water
  • Supporting biodiversity


…all good things!

Despite the Bonn Challenge that I covered in the last post, not all countries are keeping their commitments.  So what can we do to re-invigorate these efforts?

One technique that de Groot mentions, and on which I did a little research, is Agro-forestry.

What is this?  Actually, the US Government’s USDA (United States Department of Agriculture) has some very good information on this – recently updated.  Have a look at these two links, if you are interested:

The basics are below (extracted from the links above if you don’t feel like following them):

Agroforestry Farming Systems

Alley cropping means planting crops between rows of trees to provide income while the trees mature. The system can be designed to produce fruits, vegetables, grains, flowers, herbs, bioenergy feedstocks, and more.

Forest farming operations grow food, herbal, botanical, or decorative crops under a forest canopy that is managed to provide ideal shade levels as well as other products. Forest farming is also called multi-story cropping.

Silvopasture combines trees with livestock and their forages on one piece of land. The trees provide timber, fruit, or nuts as well as shade and shelter for livestock and their forages, reducing stress on the animals from the hot summer sun, cold winter winds, or a downpour.

Linear Agroforestry Practices

Riparian forest buffers are natural or re-stablished areas along rivers and streams made up of trees, shrubs, and grasses. These buffers can help filter farm runoff while the roots stabilize the banks of streams, rivers, lakes and ponds to prevent erosion. These areas can also support wildlife and provide another source of income.

Windbreaks shelter crops, animals, buildings, and soil from wind, snow, dust, and odors. These areas can also support wildlife and provide another source of income. They are also called shelterbelts, hedgerows, or living snow fences.

The article asserts that increased investment in agro-forestry could help sequester up to 9.28 gigatons (!!!) of CO2.  And while accomplishing this ecological bottom line, it also doesn’t look too shabby in the economic bottom line – it would save almost $710 billion by 2050.  This would also help communities work their way out of poverty.  Boom!  You now have the triple bottom line (TBL) effect, all through efforts to keeping and growing our forests.

Here’s an article (and a corresponding video) on one success story of an agro-forestry project from Bolivia involving cacao production.

In (approximately) Part 3, I will shift to some interesting projects surrounding enforcement of illegal logging and deforestation, featuring a cleverly-titled article from Nature magazine called “Cops and Loggers”.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: May 19, 2019 08:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Forest for the Trees (Part 1 of 3)

(Flickr photo/Joshua Mayer)

Projects (and/or programs) are sometimes about launching new software, building bridges, or researching a new technology.  Many of my most recent posts have been about the ocean – here we return to solid ground. This article is about a program to create new natural forests to store carbon.

In a recent issue of Nature, the “Comment” section is about the need to keep global warming below 1.5 degrees C to avoid dangerous changes in climate.  The IPCC (Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change) says that around 73o billion tons of CO2 must be taken out of the atmosphere by the end of this century to achieve this goal.

To put this amount in context, we’re talking about an amount of CO2 equal to that produced since the industrial revolution from the following countries: The US, the UK, Germany, and China.

Using forests to sequester CO2 is not only safe and proven, it also has the benefit of providing jobs, aiding in water management, and preserving biodiversity. 

But how?

First of all, and this should seem pretty obvious, if more forest is needed, deforestation must stop.

In addition, significant efforts to allow natural forestation must be launched.  And one has.  It’s called the Bonn Challenge (see  From their web page:

The Bonn Challenge is a global effort to restore 150 million hectares of the world's degraded and deforested lands by 2020 and 350 million hectares by 2030. It is overseen by the Global Partnership on Forest Landscape Restoration, with the International Union for Conservation of Nature as its Secretariat.

For a review of this Challenge, you can view this video:

You can look up your own country’s commitment levels by going to the “Commitments” section of the webpage.  Here is the detail on the US:

But there’s a threat to this project.  Half of the pledged area in the full set of commitments is set to become plantations of commercial trees, not natural forest.  Plantations end up releasing the carbon back into the atmosphere approximately 15 years, as opposed to a natural forest which will sequester carbon for many decades.

Where should the forests be created?  According to the article, they should be planted in the tropics and subtropics.

In Part 2, I’ll discuss the “how” of reforesting, and in Part 3 I’ll cover some of the governance (and enforcement) issues of deforestation.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: May 05, 2019 09:51 PM | Permalink | Comments (7)

Shhhh! (Part 2 of 2)

I started this two-part series with a short post about noisy seas – a different sort of ‘pollution’ that doesn’t get as much attention as the other important changes taking place in the ocean (microplastics, warming temperatures).

It started with a very interesting article from Nature, called The Quest for Quieter Seas, which is published online here.

That post focused on

  • Who is making all of that blasted noise?
  • Baselining the noise levels
  • Starting to look at the effects.


  In this post I’ll continue on into the study of effects and potential remedies.

The US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) has suggest a rule of thumb that pulses of sound above 160dB can cause marine mammals to actually make significant changes in their behavior, and if the noise is continuous (not pulses), even 120dB can change the behavior of marine mammals.  The previous post had a nice reference chart that showed how these levels of noise compare to more familiar sounds, like jet engines.

So – when it comes to these behavior changes, are they temporary inconveniences, or does this possibly cause something more permanently damaging to the ocean ecosystem?

Data on killer whales found off of Canada’s west coast indicates that resident whales spend 18-25% less time feeding when surrounded by boat noise.  The population of these whales is about 75 (you read that correctly, under 100), and they are already dealing with a lowered food supply.  Noise pollution complicates this problem and perhaps magnifies it.   We know from our project management work that risks can interact with each other in a spiraling fashion (for example… lower budget ► less effective contractor ► more errors ► more draw-down from already-low budget).  It appears that there are some spiraling effects here as well.

So what can we do about this?  Has anyone tried anything to make changes in the causes of ocean noise?  The answer, fortunately, is yes.  In the shipping lanes off of Vancouver Island, responding to a request by Vancouver’s ECHO (Enhancing Cetacean Habitat and Observation Program), container ships voluntarily slowed their speed to 11 knots from 18 knots.  This did add 30 minutes to their journey, but the reduced engine noise was significant, dropping 24% in intensity.  This gave the whales a better chance at feeding and helps prevent the reduction of this limited population of orcas.  Have a look at the ECHO program’s website here.

How can we implement these sort of changes?  We can use the wisdom of Vilfredo Pareto and his 80-20 rule.   Studies show that in a modern fleet of 1,500 ships, 50% of the noise came from 15% of the fleet.  So yes, the Pareto principle is just that – a principle.  Nobody is holding Vilfredo to exactly 80.000% and 20.00000%.  In any case, these “Paretoed-out” ships could be targeted, and we can avoid a drastic measure of retrofitting entire fleets with new engines or restricting the speed of a 1000-plus vessel fleets.

Earlier I discussed air guns, used in seismic surveys, often to search for deposits of oil and gas.  These air guns can be functionally replaced with underwater vibrators that create much smaller footprints.  Engines of ships can be elevated off the ship floor, and redesigned to reduce cavitation (the creation of popping bubbles – which sound innocent but when they pop in huge quantities, this quickly becomes noise pollution.

Cavitation, by the way, is actually a fascinating principle.  Watch this short video to learn more.

And here’s the kicker: reducing noise in ocean-going vessels usually goes hand-in-hand with fuel efficiency.

So the conclusion of this story is that there’s a “kill-two-birds-with-one-stone” effect.  Or maybe the more appropriate expression would be, “save two mammals with one initiative”.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 22, 2019 02:48 PM | Permalink | Comments (5)

Shhhhh! (Part 1 of 2)

Here’s a story about protecting ocean life that – in a twist – does not involve acidification, plastic, chemical pollution, melting ice, or climate change.  Those things are still all threats to ocean life, of course, but this post, which has some intriguing connections to project management, is about noise.

It started with a very interesting article from Nature, called The Quest for Quieter Seas, which is published online here.

The connections to project management have to do with:

  • Obtaining a solid baseline
  • Working with facts
  • Synergy
  • Cause/Effect
  • Linking a project to an enterprise’s mission statement
  • The Pareto Principle

…see if you can find these connections here.

Who’s making all of that noise?

First, let’s start with the sources of noise in our oceans.  Of course, some if it is quite natural and has always been around; things like dolphin whistles and clicks, whales’ songs, rainfall, snapping shrimp, and the rumbling of an undersea earthquake.

But some of the noise is most definitely anthropogenic (caused by humans), such as sonar, oil drilling rigs, vehicles (everything from frigates and supertankers to submarines), hydrographic mapping sensors, and seismic air-gun arrays.

See the chart below to place these in volume level and against the hearing frequency ranges of various forms of ocean life.

(From Nature, Volume 568, 11-April-2019)

The article expresses the need for a baseline so well, I’ll let it speak for itself:

Because noise is so pervasive, it is hard to study the impact as it ramps up.  It isn’t clear whether marine systems can work around or adapt to it – or whether it will drive crashes in already-stressed populations. So researchers are becoming acoustic prospectors, searching for quite zones and noisy habitats in efforts to chronicle what exactly happens when sound levels change.  Efforts (projects) range from natural experiments on the effects of a plan to reroute shipping lanes in the Baltic Sea, to investigate the impact of a trial scheme in Canada to reduce ship speed in coastal waters off Vancouver.

Complicating matters is the fact that there are other new and concurrent stressors on marine life, such as the aforementioned acidification and warming ocean temperatures.  The effects are not simply arithmetically added, though.  A plus B is not a simple equation.  The interactions are often causing a negative effect greater than the sum of its parts – also known as synergy.

So how much are we adding to the not-so-silent seas, in terms of noise?  Based on the amount of noise contributed by an average ship and looking at the number of ships (this does not include sonar and other items mentioned above) the sound contribution has risen about 3 dB per decade.  If you know your decibels, you know this is a logarithmic increase – a doubling of sound levels each decade.

Seismic air blasts, used to map the sea floor for possible oil or gas drilling opportunities, can be audible for hundreds of kilometers (think Boston to New York or Amsterdam to Dusseldorf). 

These are causes.  What are the effects?

It’s beginning to become obvious that loud marine noises can cause a panic dive in cetaceans (whales, dolphins, porpoises), as indicated by the increase in ‘beaching’.  These panic dives have the secondary effect of causing hemorrhages in the animals’ brains and hearts.   Research projects have also shown that loud waterborne noises can damage the ears and cause hearing loss (as you may expect).

In part II I’ll discuss more about the effects and the research and other projects that are being implemented to remedy ocean noise and make the oceans a little quieter.  As you can tell from the above, this is not a simple ‘quality of life’ issue – it’s life itself.

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 15, 2019 10:50 PM | Permalink | Comments (3)

That old report card of yours...

Remember that report card you didn’t want your parents to see?   And by “too see” I mean that your best grades were “two Cs”?

Well, forget about that – this post will make your old report card pale in comparison.

As reported in Nature’s 28-March-2019 issue, a project called “Beyond EPICA” is slated to start in June of this year and it is going to extract a 1.5-million-year-old report card from the ice below a section of Antarctica called Dome C (see map below in case you want to visit).

 EPICA stands for European Project for Ice Coring in Antarctica.  This is a perfect example of a ‘green-by-definition’ project as we describe in our book Green Project Management.

The idea here is to vastly improve our understanding of our climate by getting an undisturbed record (report card!) of our Earth’s ancient atmosphere.  The ice that has accumulated over millennia contains samples of the world’s atmosphere at known dates.  This will help us get a more accurate picture of how climate has changed in the past, allowing us to make scientifically accurate predictions of how climate changes match up with atmospheric levels of greenhouse gasses.

From the Beyond EPICA website:

The Beyond EPICA – Oldest Ice (BE-OI) consortium and its international partners unite a globally unique concentration of scientific expertise and infrastructure for ice-core investigations. BE-OI is an EU Coordination and Support Action (CSA). It delivers the technical, scientific and financial basis for a comprehensive plan to retrieve an ice core up to 1.5 million years old in a future project during the Beyond EPICA – Drilling Phase. This would be an important contribution for the future exploration of Antarctica and promises unique insights about climate and the global carbon fluxes. This knowledge will improve future prognoses of climate development with solid quantitative data and will allow establishing more targeted strategies, to cope with the societal challenges of global change.

This project is following the discipline of project management quite strikingly well (excuse the pun). 

They have set clear objectives:

  • support the site selection through acquisition and synthesis of all necessary information on Antarctic sites through specific geophysical surveys and the use of fast drilling tools to qualify sites and validate the age of their ice;
  • select and evaluate the optimum drill site for the future “Oldest Ice” core project and establish a science and management plan for a future drilling;
  • coordinate the technical and scientific planning to ensure the availability of the technical means to implement suitable drill systems and analytical methodologies for a future ice-core drilling, and of well-trained personnel to operate them successfully;
  • establish the budget and the financial background for a future deep-drilling campaign;
  • embed the scientific aims of an “Oldest Ice” core project within the wider paleoclimate data and modelling communities through international and cross-disciplinary cooperation.

They have broken the project in to work packages (in other words they have created a WBS) as follows.

The  workpackages of BE-OI combine the different methodological aspects and the consecutive implementation based on the two key regions of interest.

The first three workpackages

Logistic support and coordination

Geophysical site definition

Fast drilling tools to qualify sites, age validation

cover the objective to "Prepare for site selection". They will consider the acquisition, analysis and evaluation of new data to create the pre-conditions for site selection. The worckpages

Site selection, and science and management plans

Drilling technology

Cost forecasting and financial frameworks

The international and cross-disciplinary context

are directed towards the planning and implementation of the BE-Drilling Phase.


Here's a video that shows the sort of project environment in which EPICA is taking place:

This project team will have a press conference on 9-April (the day after this post), so you can get the latest directly from the source!

Beyond EPICA will present the decision where to drill for 1.5 million year old ice at:

EGU Press Conference
Tuesday, 9 April, 2019 09:00 CET
Beyond EPICA: The quest for a 1.5 Million year ice core

I’m going to tune in.  Maybe it will help me forget about that bad, bad report card from long, long ago.


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 08, 2019 10:00 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

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