Photo: Getty Images
This introductory blog post is the first part of a series that is themed heavily around “thinking past the end of a project” with an inspirational implementation of that idea.
If you have been following People, Planet, Profits, and Projects, or if you have read Green Project Management or its follow up book, Driving Sustainability Success, or you have any sense of what ‘sustainability in project management’ really means, you know that it is not only about projects to build wind farms and solar panels. It is about integrating a thoughtful, holistic, responsible, long-term view into planning and executing projects, which, we like to say, means “thinking past the end of the project”, even to that point in time when the product of your project is (for lack of better words) dead, useless, kaput, “finito”, over-and-done-with.
We don’t like to think that way, do we? As project managers, we think about the ribbon-cutting ceremony, the celebratory party, the congratulations-on-a-project-well-executed, and we want to begin working on our next project. It’s in our blood, our DNA, to get things done. And we see “done” as that time when that black diamond milestone that says “END” has passed.
Let’s say your project is an oil rig. Or, perhaps it’s a drilling project based on an oil rig.
Should you be thinking about what happens to the rig when it is no longer useful? After all, an oil rig, at some point, reaches its end of useful life. It then has to be decommissioned.
A primer on the Waste Hierarchy
All of us, I’m sure, have heard the phrase, “Reduce, Reuse, Recycle”. And many of us do a good job living our lives with that mantra. But not everyone is aware that there is a certain precedence to these different ways of reducing impact on the environment, or even that those are not the only three ways to do so.
There are several version of this, but I prefer the one below (see image). It involves not three, but six ways of dealing with waste (whether that’s the plastic beverage bottle you from the iced tea you just finished while reading this, or an unusable oil rig). From Zero Waste Europe comes the Waste Hierarchy shown below.waswaswwaswwdd
At the top, you see “Refuse/Rethink/Redesign”, which, in the case of the oil rig, would mean moving away from carbon-based energy. That’s a non-starter for the existing 12,000+ oil rigs already out there. So let’s drop down a level and look at Reduce and Reuse. That’s where we are. Although it doesn’t say “repurpose” that’s what we’re going to discuss here – giving a new use to an oil rig – a new purpose. Note that Recycle is further down on the hierarchy. In fact, as we’ll dive into (excuse the pun) later, the recycling of materials from an oil rig is exceedingly costly, from both an economic and ecological perspective.
To summarize, we want you to think past the end of the project. Designing, deploying, and drilling from an oil rig – all are projects.
Let’s look at some statistics. Already mentioned are the 12,000+ oil rigs in the Earth’s oceans. It costs about US$50M to decommission each oil rig.
However, it costs about US$1M to repurpose them to become artificial reefs.
And that is where we have a whole bunch of new projects to consider: repurposing these defunct oil rigs to become reef habitats.
A January 2021 article in BBC Future is what sent me down this path, and it features two marine scientists, Emily Hazelwood and Amber Sparks, based in California, who founded an organization in 2015 called Blue Latitudes. Their mission: to find silver linings in our oceans at the intersection of industry and the environment. We unite science, policy, and communications to create innovative solutions for the complex ecological challenges associated with offshore industry.
In this introductory post, we just want to stress the importance of looking past (and thinking through) the end of your project by having you watch this visually stunning and engaging 38-minute video that will prepare you for the following posts. To understand the title, know that a transect is a method consisting of a field survey performed with a video-camera along a line of fixed length, with the registered images further analyzed using a computer.
Really. Don’t skip this. Watch it. Watch it to be entertained by the amazing and quite beautiful underwater photography, and watch it from the perspective of a project manager (which you probably cannot help doing!). Make sure you watch for a key statistic at the end which compares a natural reef's ability to support a habitat for fish and coral with the same ability for a repurposed oil rig. The statistic will probably surprise you!
We would like you to also consider some of the controversy here – it plays well into our role as PMs to consider multiple stakeholder views. Some environmental groups think this repurposing is actually counterproductive because it encourages more drilling. Some think this is an elegant solution for the existing oil rigs and should be pursued extensively. I will discuss that in the follow-up posts, and will also discuss how government (another stakeholder!) is playing a role.
But for now, we would like to build your interest in this initiative because it is so intertwined with our discipline of PM, and helps make the point that sustainability is not an afterthought, or even a forethought – it needs to be integrated into our PM mindset.
For one of my first posts of the NEW year, I would like to start with something old. Something very, very, VERY old: stromatolites.
You, your dog, your cat, your friends, relatives and the ancestors of all of those mammals are only here today because of stromatolites.
First of all what is a ‘stromatolite’? I found about these things in a BBC travel article, featuring strange, round formations found in certain places around the world, in this case in Western Australia, north of Perth called the Pilbara. From that article:
…stromatolites are stony structures built by colonies of microscopic photosynthesising organisms called cyanobacteria. As sediment layered in shallow water, bacteria grew over it, binding the sedimentary particles and building layer upon millimetre layer until the layers became mounds.
OK, you’re thinking, fine. But what does that have to do with me and my ancestors? And my DOG? Or my CAT? Well, that becomes clear with this next paragraph:
Their empire-building brought with it their most important role in Earth’s history. They breathed. Using the sun to harness energy, they produced and built up the oxygen content of the Earth’s atmosphere to about 20%, giving the kiss of life to all that was to evolve.
These have been around for billions of years – the same age as the solar system. So this speaks to sustainability. But it also speaks to something else important to projects and project managers – balance. The cyanobacteria which builds the stromatolites are sensitive to their environment, and thus the Hamelin Pool in which they reside has the highest level of protection from the Western Australian government. See details in this recently-published research.
A quick way to learn about this is to view this 2-minute video:
So to review: these cyanobacteria provided the earth with the oxygen balance we need to live. The cyanobacteria that create the stromatolites are, themselves, prone to a very careful balance to survive. You sense a theme here? Balance.
But wait – the plot thickens. The balance becomes even more interesting. These same cyanobacteria – the ones that helped give rise to the rest of life on the planet…? Those same cyanobacteria have appeared here in my very own blog as a villain – a bad guy!
You may recall that I blogged about the negative effects of what is (incorrectly) called ‘blue-green algae blooms’. You can visit that post here.
You may recall this photo:
Cyanobacteria giveth – and taketh away. Just like risk can be opportunity or threat. And to further make the connection to our profession, just as we, as project managers must balance scope, time, cost, risk, quality, team engagement… and more, life on earth depends on balance, going back – way, way back.
This is fascinating science in my opinion. You can learn more below in this summary and from other references.
From a Guardian article
I thought it would be a good idea to start 2021 on a positive note – about climate change. You know – the other existential problem we have as a globe right now?
I will draw heavily from this BBC article, called “Why 2021 Could Be a Turning Point for Tackling Climate Change”, by Justin Rowlatt, which actually starts off a little gloomily.
… we’re way off track to meet carbon-cutting goals. On current plans the world is expected to breach the 1.5 degrees C ceiling within 12 years or less and to hit 3C of warming by the end of the century. What could turn that around?
Luckily, it gets more optimistic.
There are five points made in the article, aimed at answering that last question. I will summarize them for you briefly and provide a project management angle as well.
1. The crucial climate conference
2. Countries are already signing up to deep carbon cuts
3. Renewables are now the cheapest energy ever
4. COVID-19 changes everything
5. Business is going green too
#1 The Climate Conference – COP26, Glasgow
There have been 25 COPs (Conference of Parties) so far. The most famous, of course, was the Paris COP (#21), at which most nations agreed to cut carbon outputs. Read more about the Paris Agreement here. Under the terms of the Paris deal, countries promised to come back every five years and raise their carbon-cutting ambitions. That was due to happen in Glasgow in November 2020, but COVID-19 aborted that plan. It is now scheduled in Glasgow but much later in the year (read on).
The Bureau of the Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC (United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change), with the UK and its Italian partners, agreed today new dates for the COP26 UN climate conference, which will now take place between 1 and 12 November 2021 in Glasgow.
The agreement followed consultation with UNFCCC members, delivery partners and the international climate community. The conference was originally set to take place in November 2020, but had been postponed due to COVID-19.
The decision on the new date comes as the UK Government announces that over 25 experts in multiple global sectors will be advising the COP26 Presidency. Here is the announcement of that change:
While we rightly focus on fighting the immediate crisis of the Coronavirus, we must not lose sight of the huge challenges of climate change. With the new dates for COP26 now agreed we are working with our international partners on an ambitious roadmap for global climate action between now and November 2021. The steps we take to rebuild our economies will have a profound impact on our societies’ future sustainability, resilience and well-being and COP26 can be a moment where the world unites behind a clean resilient recovery.
Everyone will need to raise their ambitions to tackle climate change and the expertise of the Friends of COP will be important in helping boost climate action across the globe.
Alok Sharma, COP26 President and Secretary of State for the Department of Business, Energy and Industrial Strategy
If you want to get involved, COP26 is encouraging you to visit “The Race To Zero” which you can learn about here. Race To Zero is a global initiative, backed by science-based targets, to commit businesses, cities, regions, investors and universities to achieve net zero emissions by 2050 at the very latest.
#2 - Countries already signing up
At the UN General Assembly in September, the Chinese President, Xi Jinping unexpectedly announced that China aimed to go carbon neutral by 2060.
From the article:
Environmentalists were stunned. Cutting carbon has always been seen as an expensive chore yet here was the most polluting nation on earth - responsible for some 28% of world emissions - making an unconditional commitment to do just that regardless of whether other countries followed its lead.
A very insightful video from the Wall Street Journal, from which I’ve taken some important screenshots, discusses this – and I’m sure you can see below (from the graphics alone) what this means for the launching of new projects, programs, and portfolios related to this mammoth effort.
To achieve this goal, China will need to launch a portfolio of programs and projects. The sheer size is astounding – it will take 5 to 20 Trillion $US to make this transition. We’re talking about carbon capture, and a massive switch away from coal to renewable energy. Looking at these figures - imagine the depth and breadth of project management prowess it will take to oversee this transition.
On top of this transition of energy supply, it’s also about energy use. Look at the way number of forecasted electric vehicles dwarfs the current number – that ball on the left representing a planet 7 times the size of Jupiter and the little pink ball representing Earth. We’re talking about a nearly 100-fold increase in just 30 years.
China's Huge Transition to Electric Vehicles by 2050
#3 - Renewables are getting cheaper
To learn about this in a fun way, check out the interactive graph here.
With it you can find (sorry, US only) data for the entire country or go state-by-state, with Texas shown as an example to look at the rise of renewables.
From the article:
That is because the cost of renewables follows the logic of all manufacturing - the more you produce, the cheaper it gets. It's like pushing on an open door - the more you build the cheaper it gets and the cheaper it gets the more you build.
Think what this means: investors won't need to be bullied by green activists into doing the right thing, they will just follow the money. And governments know that by scaling up renewables in their own economies, they help to accelerate the energy transition globally, by making renewables even cheaper and more competitive everywhere.
As evidence of the dropping costs of renewables, have a look at this data from energypost.eu:
(PV is Photovoltaic – solar panels, and CSP is Concentrated Solar Power)
#4 - COVID changes everything
I’m not going to dwell on this (after all, this was supposed to be an optimistic New Year’s Day post) but it should be clear that there are immediate effects (less travel, factories at reduced levels, building occupancy down) as well as lasting effects (switch to more virtual work locations on a more permanent basis). You can look at the curve and see that the curve does bend down a bit.
# 5 - Business is going green, too
From the article:
The falling cost of renewable and the growing public pressure for action on climate is also transforming attitudes in business.
There are sound financial reasons for this. Why invest in new oil wells or coal power stations that will become obsolete before they can repay themselves over their 20-30-year life?
Indeed, why carry carbon risk in their portfolios at all?
The logic is already playing out in the markets. This year alone, Tesla's rocketing share price has made it the world's most valuable car company.
Meanwhile, the share price of Exxon - once the world's most valuable company of any kind - fell so far that it got booted out of the Dow Jones Industrial Average of major US corporations.
All told, there are 5 things to get your positive attitude boost for the start of 2021 – at least with respect to climate change and sustainability-in-project-management thinking!
Happy New Year! Stay safe and remain hopeful!
Here is Part III of my 2-part series that focuses on trees and communications. I know… I know… I have violated two rules here – (1) having a third part of a two-part series, and (II) mixing Roman and Hindu-Arabic numbering. Forgive me, and call it poetic (or bloggetic) license.
I would like to introduce you to the serviceberry tree. Other common names for this tree are: Juneberry, shadbush, shadblow, and shadwood, (with the 'shad' reference alluding to the fish that runs and spawn at the same time these plants bloom). Other names you may see are sugarplum, Indian pear, May cherry, saskatoon, sarvisberry, wild pear, wild plum, and chuckley pear. Better Homes and Gardens magazine says:
"This small tree thrives through all four seasons and offers so much to any garden. Abundant white blooms in spring are followed by delicious berries in summer, fiery foliage in fall, and silver bark in winter.
Serviceberry trees display white blooms just before their foliage emerges in early spring, offering some of the earliest sources of nectar for pollinators. The five-petaled flowers closely resemble apple blossoms but with skinnier petals.
After the show of these blooms, clusters of edible berries form. As summer begins, berry colors ripen to a deep red then purple color. The berries make a wonderful substitute for blueberries and can be eaten fresh or made into jams and jellies. Birds also enjoy them.
Serviceberry foliage has an open and loose habit. This allows dappled light to shine through, which creates a space for part-shade plants to sit below the base of serviceberry trees. As nights cool down in autumn, blue-green foliage transforms into beautiful shades of orange and red."
Here is a closeup of the serviceberries themselves:
I first read about serviceberries and how they connect with a gift-based economy in this article from Emergence magazine. The article, An Economy of Abundance, by Robin Wall Kimmerer. The article focuses on economics, but I found interesting because of the idea of the importance of ‘gifting’, especially during this Holiday season (after all, I am publishing this on Christmas Day, 2020).
So – what does this have to do with project communications? It’s actually more about negotiation in this case. The communications piece lies only in what the serviceberry tree is ‘communicating’ to us about a gift-based economy and zero-sum games. We (should have) learned in our PM training that a negotiation style based on a zero-sum game is usually the least-preferred. It has its place, but it should be avoided unless needed. We tend to go with the “Getting to Yes” philosophy of looking to ‘expand the pie’. And I wondered – could this pie be a serviceberry pie? Sure - that’s a thing. In fact, here’s a picture, and a recipe.
Turns out the fruit taste like (from the article above), “a blueberry crossed with the satisfying heft of an apple, a touch of rosewater and a miniscule crunch of almond-flavored seeds. They taste like nothing a grocery store has to offer: wild, complex with a chemistry that your body recognizes as the real food it’s been waiting for.” Wow, I certainly can’t wait to try that pie!
The author of the article is a registered member of the Potawatomi people. In Potawatomi, the serviceberry is called Bozakmin, which is a superlative: the best of the berries.
…the most important part of that word is “min,” the root word for “berry.” It appears in our Potawatomi words for Blueberry, Strawberry, Raspberry, even Apple, Maize, and Wild Rice. The revelation in that word is a treasure for me, because it is also the root word for “gift.” In naming the plants who shower us with goodness, we recognize that these are gifts from our plant relatives, manifestations of their generosity, care, and creativity. When we speak of these not as things or products or commodities, but as gifts, the whole relationship changes. I can’t help but gaze at them, cupped like jewels in my hand, and breathe out my gratitude.
So she feels that she has learned a great deal from the serviceberry tree. How?
What might Serviceberry teach us here? She replies, “Serviceberry, or shadbush as I learned it, provides a model of interdependence and coevolution that is the heart of ecological economics. Serviceberry teaches us another way to understand relationship and exchange. With a serviceberry economy as our model, it prompts the opportunity for articulation of the value of gratitude and reciprocity as essential foundations for an economy.” Reciprocity—not scarcity.
During our Holidays we are busy buying and receiving gifts. How does a gift change a ‘thing’? It makes us more interdependent on each other and to feel more like a community. Could we consider the Earth as a gift to us? Would it change the way we think about using resources? Ms. Kimmeler thinks so:
To name the world as gift is to feel one’s membership in the web of reciprocity. It makes you happy—and it makes you accountable. Conceiving of something as a gift changes your relationship to it in a profound way, even though the physical makeup of the “thing” has not changed. A wooly knit hat that you purchase at the store will keep you warm regardless of its origin, but if it was hand knit by your favorite auntie, then you are in relationship to that “thing” in a very different way: you are responsible for it, and your gratitude has motive force in the world. You’re likely to take much better care of the gift hat than the commodity hat, because it is knit of relationships. This is the power of gift thinking. I imagine if we acknowledged that everything we consume is the gift of Mother Earth, we would take better care of what we are given. Mistreating a gift has emotional and ethical gravity as well as ecological resonance.
She even talks of the “monster”” in Potawatomi storytelling. The monster is called Windigo and its trait is taking too much and sharing too little. The Windigo is not a pretty creature. It is described as “gaunt to the point of emaciation, its desiccated skin pulled tightly over its bones. With its bones pushing out over its skin, its complexion the ash gray of death, and its eyes pushed back deep into the sockets, the Windigo looked like a gaunt skeleton recently disinterred from the grave. What lips it had were tattered and bloody… Unclean and suffering from suppurations of the flesh, the Windigo gave off a strange and eerie odor of decay and decomposition, of death and corruption.”1
By the way, this is not the decomposition we learn about when building a Work Breakdown Structure! This is the biological, stinky one.
You can learn more about the Windigo here. (Warning: graphic content)
Below is one of the least-scary images of the Windigo that I could find.
Scary creatures. Moving words. To come back to negotiation, especially ‘zero-sum game’ negotiation, perhaps we are focused too much on competition as a driver. Is that the best way to go? Again, referencing “Getting to Yes”, perhaps not. In the author’s words:
…since competition reduces the carrying capacity for all concerned, natural selection favors those who can avoid competition. Oftentimes this is achieved by shifting one’s needs away from whatever is in short supply, as though evolution were suggesting “if there’s not enough of what you want, then want something else.” This specialization to avoid scarcity has led to a dazzling array of biodiversity, each avoiding competition by being different. Diversity in ways of being is an antidote to scarcity-induced competition.
I encourage you to read the article with an open mind and consider it as you give – and receive – during this holiday season.
1Legends of the Nahanni Valley, Hammerson Peterson, 2018, Mysteries of Canada
Picture from https://www.evolves.com.au/trees-can-talk/
In Part 1 of this post, I discussed the communications of trees. Yes, that’s right – trees talk to each other. The post was based on an interview with Suzanne Simard, an expert on underground networks that are now known to convey messages between hub or “mother” trees and other trees, perhaps miles away. In the interview, Simard also talks about communications. And that’s the theme of Part II. Here’s the key portion of the interview for this part:
Q: Another word that can be slippery is “communication.” I would define communication as any exchange of information. That’s a very big umbrella; it can apply to, say, the co-evolution of berry coloration and bird tastes, so that over time berry color becomes more appealing to birds and correlates with nutrient properties. That’s communication—but we categorize that differently than we do the alarm calls squirrels give when a hawk approaches, or the conversation you and I are having right now. Where in that spectrum do plant communications fall?
A: Right in there. And we’re prisoners of our own western science; indigenous people have long known that plants will communicate with each other. But even in western science we know it because you can smell the defense chemistry of a forest under attack. Something is being emitted that has a chemistry that all those other plants and animals perceive, and they change their behaviors accordingly.
Given that definition of communication, you can see that this follows the sender-receiver model described in the PMBOK® Guide and which I use in my courses and consulting. For a really well-done explanation of the PMBOK® Guide 6th Edition’s treatment of this, click on this reference from EdWel. Turns out that the model originated from an article in the Bell Laboratories Technical Journal1, by Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver – you can read more about that 1948 published article and their book here, and see a reference below. We can all take a lesson from this model which involves advancing an idea, a thought into a message by encoding it, and getting that idea to a receiver.
• Encode: To translate thoughts or ideas into a form of language that can be understood by the receiver; eg, written English, spoken Hindi, a text, a wink, or a drawn diagram.