Project Management

People, Planet, Profits & Projects

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Richard Maltzman
Dave Shirley

Recent Posts

Gyres and Legos and Zeros, Oh My!

Implement Risk Responses: Boston Style

Becoming a Climate Change Leader (Part 3 of 3)

Becoming a Climate Change Leader - Part 2 (of 3)

Becoming a Climate Change Project Leader - Part 1

Plastic Risk Managment - Part 2 of 3

Categories: ocean, opportunity, plastic

In Part 1 of this post, I presented the problem – the threat – of not one, but several giant plastic garbage patches in Earth’s oceans and what that means to sea life (and land life, for example, human project managers).  Taking a project management approach, I provided information on the threat so we could understand the impact and begin to identify risk responses.  That post closed with research from Professor Jenna Jemback of the University of Georgia and a challenge from me to you to count the number of plastic items you touched in a particular period after reading the post.

First, let me thank those of you who responded (quite a few!). Typically, the number was over 50 in just a few hours, one of you even counted 20 touched plastic items on your way to your car after reading the article!

So you literally can sense this threat, perhaps in a very tactile way you hadn’t before.

Let’s switch gears now, and do what we do best as project managers, look at solving the problem – even turning the threat into an opportunity - or a whole portfolio of opportunities.

In the remaining parts of this post I’ll talk about how industry has responded (Part 2) and will save the best for last in Part 3, which will probably make you smile because it is about a tremendous project to solve the problem – so you may actually smile twice - once for the project itself and once for the potential results it seems capable of providing.

In this short Part 2, however, I will talk in general about the way industry has the chance to step up and help solve the problem but also do that in a way that generates revenue and pays off for investors.

They say: “follow the money” to help trace corruption – or solve problems.  Here (thankfully) we are focused on solving problems.  So I begin Part 2 with a report that – well, I’ll let the abstract of the report tell you about itself:

The goal of this report is to show how private capital can play a meaningful role in tackling the issues of plastic pollution across the world’s ocean. Numerous investment opportunities are highlighted across the risk/return spectrum where investors can gain a return on investment, while also having a meaningful impact on the problem of ocean plastics

In the foreword of the report, we also find this:

This is a challenge of global proportions, but, if there is good news, it is that the worst effects of ocean plastics can still be avoided with strategic, timely and coordinated actions. There is still time, and there is ample opportunity, for diverse funders to make a series of well-orchestrated, high-impact investments that will meaningfully shift the trajectory our ocean is currently following.

Do you see the connection to project management? “Strategic, timely, and coordinated actions” – hello, project managers, this is our ‘thang’, isn’t it?  Overseeing “well-orchestrated, high-impact investments” – isn’t that the signature work of our profession?  It sure is!

Here are the opportunities covered in the report:

Opportunities From Source Through Use

  • Accelerate and Scale
  • Better Materials
  • Promote Innovative Products and Circular Business Models

Opportunities With Post-Consumer Plastics

  • Advance Collection, Tracking, and Sorting Innovations
  • Engage and Support the Informal Waste Sector
  • Enhance Recycling, Repurposing, and Composting
  • Develop Responsible Waste-to-Energy Conversion Solutions
  • Support Integrated Waste Management Solutions

The report is huge, is full of opportunities, and mentions the word “project” dozens of times.

So let’s just pick one – Waste to Energy (WTE) and take a look at the opportunities.  Below is a video from the American Chemistry Council and although it starts with a bit on recycling plastics, it moves quickly to an illustration of  the many ways that non-recyclable plastics can be converted to energy in such ways as gasification.



Again, this is just one of the many branches pointed to in the report, and from this, you can learn much more by going to:

American Chemistry site on Plastics

Materials Recovery For the Future (MRFF)

But take a look at the entire report, too:

The best is yet to come – in Part 3 we will look at something really special – a project to go right after the problem and collect the waste that is already “out there’ in the oceans. 

That's in part 3... coming soon!

Posted by Richard Maltzman on: August 06, 2018 11:24 AM | Permalink | Comments (6)

Secondary Risk in the Playground

Photo Credit: Hanna Rosin

Legal disclaimer: In this post it may seem like some of the stakeholders, perhaps even your humble author, have a nonchalant attitude towards children’s injuries. No children were hurt in the writing of this blog post, and as it happens, the author has a very non-nonchalant attitude to such injuries.

Blog disclaimer: This post is a little less about sustainability than usual but it’s still very much about long-term thinking and it’s definitely related to major project management topics.

Disclaimer disclaimer: There are no further disclaimers.

Those of you who have been to a playground, lately, at least in the USA, have most likely noticed that everything is super-safe.  Rounded corners, padded flooring, not a 90-degree angle in sight.  As a parent, this makes you feel proud, good, calm, and less worried.  Right?

Things like putting down layers of rubberized mulch, super bouncy floors, and round, smooth edges -these are all example of a risk response we call mitigation – reducing the likelihood of a threat (in this case injury to a child).  However, as good PMs we also recognize that there is something called secondary risk – new risk introduced by a risk response.    But is there a secondary risk HERE?  That is, do these risk responses to protect our kids from any possible threat, trigger any new risks?  And what in the world would those risks be?

Well, think a bit about it.  Think of the threat of lost learning opportunities.  Think of the way this may be insulating kids from the way the world really works.  Is it possible that all of these safety measures are preventing kids from learning (albeit the ‘hard way’) about the world around them, the way things really work?

There’s some very prevalent thinking that says something to the effect of: “Beware The Padded Floor”.

For example, have a look at this extract from an article called The Overprotected Kid in The Atlantic magazine, discussing an adventure playground in North Wales called “The Land” at which from time to time there are fires:

If a 10-year-old lit a fire at an American playground, someone would call the police and the kid would be taken for counseling. At the Land, spontaneous fires are a frequent occurrence. The park is staffed by professionally trained “playworkers,” who keep a close eye on the kids but don’t intervene all that much. Claire Griffiths, the manager of the Land, describes her job as “loitering with intent.” Although the playworkers almost never stop the kids from what they’re doing, before the playground had even opened they’d filled binders with “risk benefits assessments” for nearly every activity. (In the two years since it opened, no one has been injured outside of the occasional scraped knee.) Here’s the list of benefits for fire: “It can be a social experience to sit around with friends, make friends, to sing songs to dance around, to stare at, it can be a co-operative experience where everyone has jobs. It can be something to experiment with, to take risks, to test its properties, its heat, its power, to re-live our evolutionary past.” The risks? “Burns from fire or fire pit” and “children accidentally burning each other with flaming cardboard or wood.” In this case, the benefits win, because a playworker is always nearby, watching for impending accidents but otherwise letting the children figure out lessons about fire on their own.

A more recent article in The New York Times delves into this even further, featuring a playground in a town in England with the very interesting name Shoeburyness.

It describes playgrounds in this town as having removed the plastic playhouses with soft edges and introducing a mud pit, tire swings, logs and branches, and a workbench with hammers and saws (see photo).

Photo Credit: Andrew Testa, New York Times


And in London, says the article,

Outside the Princess Diana Playground in Kensington Gardens in London, which attracts more than a million visitors a year, a placard informs parents that risks have been “intentionally provided, so that your child can develop an appreciation of risk in a controlled play environment rather than taking similar risks in an uncontrolled and unregulated wider world.”

Amanda Spielman  is the head of the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children's Services and Skills (Ofsted). Late last year, she announced that her agency’s inspectors would undergo training that will encompass the positive, as well as the negative, side of risk.  She said the Ofsted agency plans to re-train its inspectors to recognize the “positive” side of risk.   Humph.  You could have just sent them to the PMBOK® Guide, Ms. Spielman!

Finally, the article references a study (see cover below, linked to the PDF) that compared playgrounds in London to those in the US and reached these conclusions (pay attention in particular to #5):

The U.S. seems to have reached ‘peak safety’. We have created a nation of overly expensive, homogeneously safe, and insidiously boring play spaces. Our injury rates demonstrate that these spaces have unintended consequences. In pursuit of fun, children are using play structures in unintended ways, falling on surfaces too expensive to maintain, and are not moving enough, becoming too weak to play without injuring themselves. To turn the tide, the solution is to follow London’s lead:


Both passive and active spaces are important, blur the lines between play and park.  And don’t forget cafes and bathrooms!


Provide ‘play affordances’, such as boulders, logs, plants, and topography for inexpensive, but effective fun.


All playgrounds should have the top five: grass, sand, climbing, swinging, and sliding. Water and loose parts are another plus.


Everything on a playground should be playable, including surfaces. Fun should be prioritized over safety and maintenance.


The best playgrounds look dangerous but are completely safe, offering ways to play based on skill level, strength, and bravery


Click on image for full "London Study of Playgrounds" report.

I cannot leave you without at least one sustainability element here, and I found one, at least according to one commenter in a discussion about this topic.  “Emily” says:

“does anyone else think that ripping out the current playground equipment, because it’s “too safe,” after ripping out the previous generation of playground equipment, because it was “too dangerous,” is massively wasteful? Why not start with keeping the existing equipment (and bringing in some boards, hammers, nails, ropes, tires, et cetera, for “loose parts” play if desired), and just, giving kids more freedom in how they play? For example, right now, a lot of schools have rules against climbing up slides, hanging upside down from the monkey bars, sitting on top of the monkey bars, running on the playground equipment and/or in certain areas, doing cartwheels and handstands on the grass, et cetera. If those rules were reversed, even that would be a start.” 

Go Emily – think long-term!


Posted by Richard Maltzman on: April 08, 2018 11:14 PM | Permalink | Comments (12)

"The greatest deception men suffer is from their own opinions."

- Leonardo Da Vinci