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Sustainability in project management: A literature review and impact analysis

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Sustainability is one of the most important challenges of our time. How can we develop prosperity, without compromising the life of future generations? Companies are integrating ideas of sustainability in their marketing, corporate communication, annual reports and in their actions.

Projects play a pivotal role in the realisation of more sustainable business practices, and the concept of sustainability has more recently also been linked to project management. The emerging literature on this topic provides strong indications that considering sustainability impacts project management processes and practices. However, the standards for project management fail to address the sustainability agenda.

This article provides a structured review of 164 publications, covering the time period 1993 - 2013, that relate sustainability to project management. The research questions answered are: 'How is sustainability defined or considered in the context of project management?' and, 'How does considering sustainability impact project management?'

Based on an identification of relevant dimensions of sustainability that was evident from the publications, we identified the areas of impact of sustainability on project management. It appeared that considering sustainability impacts project management on different levels. Considering sustainability implies, firstly, a shift of scope in the management of projects: from managing time, budget and quality, to managing social, environmental, and economic impact. Secondly, it implies a shift of paradigm of project management: from an approach that can be characterised by predictability and controllability, to an approach that is characterised by flexibility, complexity and opportunity. And thirdly, considering sustainability implies a mind shift for the project manager: from delivering requested results, to taking responsibility for sustainable development in organisations and society.

With these findings, the practices and standards of project management can be developed further to address the role projects play in creating sustainable development.
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Document Type: Research Article

Publication date: March 1, 2014

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