In Step with Projects

In Pace with Progress

Joel Carboni: Sustainability Is Key to Success


Journalist: Spring (Chinese name: Yu Yanjuan)  |  Source: PMR  |  Updated:2021.04.15

Introduction to the interviewee:

Dr. Joel Carboni is President of GPM Global ( and President of IPMA USA. He has over 25 years of experience in Portfolio, Program and Project management. As the architect of Projects integrating Sustainable Methods, also known as the PRiSM project management methodology and the GPM P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management, he works to have one foot in project management and the other in sustainable development and is one of the original driving forces for sustainability in project management. His efforts has gained him recognition worldwide as a thought leader in the profession with accolades such as an IPMA Achievement Award for Applying Sustainable Principles to Project Delivery (2013), Global Training & Development Leadership Award - World HRD Training and Development Congress(2014), Sustainability Leadership Award- CSR World Congress (2015), ACQ Media International Game Changer of the Year Award (2017). And most recently he was named “Sustainability Leader of the Year” for 2021 in the USA by UK based CEOToday Magazine. 

Part I Importance of sustainability in project management
Q1. Why did you found GPM (Green Project Management) Global? What is the importance of sustainability in project management?
Joel Carboni: Research has shown that project work accounts for more than 30% of global GDP which equates to roughly 24 Trillion USD. Thus, the role and impact that projects have is enormous and until GPM was founded, there were no tools, methods or approaches to integrate sustainability to projects. For a profession to ignore one of the most important focuses of our time, seemed, to put it bluntly, regressive. 

Q2. What is the difference between green/sustainable project management and traditional project management?
Joel Carboni: The difference between green/sustainable project management and traditional project management is simply the adherence to a set of principles and looking at project and project management success as more than inputs, outputs, and processes but rather the impacts of what we are doing on society, the environment, and the economy both micro and macro. Globally, humanity is at a crossroads. Problems stemming from humans induced climate change, population increases, lack of potable water, and income & gender inequalities. It is imperative for all professions to self-assess what impacts they are making to improve our planet and society for future generations. According to research by Accenture and the UN Global Compact, out of 1,000 global CEOs, from 27 industries across 103 countries, 93% regard sustainability as key to success.

Part II Approach and principles of green project management
Q3. As the architect of the PRiSM project management methodology, would you please explain it to readers? 
Joel Carboni: PRiSM which is an acronym for PRojects integrating Sustainable Methods, uses an asset lifecycle approach with a focus on impacts, risks, value and benefits. 

PRiSM is a principles-based, sustainable project management methodology. Its key difference from traditional approaches is that it incorporates a value-maximization model that focuses on the total asset lifecycle. PRiSM puts projects into a more strategic focus by leveraging existing organizational systems to ensure that benefits are realized horizontally and vertically, with the utmost attention focused on process and product sustainability. 

PRiSM is based on our award winning P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management, and is effective in reducing project level risk, from an environmental, social and economic perspective while expanding the range of benefits to be gained. PRiSM extends beyond the typical project lifecyle with a five phased approach that includes pre-project planning, product/service adoption and integration as well as benefits realization.  

PRiSM at its heart is a flexible methodology that can be adapted to fit any approach. There are a lot of blogs and articles out there that call it an environmental method and is only valuable in eco-type projects. That is incorrect. PRiSM can be used on any project, large or small. The beauty of PRiSM is that it focuses on the entire asset lifecycle and not just the project lifecycle. We would like nothing more than to have a library of case studies on the method’s applications; however, our organizational model makes it a challenge to gather them en masse. Through our GPM360 assessments and awards program, we have a good idea of the diverse projects that have been brought to life using PRiSM. They range from Professional Sports arenas to eco-tourism resorts and everywhere in between.  We even have an example of a pet food company redesigning their product and packaging using PRiSM.  

Q4. As you mentioned, PRiSM is based on P5 Standard for Sustainability in Project Management. What does P5 stand for?
Joel Carboni: P5 stands for People, Planet, Prosperity, Product and Process. The standard uses 45 elements as part of our ontology to assist in evaluating the overall sustainability of a project through the use of an impact assessment and sustainability management plan, which are free templates we provide. 

The P5 Standard is a tool that supports the alignment of portfolios, programs, and projects with organizational strategy for sustainability and focuses on the impacts of project processes and deliverables on the environment, society, the corporate bottom line, and the local economy.

Our P5 Standard for sustainability in project management, a free resource, provides guidance on sustainability to ensure benefits maximization and risk mitigation and ties in to the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), thus creating a bridge between all projects to a larger cause.

Q5. What kinds of portfolios, programs and projects can be defined as sustainable? Are there any principles to follow?
Joel Carboni: In order to be sustainable, portfolios, programs, and projects should adhere to the following six principles:
1) Commitment & Accountability: Recognize the essential rights of all to healthy, clean and safe environments, equal opportunity, fair remuneration, ethical procurement, and adherence to rule of law.

2) Ethics & Decision Making: Support organizational ethics, decision making with respect for universal principles through identification, mitigation, and the prevention of adverse short and long-term impacts on society and the environment.

3) Integrated & Transparent: Foster the interdependence of economic development, social integrity, and environmental protection in all aspects of governance, practice and reporting.

4) Principles & Values Based: Conserve and enhance our natural resource base by improving the ways in which we develop and use technologies and resources.

5) Social & Ecological Equity: Assess human vulnerability in ecologically sensitive areas and centres of population through demographic dynamics.

6) Economic Prosperity: Adhere to fiscal strategies, objectives, and targets that balance the needs of stakeholders, including immediate needs and those of future generations.

Part III Sustainability maturity assessment model and certification
Q6. You invented the maturity assessment model of projects, programs and portfolios. Please share some details of the model.
Joel Carboni: PSM3 is a unique model. Unlike some others in the marketplace, we do not use a CMMI approach, but rather, it is a discovery tool to find out what is important to the organization, their clients/customers, and their supply chain. We then support their efforts in setting a baseline based on where they think they are, using a slightly modified P5 as a metric, and then assessing where they truly are and what it will take to get them where they need to be. The model is special in that you cannot compare two organizations as each are unique. What it does do is provide a roadmap for continuous improvement on their sustainability journey.

Q7. Would you please give us some details about GPM certification?
Joel Carboni: We offer certification globally. GPM has three different certifications for practitioners and a new registration for consultants. Our program is three tiered and begins with the GPM-b (or basic) where a knowledge assessment on sustainability is conducted via exam. This is our most popular certification. From there, we focus on ability in our GPM-s (Specialist) and GPM-m (Master). The Specialist, which is a revamp of what we used to simply call the GPM requires evidence of the integration of sustainable methods with project delivery. This is conducted via case study submittal and in person interview. Our Master-level certification requires advanced experience, and the GPM’s case study submittals as well as an academic paper.

Our GPM-b is by far our most popular with over 17,000 certified worldwide. This certification is exam based and covers both project management and sustainability. For those who hold an existing certification such as a PMP, or IPMA-D or higher, there is a shortened exam that only covers sustainability. Our higher certifications such as the GPM-s (specialist) and GPM-m (master) are assessment driven and focus on the candidate’s abilities.

Our newest credential is the GPM360º Registered Consultant and Assessor.  This has become popular for individuals who work in project management but in a consultative role and would like sustainability tools to use and or to assess projects for our project certification system.  

Part IV Sustainability leadership and culture
Q8. What kind of leadership qualities are necessary for sustainability in project management?
Joel Carboni: We have outlined eight leadership traits that are necessary to lead as a sustainable project manager in our book Sustainable Project Management. Here are few that I feel are critical. The first is to be benefits-focused or being aware of stakeholder needs and expectations, considers long-term implications of decisions. The next is to be an inclusive leader in understanding what motivates team members and other stakeholders, uses a collaborative approach that builds an environment of trust, values individuals, is open to new ideas. The third is to be ethical in all things, having a high moral integrity, uses ethical approaches, establishes trust-based relationships, upholds principles and values, and empowers others.

Q9. In your opinion, how should we create an organizational culture that supports sustainable project management?
Joel Carboni: A study by Accenture and the UN Global Compact outlined that 58% of CEOs worldwide can’t quantify the value of their sustainability initiatives. The problem with this is that when you can’t easily ascertain value in something, it is discarded or at the least given low priority.  In order to create a culture that supports sustainable project management, the project manager and project sponsor must be on equal footing and clearly communicate the value-add and benefits that adopting sustainable practices bring. Projects by their very nature are change and when you can communicate the benefits of sustainable change, it will take root.

Part V COVID-19 impact
Q10. From your perspective, what impact will COVID-19 epidemic on the development of sustainable project management?
Joel Carboni: Let’s be clear. Business as usual has been destructive for over 100 years. We continuously destroy eco systems, encroach on and drive life forms to extinction. COVID-19 is a perfect example of the earth trying to correct itself. Our human way of life is near (if not at) the tipping point of no return if we do not change the way we work. Even the word “sustainable” is outdated as the question is “what are we sustaining?” That would have been appropriate 40 years ago but now we must move fast forward to regenerate the planet, focusing on regenerative development and circular economies.

Q11. Please promote your book “Sustainable Project Management: The GPM Reference Guide” to readers in brief. 
Joel Carboni: To achieve sustainability as a planet, we must increase our capacity to be able to go beyond sustainable development and remediate the problems that humans have caused to the planet while driving forward. With the challenges humanity is facing, whether they be geopolitical conflicts, climate change, extreme poverty, resource scarcity, slavery, or inequality in all its forms, the profession of project management must play a greater role. 

This book is aimed at anyone involved in projects. It provides a starting point for understanding both the principles of sustainable project management and the PRiSM Method.

Part VI Future of project management
Q12. How do you see the future of being a project management profession and the future of the development of green project management? 
Joel Carboni: This is a difficult question as project management will adapt to meet the needs of the world. What I can say with certainty is that more and more initiatives and organizations will become project oriented and will need project management competence to be core to their ability to thrive. Having worked in over 50 countries, it is interesting to me how project management is viewed. There are some parts of the world where project management is seen only as construction management while in other places, it is the widespread profession that is tied to a wide spectrum of change initiatives.

Looking to the future, whether it is Medical, Legal, Government, or Education, individuals who have worked in an operational context will need to develop project management competence which will expand project management, and for the better.

With regards to green project management, it has been our objective to mainstream the practice of emphasizing environmental, fiscal, and socially responsible impacts as measure of project success. That is the future (if not the now) of business so it is only natural that project management move in that direction as well.  

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