«Limitations of Sustainability Implementation amongst Project Managers Case study in an Icelandic energy company Master of Science Thesis in the ...»
Decision making has been encountered in the literature as at the core of the organisation (Lundin & Söderholm, 1995) and often highly affected by economical perceptions (Steger, Ionescu-Somers, & Salzmann, 2007). Individuals and organisations face difficult decisions daily and the level of difficulty increases constantly with higher demand on environmental, social and economical aspects.
Incorporating sustainability into decision making methods is therefore an important step in the implementations of sustainability into organisations and project teams (Network for Business Sustainability, 2012). As well as it becomes a link in the process of changing from only being reactive to becoming proactive towards more sustainable ways of operating (Tingström, Swanström, & Karlsson, 2006).
Good decision makers generally have a flexible approach to rule following as well as having the ability to change the problem constraints instead of selecting an alternative from a number of poor options. This is more in line with sustainable decision making since existing alternatives might not be sustainable (Hersh, 1999) and it helps companies to address emerging issues (Lyon, 2004). Decision making tools, such as the stage gate model, are of good help to reduce environmental burdens (Tingström, Swanström, & Karlsson, 2006).
CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 2.1.2 Change in project organisations In order to implement change, such as sustainability strategy, successfully in projects it is vital to control the change process (Association for Project Management, 2012).
Project organisations can act as a barrier to change and innovation in organisations due to their short-term task performance that contradicts to the organisational longterm learning processes (Bresnen, Goussevskaia, & Swan, 2004). But the characteristics of projects can also be used as a positive factor in organisational change processes. Because of their temporary existence they do not pose the same threat as if a permanent new department of division would be created (Sydow, Lindkvist, & DeFillippi, 2004). In order to implement changes in projects there are
three pillars that have to be in place, these three pillars are (Maylor, 2010):
In the implementations process the strength and influences of the company’s employees who can make the real changes happen are often neglected (Verhulst & Boks, 2012). Often there is tension in project based organisations between the projects demands of immediate task and performance and the opportunities for learning and sharing practices between projects (Sydow, Lindkvist, & DeFillippi, 2004). The decentralization of projects in organisations and within projects makes it less likely that knowledge flows form one project to the next. This decentralization hinders change in organisations, such as implementation of new strategy (Bresnen, Goussevskaia, & Swan, 2004). Therefore it becomes a challenge to synchronize project management and reporting practises between projects and across the organisation (Brown & Eisenhardt, 1997).
2.2 The sustainability concept Sustainability has developed quickly over the past years but there is still the problem of how to implement sustainability into practice and overcome the barriers that face CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 organisations and project teams (Talbot & Venkataraman, 2011; Kloepffer, 2008;
Epstein & Roy, 2001). Mirvis, Googins, & Kinnicutt (2010) and Searcy (2009) gave reasons for these problems and they implied that sustainability has not been defined clearly enough amongst companies, a common understanding needs to be established of the term. Even committed companies have difficulties in defining the concept on common grounds (Millar, Hind, & Magala, 2012). Another reason is that is not clearly defined who is responsible and how to handle environmental, social and governance issues. Those companies that are taking sustainability seriously have a sustainability agenda that links environmental, social and governmental responsibilities together often under variety of names such as corporate social responsibility, social responsibility and corporate citizenship (Mirvis, Googins, & Kinnicutt, 2010). There have been some critics in the literature regarding the use of the sustainability concept and other related names to describe the concept (Mirvis, Googins, & Kinnicutt, 2010;
Van Marrewijk, 2003). Some say it is only used to boost the company image and improve public relations instead of using it as a fundamental change in the company.
In those cases the implementation of the concept is not sufficient amongst all employees (Mirvis, Googins, & Kinnicutt, 2010). The concept has been for many hard to grasp and it means many things to different people. Therefore academics are constantly redefining the concept resulting in many competing definitions (Toman, 2013; Holliday, Schmidheiny, & Watts, 2002). The concept is filled with ambiguity, imprecision and at times contradictions (Toman, 2013; Godemann & Michelsen, 2011). Which only leaves business executives with more questions than answers when trying to implement it (Van Marrewijk, 2003). The general public has also had difficulties understanding the concept and often they interpret it as static, meaning always having to live in the same house, drive the same car and so on (Holliday, Schmidheiny, & Watts, 2002). Finneran (2013) says that the problem with sustainabiltiy lies in the meaning of the word, it does not indicate progress, innovation or creation of something better. In general corporate sustainability and corporate social responsibility refer to company activities inclusive of social and environmental concerns in business operations and engagement with stakeholders (Van Marrewijk, 2003).
CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111
2.3 The implementation of sustainability The implementation of sustainability depends a lot upon corporate culture and structure. It is about enhancing the company’s success, values and resilience for the long term (Holliday, Schmidheiny, & Watts, 2002). Organisational culture is a result of complex group learning process and it has been defined as a pattern of shared basic assumptions that the group learned as it solved its problems of external adaptation and internal integration, that has worked well enough to be considered valid and, therefore, to be taught to new members as the correct way you perceive, think, and feel in relation to those problems (Schein, 2006, p.17). The culture can only develop when the communication and interaction between individuals evolves (Brown, 2005). Sustainable development discussions are integrated into patterns of cultural perceptions and actions, where cultural differences have critical impact due to variations in views of environmental phenomena (Godemann & Michelsen, 2011).
The company values can be used as a cultural tool to implement sustainability (Morsing & Oswald, 2009). Brown (2005) explains how individuals need to be internally committed in order to act in accordance to sustainability principles. The stronger the culture is the more effective the organisation is (Schein, 2006).
Organisational culture is very important and in fact many studies have showed that failure in change processes can be traced to neglecting of organisational culture (Cameron & Quinn, 2011). Lyon (2004) explains the importance of understanding how company’s culture can affect sustainability performance. To maintain corporate sustainability management as simply ‘the right thing to do’ some companies rely on corporate culture and well-founded business logic (Steger, Ionescu-Somers, & Salzmann, 2007).
For successful implementation it is important that all employees are aware of sustainability values the company has chosen and that they are ready to dedicate these values to themselves. For this to happen the best way is to make sure that the employees are fully trained and considered as stakeholders (Esquer-Peralta, Velazquez, & Munguia, 2008). Researchers have come to the conclusion that individual values are the driving force for personal responsibility and therefore it is important that organisational values become part of employees’ personal values CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 (Mirvis, Googins, & Kinnicutt, 2010). Also organisations have to reflect on the way they do business and how decisions are made to succeed (Lyon, 2004).
Organisations have to undertake a true transformation in order to create their own path towards inclusive forms of sustainability (Edwards, 2009). Change of norms and values related to the environment and socioeconomic wellbeing is vital to successful transformation (Doppelt, 2010; Beer & Nohria, 2000). Unfortunately this transformation is often very difficult for organisations and therefore less likely undertaken (Edwards, 2009). It is important to collectively gather knowledge through interaction and communication in order to promote knowledge diffusion and change a particular practice (Newell et.al., 2003; Orlikowski, 1996).
2.4 Limitations of sustainability implementation Organisations often face barriers when implementing sustainability into their strategy and projects. Doppelt (2003) has identified seven types of these limitations that organisations often fail to overcome and he calls them blunders. He suggests solutions to them and points out that by becoming aware of these blunders reduces the risk of them taking place (Doppelt, Overcoming the Seven Sustainability Blunders, 2003).
The blunders are following:
• Patriarchal thinking
• The silo approach to environmental and socio-economic issues
• No clear vision of sustainability
• Confusion over cause and effect
• Lack of information
• Insufficient mechanisms for learning
• Failure to institutionalize sustainability 2.4.1 Patriarchal thinking Organisations often adopt a patriarchal thinking where employees only do what management orders. Therefore the employees abandon personal responsibility and CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 create a false sense of security in the organisation. The most important step to avoid this blunder is to disturb the organisational control mechanism in order to point it towards a new way of managing. Employees have to be open to new ways of thinking and taking actions and therefore the false sense of security needs to be undermined (Doppelt, Overcoming the Seven Sustainability Blunders, 2003). Project groups in project organisations have a certain degree of autonomy and that is usually higher than individuals have in non-project based organisations (Forsyth & Danisiewicz, 1985). High autonomy of project teams minimizes the likelihood of patriarchal thinking to take place (Doppelt, 2003) and it requires a steering group made up of department managers and project managers to integrate the project group into the organisation (Hovmark & Nordqvist, 1996).
2.4.2 The silo approach to environmental and socio-economic issues Executives often see sustainability as a special program that is not intergraded into the organisation’s or project’s processes (Doppelt, Overcoming the Seven Sustainability Blunders, 2003). Although Badiru (2010) explains how project sustainability indicates that sustainability exists in all aspects of the project. Doppelt (2003) calls the imperfection of project sustainability the silo approach to environmental and socioeconomic issues. He suggests that project teams in the organisation should be mixed up in order to bring fresh perspective and new ideas to the table, this requires involvement of people from every function of the organisation and key stakeholders.
2.4.3 No clear vision of sustainability No clear vision of sustainability is Doppelt’s (2003) third blunder and often it reflects in organisations having a negative vision that focuses on what not to do. That does not go hand in hand with sustainability and depresses human motivation. The alternation of organisational goals towards sustainability is Doppelt’s (2003) advice and he recommends backcasting in order to do so. Backcasting is a tool used in strategic planning for sustainability. The main ideology behind it is to generate a desirable future and from there look to the present and find ways to move to the desired future by using strategy, pathways and planning (Vergragt & Quist, 2011). The ideas produced with backcasting are often perceived as a political standpoint and therefore they loose their value (Dreborg, 1996). It is also vital in the vision creation process CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 that many employees are involved in the process, that way it is more likely that they will understand and incorporate it better (Verhulst & Boks, 2012; Lewis et.al., 2006).
2.4.4 Confusion over cause and effect The fourth blunder is confusion over cause and effect where the main focus is usually on the symptoms of sustainability challenges instead of designing out root causes.
Organisations spend a lot of money on mitigations of emissions and discharges when they should be focusing on the causes of these results (Doppelt, Overcoming the Seven Sustainability Blunders, 2003). Hart & Milstein (1999) point out that addressing pollution to minimize resources use and to improve community and stakeholder relations are just superficial actions that do not conduct to a sustainable organisation. In order for organisations to focus on the cause not the effect Doppelt (2003) suggest that new operational and governance strategies be implemented.