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«Limitations of Sustainability Implementation amongst Project Managers Case study in an Icelandic energy company Master of Science Thesis in the ...»

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The formation of a profession is the creation of an occupational group that has specialized knowledge and has autonomy from its organisations and clients (Forsyth & Danisiewicz, 1985). In construction projects the involvement of interactions between professionals are often quite complicated (Bresnen et.al., 2004). This fits with Landsvirkjun’s division of Project Planning and Construction where all employees interviewed were engineers. Harris and Crane (2002) talk about how subcultures often hindrance the diffusion of sustainability-oriented culture. It was evident that most respondents described their role as distant from the company and that the company’s strategy was not relevant to them. Not much connection was between the project managers’ role and company’s strategy. Causing the success of the sustainability implementation into projects to be questioned.

Project based organisations often struggle to diffuse knowledge across the organisation (Lewis et.al., 2006) and one explanation for that is the high autonomy the project managers have. Decentralization of project teams is also mentioned in the literature as a cause for this difficulties and that partly applied to Landsvirkjun. The teams are situated in Reykjavík but the projects take place in the countrysite, therefore some of the team members have to travel weekly to the site and work from there. It can be argued that project managers in this particular department in Landsvirkjun CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 form their own subculture and therefore they talk about themselves and their projects as disconnected from the company. But fortunately some spoke like they were part of the organisation and had responsibilities towards its strategy.

5.3 No clear vision of sustainability Landsvirkjun’s strategy regarding sustainability was clear to few of the respondents and they emphasized on the importance of good communication with stakeholders and how that was the most important factor concerning sustainability.

Doppelt’s (2003) third blunder is no clear vision of sustainability and it reflects in organisations having a negative vision that focuses on what not to do. Although the participants did not express a negative vision it can be encountered that they did not have a clear view of the company’s vision. Some even said that the company was not working with the concept or there was no sustainability strategy in the company. The ambiguity of the sustainability concept probably plays a big role in the unclear vision of the company’s strategy.

“There is some discussion about sustainability in the company but I don’t think we have specific goals or vision” R4.

5.3.1 Ambiguity of the sustainability concept According to Mirvis et.al. (2010) and Searcy (2009) one of the main problems is the ambiguity of the sustainability concept and lack of common definition within each company. Another problem related to the ambiguity of the concept is that companies are using many terms to express sustainability and that makes common understanding harder to get (Mirvis et.al., 2010; Van Marrewijk, 2003). This was strongly reflected in the interviews and the respondents were very insecure about answering questions that were phrased with the sustainability term. The respondents either said they knew nothing about sustainability, did not remember the definition or the concept was too confusing. This shows that employees felt unease when talking about the concept and that explains why they gave excuses before attempting to describe it. The need for CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 preparation was quite common with the respondents and often they expressed their lack of preparation for the interview. It repeatedly came up when the sustainability concept was first discussed. Some respondent differentiated between corporate social responsibility and sustainability. One respondent specially indicated that there was a fundamental difference between the two and that Landsvirkjun was clearly not working with sustainability only corporate social responsibility.

“I know nothing about sustainability...but I understand the concept” R2.

“Landsvirkjun is working a lot with the concept but I should have prepared myself and goggled it...” R3.

Dopplet’s tool does not give a perfect view of the failures organisations face when implementing sustainability into their corporate culture and projects. According to Millar et.al. (2012) even committed companies have difficulties in defining the concept on common grounds. Therefore it is important for companies to emphasize on having a clear and commonly understood definition of the term in order to successfully implemented it into their organisations. Thus Dopplet’s tool could be modified in a way that would differentiate between unclear sustainability vision and ambiguity of the sustainability concept. Clarification of the sustainability concept would deepen the understanding of the limitations organisations face when implementing sustainability. Languages barriers could also play a role in the confusion of the concept. Due to risk of languages barriers the researcher used the English word sustainability and the Icelandic translation ‘sjálfbærni’ synchronously in the interviews to enable the respondents to have a clearer meaning of the concept.

According to Siebert (2011) it is important to learn to express sustainability with words because the boundaries of our languages points to the boundaries of our world.





The word ‘sjálfbærni’ [e. sustainability] is a neologism in the Icelandic language (Jónsson, 2001) and that can be a partial explanation for the ambiguity of the sustainability concept in this case study. Fortunately a few participants explained the concept without showing signs of ambiguity like R1 did.

CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 “It is Landsvirkjun's role, and we say that our role is to maximize the culmination of the resources that we are trusted for with sustainability as a guiding light. We interpret it as we don't want to ruin the natural resources for coming generations, in order for it to be used sustainably”.

5.4 Confusion over cause and effect Doppelt’s (2003) fourth blunder, confusion over cause and effect, was not mirrored strongly in the interviews and in fact most respondents showed understanding of cause and effect.

"We need measurements to measure [CO2 emission] and we are working on it...We have virtual communication equipment and that is one part of reducing CO2 emissions...We try to reduce waste that goes to landfill, all waste is sorted" R4.

Trace of confusion was reflected in the interviews when talking about Landsvirkjun’s goal of becoming a carbon neutral company. The respondents talked about the mitigation actions the company is taking, like those actions would reduce the carbon emission the company produces and not just a way to make up for the emission and therefore reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

But most project managers talked about the mitigations actions as a compromise for the company’s pollution and they saw it as the company’s effort to try to make up for the environmental effects it was causing. Things like forestry, cultivating land and recycling were often mentioned in the interviews.

5.5 Lack of information The employees often talked about the importance of having open and transparent communications with stakeholders. The interviews reflected the great weight the company puts on good and transparent communication with stakeholders. The respondents made a lot of effort in ensuring that all stakeholders were involved or at CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 least had the chance to get the information they wanted on each project. Almost everyone said in some way like R2 said;

“There are no secrets here.” Many also mentioned previous projects where communication with stakeholders did not go so well and the people against their actions used propaganda to get their points across. The project managers profoundly want to avoid those kinds of scenarios.

Therefore they put a great emphasize on honest and open communications for the wellbeing of their projects and the company image. On the other hand it seems the project managers were not completely involved in all aspects of the company’s strategy and it can be concluded that the company is not communicating effectively

the purpose and strategy of their sustainability efforts, R6 said:

“I don’t know [what Landsvirkjun is doing to fulfil the carbon neutral goal].” Doppelt (2003) describes it as lack of information and it is often seen in project based organisations. Project divisions make it difficult to have unified strategy and for knowledge to be diffused across projects (Newell et.al., 2003). Lewis et.al. (2003) emphasize on the importance of constantly communicating the messages across to employees with structured dialogue in order to make the members feel more involved in the implementation process. Landsvirkjun is using arts and their website to communicate their strategy to employees as well as it was mentioned in some interviews that everyone were encouraged to attend meetings and conferences.

“We are a part of FESTU (Icelandic Center for Corporate Social Responsibility) and everyone is encouraged to attend those meetings” R1.

CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111

5.6 Insufficient mechanisms for learning None of the project managers felt they got some training in sustainable thinking or issues related to sustainability. But they all mentioned the weekly and monthly inhouse meetings about various topics where sustainability could be one of the themes.

"I don't think people get any formal training in it [sustainability]" R1.

“No we don’t get any training but we have specialists in this area [sustainability] and they get training” R3.

Insufficient mechanisms for learning is Doppelt’s (2003) explanation to incompetent organisational learning and employees motivation to overcome barriers to change. He suggest that the organisation must alter their feedback and learning mechanisms so that employees and stakeholders are motivated to develop their skills, knowledge and understanding. Project managers do not get a formal training in thinking about sustainability although it is suggest it to be the best way to implement sustainability successfully (Esquer-Peralta, Velazquez, & Munguia, 2008; Cordano, Ellis, & Scherer, 2003). The company is on the other hand doing some things to promote sustainability, such as changing decision making processes to fit better with sustainable thinking (Tingström, Swanström, & Karlsson, 2006).

“The company is looking at stage-gate method” R4.

“We have been developing a decision-making method and we try not to use the BOGSAT method (Bunch Of Old Guys Sitting Around a Table) although it is a method usually practiced” R8.

According to Hersh (1999) good decisions makers are flexible and have the ability to change the problem constrains instead of selecting an alternative from a number of poor options. This is also in line with sustainable decision making cause it allows CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 decision makers to explore options that could be more suitable for the project and likelier be more sustainable. This relates to the employees ability to learn and if they have the autonomy from the organisation to approach decision making in that way.

“I take my proposal to my boss and together we present it to the board, which takes the decision...therefore my authority to take decisions is very clear" R3.

The participants highlighted how the meeting culture in the company affects how decisions are taken. They also mentioned how the working space has influences in this matter and the people who were sitting at an open space found that there were fewer meetings and better communications. Decisions are often taken on the run or by the coffee machine.

“Decisions are made after discussing the topic for a while – voting is never an option” R6.

5.7 Failure to institutionalize sustainability “We think unconsciously according to these [sustainability] values” R2.

This sentence was very descriptive for project managers attitude in the interviews, they talked like sustainability was part of their daily routine although they did not recognize it to be sustainability, often they would rather recognize it as common sense than sustainability;

“We are looking at all three factors [social, environmental and economical] because it is common sense not because of sustainability” R4.

Therefore it can be concluded that sustainability is in a way rooted in the project managers’ daily routine although they do not recognize it as sustainability.

CHALMERS, Civil and Environmental Engineering, Master’s Thesis 2014:111 “I think managers are aware of it [sustainability goals] but the general employee is not thinking about it a lot, I think" R3.

Doppelt’s (2003) fifth blunder is the failure to institutionalize sustainability and it is about the successful implementation of sustainability-based thinking into everyday processes, policies and culture. One of main difficulties with the implementation of sustainability is the problem of how humans think, human values and perceptions might not be in line with sustainability values (Millar et.al., 2012; Marshall et.al., 2011; Brown, 2005). Doppelt (2003) recommends that parameters be adjusted by aligning systems and structures with sustainability. This is a continuous process and the organisation needs to incorporate new ways of thinking and acting in how it does business. It can be concluded that sustainability thinking is in a way part of the company culture. The employees generally talked about how proud they were working for a company like Landsvirkjun that is environmentally friendly and emphasizes on sustainability. Their high personal ambition in this area was often discussed as well. Brown (2005) says that individuals have to be internally committed in order to follow sustainability principles. Therefore it can be assumed that employees with high personal ambition regarding sustainability are likelier to act on the company’s strategy regarding sustainability.



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