Drivers Or Why Implement Sustainability Accounting Essay


Since the humanity creation, the concerns of the man evolved from the most primary needs to an awareness and a collective reflection for the improvement and the conservation of its environment. In sight of the fast evolution of these last decades, the interest to protect the nature reserves is appeared as an obvious fact. Indeed, pollution grounds, depletion of renewable resources and overconsumption of renewable are examples of the major stakes with which the humanity is confronted. We haven't more time left to develop our land or to create new spaces so we have to deal with the space and environment we have. "Sustainability" must be a response to these challenges (Goodland, 1995)1. But sustainability is not only about preserving the stock of natural assets and resources to maintain the actual level of life but also increasing this level, trying to abrogate current inequality over the world (Anand and Sen, 2000)2. This essay tries to define the drivers for sustainability and to give some tools and benefice to implement sustainability in project and project management.

Definition of sustainability

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To be able to define drivers, methods of implementation or benefice about sustainability, the first step is to give an available and exhaustive definition of sustainability. This task can be hard because of the different interpretation of this word by different users coming from different sectors of activities (Sikdar, 2012)3. An accepted definition was given by the World Commission on Environment and Development's (1987)4: "Development that meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs." Solow (1991)5 defined sustainability as "un obligation or injunction to conduct ourselves so that we leave to the future the options and the capacity to be as well-off as we are, not to satisfy ourselves by impoverishing our successors" involving the notion of action and obligation.

However, it is possible to make discernment between sustainability and sustainable development. Sustainability refers for most of people to a stagnating concept consisting on preserving the resources and well-being from present to future generation, but other analysts perceive sustainability as a development in a suitable way (Marsden, 2000; Hart and Milstein, 2003)6,7. In all case, if development doesn't endanger the present stability, sustainable development can be an integral part of sustainability (Aras and Crowter, 2008)8.

Sustainability can be considered in three systems that are as follow: environmental sustainability (ES), social sustainability (SS) and economic (or financial) sustainability (FS). ES refer to the notion of natural capital and raw materials. It tries to improve human well-being while maintaining resources for future generation, controlling excessive waste and keeping down climate change. SS refer to a notion achieved only by developed civil society. More than reducing poverty and redistributing wealth, SS tries to give values and cohesions such as community, solidarity or humility in order to improve human development. Finally, FS can be view as the maintenance of capital with the purpose of long-term prosperity. FS thing in money terms and involves the notion of renewable and un-renewable resources (Goodland, 1995; Khalili, 2011)1,9. It appears clearly than these three principles are linked with one another (Elkington, 1998)10.


Drivers of sustainability:

Considering the three dimensions of sustainability which were discussed earlier, society is evolving and if we don't change the way how this evolution takes place, its needs will exceed the capacity of the earth (, no date)11. Climate changes, increase of population or resources depletion are consequences of this evolution and can be seen as drivers for sustainability (Maltzman and Shirley, 2001)12. An explanation of these drivers is presented below.

A driver for environmental sustainability: Climate change. It is indisputable that climate system is warming increasingly day after day. We already notice, on the scale of the globe, an increase of the average temperatures of the atmosphere and the ocean, a massive melting snow and polar ice and a rise of the average level of the seas. A multitude of natural ecosystems are impacted by the regional climate change, in particular by the increase of the temperatures. Regional climate changes starts to have other effects on the natural and human environment (mortality in Europe due to high temperature, perturbation on forest exploitations due to fires or parasites…). However, a large part of these effects are difficult to separate due to adaptation and non-climatic factors (Dessler, 2012)13.

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A large number of studies agree to say that the human activity is the main cause of the climatic evolution (Burroughs, 2001)14. Since the preindustrial period, a growth of 70% of GHG emission was affected to human activities (study looking between 1970 and 2004). If current policies do not reinforce mitigation, global GHG emissions will continue to increase in the next generations. If this augmentation appears, it is very likely that climate change will be more important than those observed during the twentieth century. This change can be felt by its negative impacts on water, ecosystem, food production or health and can result on a decrease in the overall well-being (IPCC, 2007)15.

A driver for social sustainability: Population increase. Frideman (2009)16 said that "the increase in population in the next 40 years is equal to the earth's population itself in the year 1950". According with demographic studies, the actual population is around 7 billion people and will increase to 10.1 around 2100. But this increase of population is worrisome because of its exponentially (Figure 1)17. Indeed, we entered in a period of unprecedented development (ONU, 2011)18. This development highlights the eventual problems for sustainability because population growths in regions like Asia or Africa where the level of life is low (low life expectancy, high mortality in adults as in children…). So how we can act presently to allocate wealth if the number of people in need is increasing days after days? (INED, 2012)19 it's easy to understand than the social aspect of sustainability joined the environmental and economic aspects in the way that "number of people" and "global rate of consumption" are proportional. Green innovation are necessary to give a response to this challenges, even for palliate to the first necessities. It appears clearly than project manager have to identify this innovations and implement them in project in order to improved global welfare (Maltzman ad Shirley, 2011)12.

Figure 1: population growth adapted from Biraben (2003)17

A driver for economic sustainability: Resources depletion vs Nations developing. As stated above, Hicks20 said in 1946 than value of capital is "an amount one can consume during a period and still be as well off at the end of this period". This definition is still sound and now corresponds to what is called economic sustainability. As presented previously, economy and population have suffered from a not mastered growth and it's easy to understand than if population increase (and it will be the case) and raw resources remain unchanged, even decrease, humanity will be faced to a catastrophic global crisis (Anand and Sen, 2000)2. Society must find solution to address these issues by changing is needs or finding substitute to them. So project and project managers have to thinks in terms of preserve first necessities like food or water, and on a largest scale, avoid pollutions like ground, air or water (Maltzman and Shirley, 2011)12.

As we seen bellow, implementing sustainability is not any more a choice but a necessity to improve and maintained global welfare. In that way, economic, environmental and social sustainability are principals' driver to incorporate sustainability into global behaviours, even in project and project management. But how it is possible to improve prosperity without put upcoming generations' life in danger?


According to Cescau (2007)21 the agenda of sustainability and corporate responsibility is becoming (besides being a key point for business strategy) a critical driver for business growth. The future success or failure of the companies during the next generation depends on how well and how quick they will respond to this agenda. But the question is: if you are project manager, what actions you would put in place for integrated sustainability successfully? (Silvius et all, 2012)22 A range of approaches are presented below.

To be incorporated, sustainability must be implemented through strategy and organization (looking at missions, culture geography, customers…). Implementation consists on aligning organization with objectives, articulating trade-off to managers and continually strengthening these objectives through the project life cycle and organization. There are two ways to implement sustainability in project and project management. First, the soft way, consist to create culture in companies to ensure that employees become aware of the importance to implement sustainability in hour's decision making. Second, the hard way, consist to implement systems like compensations, incentives and performance evaluations using social and environmental indicators, or removing organizational structure to signal a commitment to sustainability. The right mix between soft and hard system depend on the nature of the impact (Epstein, 2008)23.

Corporate governance:

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Implementing sustainability in project and project management starts with the top of the company. More than being drivers, board of direction and seniors managers must be leaders in sustainability implementation. So, if sustainability is considered on a company's level, the issues are close in concept from the global theory. In fact, sustainability in companies can be seen as input and output measurement, looking at what resources are consumed and what resources can be regenerated (Barnard, 2011; Epstein, 2008)23, 24.

To most understand the notion of sustainable governance, it's important to have a well understanding of what is corporate governance. It's possible to define it as a way for companies to accomplish corporate objectives and strategies. Moral governance can be recognized through some principles which are transparency, accountability, responsibility and fairness, directly linked with a corporate social responsibility (Smerdon, 2007)25. Good corporate governance has to look at the issues of sustainability dealing with the three principles. But the limit of this analyse is than a consequent number of companies meet difficulties to define and understand the relationship between internal governance and the different aspect of sustainability. However, many improvements were noted year after year and it appeared that most companies understand the relationship between sustainability and good governance, the more they were able to meet the challenges that they faced (Aras and Crowther, 2008; Michelon and Parbonetti, 2012)8, 26.

To be sustainable, companies have to incorporate the environmental and social issues in their agenda. There is no real model of sustainable governance but every company have to build its own behaviour focussing on its motivation and objectives, trying to approach at most to a corporate social responsibility. Furthermore, to analysing if the governance of a company is sustainable, we have to look for four equal aspects: social influence, environmental impact, organisational culture and finance. Organisational performance can be evaluate focusing on internal /external aspects and short/long term vision. This examination, which highlight positive as well as negative, can be resumed in the matrix bellow (Aras and Crowther, 2008)8.

Figure 2: Model of sustainable development adapted from Aras and Crowther (2008)8

Looking at the matrix below, it's easy to understand that it can be hard to take in consideration internal and external factor as well as short and long terms vision in a way to manage competing stakeholders interest and improving the three principles of sustainability (Epstein, 2008)23.

Implementation in project and project management:

First at all, it is necessary to understand the notion of project management. Through initiating, planning, executing, monitoring, controlling and closing phases of a project, a project manager use his knowledge, skills, tools and techniques to address the required issues of this project. So managing a project consist of identifying demands, considering stakeholders interests, needs and values, manage constraints as scope, quality, budget, schedules or risks and all this in the way of achieving successfully the project (PMI, 2008)24.

So Project manager has to implement sustainability in all steps of the project through the Project Life Cycle. But it must focus on specific aspects in all the different steps of PM processes. For example, to implement SD in the initiative phase of a project, PM must focus on scope. For planning phase, he must look on objectives. For executing phase, PM needs to act on core processes. For controlling phases, he act more on facilitating processes and for closing phase, he must look as well on objectives than on facilitating process. The PM have to look on project, assess and product life cycle. (Labuschagne and Brent, 2006)28.

Sometimes, it can be hard to make trade-off between financial, environmental and social performance and the response from stakeholders to this trade-off can be significantly uncertain. There are no standard for implementing sustainability in project and project management, trade-off and cost for implementation are changing and long terms profits or benefits are difficult to evaluate. For these reasons, a lot of companies encounter difficulties to implementing sustainability in the same time than other strategic initiatives (Epstein 2008)23.

Implementing sustainability in project can be started during the initiative phase. For example, stakeholders can define green objectives to achieve during the project life cycle. It's also possible to attribute a percentage of the budget dedicated to improve the project in term of sustainability. But project need to be looked in a sustainable way at all the stapes of its realisation, making a SMARTER project. So sustainability must be implemented in planning, processes, cost, quality, risk and value phases of a project (Maltzman and Shirley, 2011)12.

Assessing sustainability:

Epstein (2008)23 said that "It is only through the identification, measurement and management of sustainability impacts than social, environmental and financial performances can be improved and value created".

According to Silvius and Schipper (2010)29, sustainability can be assessed through four levels. The first level is related to resources and its impact on sustainability. Objective consists on conserving the same functionality of the resource and in the same time improving its sustainability performance. One example of this improvement is utilisation of electrics cars instead of mechanics. Acting on business process related to resources is part of the second level. Taking in consideration and exclude the origin of a non-sustainable effect is the main action of this step. For instance, it's possible to limit the displacement of its employees by optimising a service management process, like using online conference tool instead of traveling to assist to a meeting. Next level focus on business model, namely how products or services can be delivered. For instance, on-line shop allows customers to order online and consequently reduce it travels. Last level takes in consideration the product or service independently, just looking how it can help sustainability by itself. For instance a product that, in addition to its duties, will permit children to learn more about sustainability.

Framework for implementing social and economic sustainability:

Project manager implement social and economic sustainability by improving social performance. It take in consideration both drivers and impacts of this performance. This operation consist to modify organizational culture and also process in order to boost social and financial performance. This modification relies on frameworks as ISO 14001. An example of frameworks composed by 5 components linked one another is presented in the picture below:

Figure 3: Drivers for sustainability and financial performance adapted from Epstein and Roy (2001)30

Even if companies have to make some adaptation to make this framework workable, they can improve future corporate activities by providing leadership.

This framework starts through the governance of the company. In fact, corporate and business strategy try to take in consideration impacts and issues on sustainability performance and take decisions based on this knowledge (see governance part). Business strategy refers for example to the identification of the keys stakeholders, to identifying the social, environmental and financial issues and to taking in consideration externals influences (political, customers…).

It's possible to measuring impacts on sustainability performances using different tools and techniques as, for instance, benchmarking or studies through Project Life Cycle.

Once impacts analysed, three "sustainability actions" have to be implemented. The first one consists to formulate a sustainability strategy. It's necessary to incorporate company's goals, values and commitment in strategy and thus fixe target to improve SP. The second one consists to developing plans and programs through stakeholders or directly through changing its way of doing business. The implementation occurs in allocating more resources to a particular field (R&D, new technologies…), improving marketing promotion of SP (communication, assess public opinion…) or broadcasting external reports. The final action consists to designing appropriate structure and managing systems using Environmental Management System (EMS). Indeed, the risks and obligations have to be known and managed in a way to improve SP. Implementation and effectiveness are quantified and measured using sustainability keys performance indicators. These indicators are presented below (Epstein and Roy, 2001; Weybrecht, 2010)30, 31.

Sustainability indicators:

You can find in the building sector more than seventy tools to analyse and classify construction project. These tools are based on sustainable indicators criteria but stay uncertain; indeed, diversity of project makes indicators subjective and disputable. Some organisations try to put more clarity in this process. For example, the International Organisation of Standardisation tries to homogenize these criteria indicators to deliver a valid certification (Fernandez and Rodrigez, 2010)32. This problem is recurrent in most of the sectors and the question of how to define valid sustainable criteria indicator requires further investigations.

However, it's possible to have an overview of some methods to measure performance in project and project management. For instance, comparison between targets and actual SP is an essential technic for measuring it. To provide strategic advantage, stakeholders' analysis and relationship is a key point in the process. Dividing stakeholders in groups (as shareholders, staff, suppliers…), specifics indicators can be choose for each target group; for example the staff examination can be measured by indicators as job security, employees satisfaction, rate of wages… All these metrics give a concrete measure of sustainability performance in companies (Epstein and Roy, 2001)30.


To implement sustainability, the classics decision making tools can be adapted to incorporate sustainability aspects. Pareto analysis, Force Field or Cost-Benefits analysis can become sustainable tools if companies adapt them in a sustainable way. For instance, the Cost-Benefits analysis can incorporate "green cost and benefits" as input for its analysis (energy saving…). Using this tools focusing on sustainable aspect can help managers to take day-to-day decisions-making. A large number of tools looking on regulation, ethics, morale and values are created and adapted to help managers in decision-making process (Farell, 1999; Maltzman and Shirley, 2011; Sekerka and Stimel, 2012)12, 33, 34.

Sustainability risks management: Implementation and benefits.

Currently, invest from companies in planning financial aftermath of environmental casualties stay very low nay unexciting. However, a lot of companies have to pay cash these consequences because of the non-adapted insurance related to it. It is how company have to implement sustainability management in the risk analysis process at all levels. An example of sustainable process management risk related to environmental sustainability is presented below:

Figure 4: The environmental risk management adapted from Anderson and Anderson (2009)35

Managing successfully is risk taking in consideration social and environmental aspects can avoid lawsuits and losses of money. But sustainability risk management involve the notion of long-term profits. Indeed, companies invest to prevent risks but the impact of these risks wills occur during the next generation. It is one of the main reason than only few companies are taking this risks in consideration, prioritizing shorts terms investments (Anderson and Anderson, 2009)35.

But how it is possible to improve prosperity without put upcoming generations' life in danger? Day after day, companies recognized the necessity to incorporate sustainability culture through their governance, organisation, communication, annual report and actions. This implementation is drove by internal factors as management commitment but also by financial interest in greater revenues and lower costs.

Understanding of stakeholders input and engagement is a key in sustainability management. Impact or relationship must be understood because they have a potential impact on long-term corporate profitability and company dynamic. Some benefits have already been mentioned before but we can explain more concretely on what it is profitable for company to implement sustainability. Indeed, it's a good business decision in the way than managing sustainability can avoid penalties or create primes (for example, some laws exempt big companies in energy sector if they invest money for helping people to make thermic improvement) but can also reduce legal costs, improve productivity (less inspection give more time for improving other tasks), avoid potential closure of operations and give a positive image and reputation of the company which will result in positive effect on business (Brackman and Rivera, 2011; Epstein, 2008; Pires, 1998)23, 36, 37.


This essay was trying to give an overview of the why and how incorporate sustainability in project and project management. All reasons to do it are and will be more and more available. The tools presented below are a good started to implement sustainability but people, companies and society need to make investment to improve sustainability and becoming more greener days after days. The long term profitability and well-being for everybody repose on who well society, companies, project and people will respond to this key challenge. Future will tell-us if Society is ready for that.