Project Sustainability Management for design-build projects



Peter Boswell, Sustainable Development Task Force, General Manager, International Federation of Consulting Engineers (FIDIC), Geneva, Switzerland


With designers of infrastructure being held financially accountable for adverse environmental impacts, the construction industry came to be subject to much environmental regulation aimed at the safety of the objects constructed and the construction work involved, land use planning, and environmental protection. However, owing to an increasing number of industrial accidents it was clear that regulatory control  instruments were not preventing disasters. Various voluntary environmental management tools were developed, notably the ISO 14001 International Environmental Management (EMS) standard, first issued in 1996, that was designed to help organisations set up an environmental programme. Environmental management and assessment are today integrated contractually into construction projects, together with quality assurance.

By the late-1990’s, most industry sectors realised that socioeconomic issues required more attention to keep them in balance. Stakeholder concerns about sustainability were also becoming a strong force in the marketplace, along with regulation and the accompanying national strategies and action plans, notably national and local Agenda 21 processes. Today, organisations and individuals often go beyond current regulations and the conventional boundaries of business responsibility in changing the way they manage their operations and infrastructure investments.

Project Sustainability Management

Achieving sustainable development will be a long journey, spanning many decades. It requires a complete overhaul of our existing systems, technologies and infrastructure in a manner that is workable in both developed and less-developed countries. Progress will be made incrementally, project-by-project, driven by project owners applying sustainable approaches to individual projects on a systematic basis through the well-established processes used to deliver projects. The integration of socialeconomic considerations into project delivery is therefore a natural development of the construction industry’s commitment to quality and environmental management.

Project owners and stakeholders generally recognise that sound project delivery combines financial, environmental and social factors with technical feasibility. They are aware of emerging trends and market drivers and of the need to interpret and integrate proposed legislation and policies that affect the built and natural environment. Unfortunately, they have also been exposed to a confusing array of approaches because, in the absence of definitive guidance, many non-governmental organisations and public interest groups have applied their own notions, based on their interests.

Approaches to integrating sustainability into projects must ensure that project procurement and delivery address a broad range of issues such as stakeholder interaction, conflict of interest and legitimacy, the roles of indicators and experts, how the project scope relates to the location of key stakeholders, and ways to measure a genuine contribution to sustainable development through a clear connection between the overall goals of sustainable development and the projects that move society toward the goals.

FIDIC’s Project Sustainability Management (PSM) system is based on the concept that four key principles must be applied in order to drive procurement and project delivery towards sustainable outcomes. The PSM principles are:

• Alignment: Use of a core set of project indicators traceable to Agenda 21 to align project goals with global goals, while factoring in local conditions (“align globally; adjust locally”)

• Improvement: Continuously improve ways to mitigate resource consumption by seeking new knowledge and information on performance (“raise the bar”)

• Education: Trust and engage stakeholders and build their capacity to identify issues, include local values and communicate their experience (“educate, and be educated”)

• Innovation: Anticipate the future and enable information by opening organisational borders and reward information sharing (“create an environment for innovation”)

Project delivery

Constructing or refurbishing infrastructure usually represents a major investment for an owner. Since the investment is motivated by market demands, it is expected to satisfy objectives specified by the owner and relevant regulations. Most investments are nonspeculative, so they are custom made in consultation with the owner. Project delivery will involve obtaining services from both third parties and in-house providers, in conformance with applicable laws and regulations. It will span the whole project cycle, from identification of needs through to the end of a services contract or the end of the useful life of an asset. Solutions at various phases are integrated to obtain the final outcome.


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