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Collaborate to succeed on net-zero, expert urges public and private sector

Greater collaboration is needed across public and private sector when it comes to delivering major projects if net-zero ambitions are to be realised, a leading academic has claimed following new research.

Dr Godawatte Arachchige Gimhan Rathnagee Godawatte (pictured) is the co-author of a new research report into the challenges and strategies for project professionals in the delivery of major infrastructure projects in the UK. The research, funded by Association for Project Management (APM), looks at strategies and actions that enable successful delivery of major projects aligned with net-zero pledges over the next decades.

The UK is committed to reaching net-zero by 2050, meaning total greenhouse gas emissions would be equal to the emissions removed from the atmosphere, in order to limit the effects of climate change. The report examines the importance of major projects and programmes in developing the national infrastructure that will enable the UK to achieve its net-zero goals.

The report recommends actions for project sponsors and professionals, actions to be taken at project level, and actions for public clients and local authorities. These include:

  • Understanding the drivers of carbon within organisations with large portfolios of capital projects.
  • Integrating carbon mitigation as a key project benefit from the onset and ensure this is measured and monitored post-project.
  • Taking steps to facilitate the integration of carbon reduction across the project life cycle (the report identifies 12 actions at project-level and two actions at organisational level)

Dr Godawatte told APM that he is optimistic that the report’s recommendations will be adopted among larger organisations typically associated with delivering large-scale projects and programmes, but he also highlighted the importance of adoption among small and medium enterprises that will also be involved in projects and programmes with net-zero implications. He called for greater collaboration across private, public and third sector to ensure that organisations of all sizes can make changes to their project management practices that will support net-zero.

“Collaboration is the most important thing going forward,” he said. “I just don’t think that either the public sector or private sector can do this on their own. The third sector [non-governmental and non-profit-making organisations such as charities and educational institutions] may also need to be involved.”

Dr Godawatte cited the London 2012 Olympic Games as a positive example of such collaboration in a major project, saying: “There was a number of contractors and sub-contractors in that project, but the overall direction came from the client organisation.

“Of course, that was a huge megaproject. When clients are ready to invest a huge amount of money, setting these targets and meeting them becomes easier because they have that incentive and that resource. For smaller-scale projects, that could be a barrier.

“For those SMEs that are just trying to survive, they will need support from public sector and other private sector organisations. One way to overcome this is through training. The public sector can work with the private sector to share best practice examples, develop toolkits and deliver training sessions for SMEs.”

Researchers surprise by findings

Another point highlighted in the research is the importance of organisations enhancing the capability of major programme planning and delivery. The “accidental project manager” – i.e. the phenomenon of someone in a non-project role being assigned to lead a project – is identified as a persistent issue within the public sector.

Dr Godawatte said this prevalence surprised him because of the importance of having qualified project professionals working on projects of all types. He added that the approach of relying on non-qualified project managers could add to the time it takes for the UK to achieve net-zero, as well as incurring additional financial costs.

“If you don’t have the right people looking after your programmes, that will have huge time implications,” he explained. “And of course that translates to financial implications as well.”

Dr Godawatte said he was also surprised that many senior project professionals he interviewed during the course of the research knew little about net-zero and the associated targets. The research found that formal and informal training in carbon literacy is pivotal.

“That was also a bit surprising because everyone is talking about net-zero, but there are a lot of senior leaders within project management who have no clue.” he said. “That shows there is a big need for training, even for people in leadership positions. They need to go through the right training process to address net-zero and wider climate change issues.”

  • APM’s latest research report, Are we ready for net-zero in project management? The challenges and strategies for project professionals in the delivery of UK major projects, is available to download now.


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