Article #179 Why Capital Project Owners should Avoid Investing in Green Elephant Projects?

Organizations that invest in capital projects understand that their growth and success depend on selecting the right projects and delivering those projects right from the first time. Selecting the right projects would usually depend on multiple criteria that a project owner will use to score the attractiveness of the project investment under consideration. Those criteria would usually include return on investment, risk exposure, and alignment with strategic objectives among others for which each could have a different weight to show its importance. Some of the widely used selection criteria include:

  • Will the project bring additional revenue to the business?
  • Will the project bring quality improvement to the business?
  • Will the project help the business expand into new markets?
  • Will the project generate cost reductions?
  • Will the project expand the current customer base?
  • Will the project reduce risks to the business?
  • Will the project reduce time to market or cycle times?
  • Will the project increase customer satisfaction?
  • Will the project increase ROI (return on investment)?
  • Will the project represent a change in NPV (net present value)?
  • Will the project increase IRR (internal rate of return)?

This formal approach of appraising and selecting projects has helped many project owners to avoid selecting what is known as White Elephant projects. Those are the projects that cost a lot to build but which their owner cannot dispose of and whose cost, particularly that of operation and maintenance, is out of proportion to the value it brings to the organization.

Nevertheless, the current growing demand for environment-friendly projects could result in the creation of another type of project, Green Elephant projects. Those are the wrongly selected environment-friendly projects that organizations have decided to invest in. Today we are seeing many of those wrong environment-friendly projects that not only depend on receiving government subsidies to build but can only sustain their operation and maintenance if they continue receiving those subsidies to offset their high cost of maintenance and operation. Those projects will not only add financial pressure on government agencies and other donor organizations but will result in losing the opportunity to invest in other viable and attractive projects due to the lack of available funding to invest.

It was said that the term While Elephant derives from the story that the kings of Siam, now Thailand, were accustomed to making a present of one of those White Elephants to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious, to ruin the recipient by the cost of its maintenance. Having Green Elephant projects could have the same damaging impact on organizations and countries that fail in selecting the right environment-friendly projects to invest in.

Therefore, the project selection criteria should focus on projects that will produce the products and services to bring our world to a sustainable path. Those projects should combine the criteria for assessing project viability from financial, strategic fit, and risk exposure along with the criteria for social, economic, and environmental attractiveness of a project. Only then we can expect projects to bring about an overall positive impact on our communities, cultures, societies, and environments and thus avoid having Green Elephant projects.

The P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management by GPM Global addresses those additional selection criteria. The standard addresses the three additional measurable elements of sustainability in addition to the standard measurable elements of a project which are: Social aspect (People), Environmental aspect (Planet), and Economical aspect (Profit).





The P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management is aligned with the Global Reporting Initiative (GRI) which is an international independent organization that helps businesses, governments, and other organizations understand and communicate the impact of business on critical sustainability issues such as climate change, human rights, corruption, and many others. GRI produces a comprehensive framework for the preparation of Sustainability Reports, which are widely used worldwide.


In addition, The P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management is aligned with the UN Global Compact’s ten principles in the areas of human rights, labor, the environment, and anti-corruption. Those ten principles enjoy universal consensus and are derived from The Universal Declaration of Human Rights, The International Labor Organization’s Declaration on Fundamental Principles and Rights at Work, The Rio Declaration on Environment and Development, and The United Nations Convention Against Corruption.

Organizations that are keen to avoid having Green Elephant projects must start adopting sustainable project selection criteria that will enforce the best practices when it comes to the Project Management aspect, Product Delivery aspect, Social aspect, Environmental aspect, and Financial aspect. The P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management provides a comprehensive as well as an integrated methodology for achieving this objective.









About the Authorfounder

Bassam Samman, PMP, PSP, EVP, GPM is a Senior Project Management Consultant with more than 35-year service record providing project management and controls services to over 100 projects with a total value of over US $5 Billion. Those projects included Commercial, Residential, Education, and Healthcare Buildings and Infrastructure, Entertainment and Shopping Malls, Oil and Gas Plants and Refineries, Telecommunication, and Information Technology projects. He is thoroughly experienced in complete project management including project management control systems, computerized project control software, claims analysis/prevention, risk analysis/management (contingency planning), design, supervision, training, and business development.

Bassam is a frequent speaker on topics relating to Project Management, Strategic Project Management, and Project Management Personal Skills. Over the past 35 years, he has lectured at more than 350 events and courses at different locations in the Middle East, North Africa, Europe, and South America. He has written more than 250 articles on project management and project management information systems that were featured in international and regional magazines and newspapers. He is a co-founder of the Project Management Institute- Arabian Gulf Chapter (PMI-AGC) and has served on its board of directors for more than 6 years. He is a certified Project Management Professional (PMP) from the Project Management Institute (PMI), a certified Planning and Scheduling Professional (PSP), an Earned Value Professional (EVP) from the American Association of Cost Engineers (AACE), and a Green Project Management (GPM).

Bassam holds a Master’s in Engineering Administration (Construction Management) with Faculty Commendation, from George Washington University, Washington, D.C., USA, Bachelor in Civil Engineering – from Kuwait University, Kuwait, and has attended many executive management programs at Harvard Business School, Boston, USA, and London Business School, London, UK.


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