Following the release last week of Tony Juniper's new book 'What has nature ever done for us?', I have been reflecting on this question from a project management perspective. Here I argue that project managers should consider the contribution of the natural environment to projects, alongside the projects impact on nature. In doing so project managers can reduce risk, increase efficiently and gain competitive advantage. 

The issue of the value of the natural environment to the economy has been debated for many years, however recently the topic seems to have undergone something of a revival. In the UK much of this debate stems comments over the last year by the UK Chancellor of the Exchequer George Osbourne that suggest that environmental sustainability and economic growth are not compatible. The truth we simply cannot exist as a species and as a society let alone an economy without the services that the natural environment provides. A classic example of this relationship is shown in the Figure below where the economy is seen as a subset of society and the environment and is dependent upon them. AS James Lovelock reminds us, human society depends on the environment although in contrast the environment would continue without society...


 
 
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Energy Policy is a key research area of mine. Specifically I am interested in the development of decentralised, low carbon, community focussed energy systems as a counter to the inherent vulnerability of conventional energy systems to social, economic and environmental shocks.As part of my research into this subject, I co-authored a paper, published in the journal Energy Policy, with Dr. Geoff O'Brien from the department of Geography and Environmental Management, Northumbria Univeristy. Here I sum up our main points and findings...

Traditionally, energy system vulnerability has been viewed in terms of technical failure, accidents or operator errors, however, it is increasingly recognised that vulnerability is multi-dimensional and influenced by a wide range of interacting factors such as system complexity, resource availability and constraints, diversity of energy supply and political disruptions. Such factors typify conventional fossil fuel sources of energy, in particular though the problem of diminishing accessible, secure and economically viable reserves and the need to reduce CO2 emissions. The former manifests itself in increased fuel cost, the latter in legislative and economic constraints. This vulnerability can have a devastating effect on end users, whether they be business consumers who require continuity of  price and supply to stay in business, or domestic consumers who rely on a secure, affordable supply of energy to heat and power their homes. In the paper we conceptualise a resilient energy system defined thus...

"A resilient energy exhibits adaptive capacity to cope with and respond to disruptions by minimising vulnerabilities and exploiting beneficial opportunities through socio-technical co-evolution. It is characterized by the knowledge, skills and learning capacity of stakeholders to use indigenous resources for energy service delivery"Conceptually a resilient energy system brings together two actor groups, broadly those that own and use energy producing technologies and those that develop and deploy those technologies. In the diagram below, energy resources are captured and/or stored, either with embedded or localised technologies. The user interface provides information that enables the user to balance the energy service need to either available or stored resources.