How to Avoid Green Elephant Projects?

Organizations that invest in projects understand that their growth and success depends 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, 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 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 its 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 creating another type of projects, 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 those 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 of While Elephant derives from the story that the kings of Siam, now Thailand, were accustomed to make a present of one of those White Elephants to courtiers who had rendered themselves obnoxious, in order to ruin the recipient by the cogreen-elephantst of its maintenance. Having Green Elephant projects could have the same damaging impact on organizations and countries who 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 projects viability from financial, strategic fit and risk exposure along with the criteria for social, economical 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 address those additional selection criteria. The standard addresses the three additional measureable elements to sustainability in additional to the standard measurable elements of a project which are:

  • Social aspect (People)
  • Environmental aspect (Planet)
  • Economical aspect (Profit)


GRIThe 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.

GPM 13In 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 who are keen in avoid having Green Elephant projects must start adopting sustainable projects selection criteria that will enforce the best practices when it comes to 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 integrated methodology for achieving this objective.


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  1. […] Managing sustainable projects requires managing the areas of environment, society and economy in addition to the common project management areas of schedule, cost, quality, safety, risk, procurement, human resources, communications, stakeholders among others. The P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management (PRiSM) by GPM Global addresses those additional areas to be managed and details how to monitor and control the three additional measurable elements to sustainability; Social aspect (People), Environmental aspect (Planet) and Economical aspect (Profit) […]

  2. […] leadership decision to achieve those goals as well as avoid investing in Green Elephant Projects ( The proposed alignment is based on the P5™ Standard for Sustainability in Project Management […]

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