Rethinking ESG


The Urgent Need to Prioritize S and G


Beyond Hype


By Ricardo Viana Vargas

Lisbon, Portugal

The recent downfall of several big banks in the US and Europe made me think a lot about the current level of business responsibility. Sadly, this is only the tip of the iceberg on what is, from my perspective, a massive lack of authentic, responsible business practices everywhere.

When you lead a business or a project, you must understand that true sustainability means building something that positively impacts shareholders, clients, and society. And has a lasting positive impact!

Creating value only for shareholders is anything but sustainable.

My first contact with the term ESG (Environment, Sustainability, and Governance) was about ten years ago, in 2013, when I was serving as director of the project management practice at the United Nations. I joined UNOPS right around the time that a new strategy was being made with a focus on sustainability.

For those who do not know, UNOPS, or United Nations Office for Project Services, is responsible for thousands of infrastructure projects globally on behalf of multilateral organizations, other UN entities, and foundations.

With thousands of infrastructure projects worldwide, we had questions to address that went above and beyond planning.

It is all about sustainable outcomes, aiming to prevent us from building a bridge that connects nothing to nowhere, a hospital with no access road for ambulances, or even a prison facility that is not connected to the power grid and has no electricity. I know you will say that these are all obvious aspects, right?

But it is sometimes hard to make the obvious things happen.

We can take the same analogy when we think about the Silicon Valley Bank. How could a bank with money and deposits collapse so quickly? SVB collapsed not due to the lack of cash or deposits but to the complete lack of sustainable thinking, leading to incredibly high-risk exposure.

It is all the same. Either you take sustainability seriously, or you are just making noise.

This is precisely what I mentioned in my latest article for the London School of Economics, “Marketing is killing ESG.”

We took it seriously at UNOPS. We created a program dedicated to sustainability, focusing primarily on the two letters of ESG: S and G.


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Editor’s note: This series of articles by Ricardo Vargas, PMI Fellow and recognized thought leader, is based on his LinkedIn newsletter called Beyond Hype in which he periodically shares his thoughts on emerging issues and potential concerns related to project management or the PM profession. Ricardo is a former Chair of the PMI Board of Directors and the author or co-author of many books on project management, including the recent  Project Management Next Generation: The Pillars for Organizational Excellence (co-authored with Dr. Harold Kerzner and Dr. Al Zeitoun). Learn more about the author in his profile at the end of this article.

How to cite this paper: Vargas, V. V. (2023). Rethinking ESG: The Urgent Need to Prioritize S and G, Beyond Hype, series article, PM World Journal, Vol. XII, Issue VII, July. Available online at https://pmworldlibrary.net/wp-content/uploads/2023/07/pmwj131-Jul2023-Vargas-rethinking-esg-byond-hype-article-2.pdf

About the Author

Ricardo Viana Vargas, PhD

Minas Gerais, Brazil

Lisbon, Portugal


Ricardo Viana Vargas is Managing Partner at Macrosolutions, past Executive Director of the Project Management Institute’s Brightline Initiative, past Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) Infrastructure and Project Management Group, and former Chair of the PMI Board of Directors. Passionate about transforming ideas into action and a popular speaker at international PM events, Ricardo is recognized worldwide as a chief advocate for the project economy. Specializing in implementing innovative global initiatives, capital projects and product development, he has directed dozens of projects across industries and continents, managing more than $20 billion in global initiatives over the past 25 years.

Ricardo shares his expertise with millions of professionals around the globe through his “5 Minutes Podcast,” which he’s hosted since 2007. He has written 16 books on project management, risk and crisis management, and transformation, which have been translated into six languages and sold more than half a million copies.  His latest book Project Management Next Generation: The Pillars for Organizational Excellence, in partnership with Dr. Harold Kerzner and Dr. Al Zeitoun has recently been released.

Ricardo’s influence on project management was affirmed when he became the first Latin American to be elected Chairman of the Project Management Institute. More than two decades ago, he founded Macrosolutions, a global consulting firm with international operations in energy, infrastructure, IT, oil and finance. Between 2016 and 2020, Ricardo directed the Brightline Initiative, a Project Management Institute think tank bringing together leading organizations in a coalition dedicated to helping executives bridge the expensive, unproductive gap between strategic design and delivery.

Prior to his work with Brightline, Ricardo was Director of the United Nations Office for Project Services (UNOPS) Infrastructure and Project Management Group, leading more than 1,000 projects and $1.2 billion in humanitarian and development projects. He has worked as a venture capitalist and entrepreneur in artificial intelligence, blockchain, big data, chatbots and machine learning resulted in tools and products that have revolutionized how users bring agility and agile management into project management software.

Ricardo holds a Ph.D. in Civil Engineering from Federal Fluminense University in Brazil and an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering, as well as a master’s degree in Industrial Engineering from Federal University of Minas Gerais in Brazil. He can be contacted at ricardo@ricardo-vargas.com or ricardo-vargas.com  or Linkedin: com/in/ricardovargas.

To view other works by Ricardo Vargas, visit his author showcase in the PM World Library at https://pmworldlibrary.net/authors/ricardo-viana-vargas-phd/