Off Canvas


"Reflecting on circularity in HR opens up a space for improbable discussions"​

To better understand what circular economy is and how its principles could contribute to revisiting HRM, HR Square met with Emmanuel Raufflet, Professor of Management at HEC Montréal and Academic Director of the Institute of Environment, Sustainable Development and Circular Economy (EDDEC).

Created in the spring of 2014, this organization aims to federate the pool of expertise in these fields within HEC Montréal, Polytechnique Montréal and the Université de Montréal. Emmanuel Raufflet recently published with Manon Boiteux a report drawing lessons from the first five years of the ecosystem created around the Institut EDDEC: Mapping researcher-practitioner practices for circular economy (October 2019).

What is the framework for the work of the Institut EDDEC?

Emmanuel Raufflet: "On a planet with fixed resources, our current economic model is showing its limits. Our way of producing and consuming is not sustainable. Climate change, the waste of resources and the loss of biodiversity are increasingly worrying issues. The question is how to deal with them. We start from the premise that it is not only necessary, but also possible to adopt a new model of production-consumption through the circular economy. It can be defined as a system aimed at reducing the need for natural resources and optimizing the use of the resources already circulating in our societies, while preserving our ecosystems and the well-being of individuals and communities. Over the past five years, we have tried to mobilize the Québec society and its various stakeholders with a view to collective appropriation and co-construction of the circular economy concept. This approach is interesting because it gives rise to conversations that would not otherwise have taken place, exchanges that are sometimes improbable but extremely interesting. In our economy, the unit of analysis is the transaction and the unit of management is often the company: it is on this basis that everything is measured. But if we refocus on raw materials and their reuse, and on collaboration within ecosystems of actors linked by the optimization and intensification of material uses, we adopt a completely different perspective. It is exciting to open such a dialogue with people from different backgrounds and disciplines such as operations, logistics, marketing, researchers, unions, and even consumers."

Are human resources professionals also stakeholders and, if not, should they not be?

Emmanuel Raufflet: "The centre of gravity of the circular economy is not close to HR. Perhaps the approach is too young for that? Perhaps the approach of companies is not incentive enough to encourage experimentation in this area? The circular economy is an umbrella concept that remains contested and has not yet been stabilized. We cannot pretend to say that it will be a paradigm shift, although we hope so. Many of the approaches to production or consumption that constitute it have been around for a long time, such as industrial ecology or eco-design, and considering it as an umbrella concept has the advantage of being able to connect other relevant expertise for a socio-economic transition. The circular economy is to be seen as a heuristic path to socio-economic transition rather than as a destination. This path requires humility, mobilization, consultation and inclusion. It requires breaking down silos and, as such, of course, HR would benefit from being involved. Including them can open up new and unlikely spaces for discussions!"

How can HR be connected to thinking about the circular economy?

Emmanuel Raufflet: "The most classic link is probably that of CSR - corporate social responsibility, of which HRM is said to be a part through the People pillar. It can also be seen from the perspective of sustainable human resources management, an HR management that would be more virtuous, i.e. capable of attracting talent, retaining it, not exhausting it (avoiding waste) and valuing it. We can also add the field of including (insufficiently) used talent pools - women at all levels of the hierarchy or in technical professions, school dropouts,... - or disadvantaged groups - under-qualified profiles, disabled people, etc."

In your opinion, would the principles of circular economy be better applied to human resources management?

Emmanuel Raufflet: "The first principle - that the best resource is the one we don't use, leading us to question whether we really need it - could suggest a negative answer. But, as soon as we use a resource, the philosophy of the circular economy is to try to reduce the quantity of products that reach the end of their life cycle - here we could work to reduce the number of cases of exhaustion at work, for example -, to reuse the resource as it is or to offer forms of re-use - to encourage professional mobility within or outside the company - and, finally, to recycle its components - here the analogy becomes more hazardous... It may also seem questionable to compare human resources to material resources. But, as I said, exploring this field - as you are doing in the framework of the Circular HRM project - can be a vector of creativity, open up the theme to other stakeholders and generate discussions that would not otherwise have taken place."

Do you think it is possible to find "circular" human resources management in companies already engaged in the circular economy or rather in organizations with a greater maturity in human resources management?

Emmanuel Raufflet: "I don't think we can say at this stage that a company would be engaged in the circular economy. Some companies have a few percent of their activities (possibly a sector) engaged in the process. But none of them can say that their entire model would be circular. Rather, it is more like a thousand and one shades of grey with a more or less extensive range of circularity. The degree of ambition remains (unfortunately) limited. If organizations claim to be in a circular economy, they are entrepreneurial projects or micro-enterprises that are absolutely inspiring. In answer to your question, let's not be naïve: we've been talking about CSR for more than fifteen years and what do we see? Even companies that are particularly committed to CSR face a wall when shareholder satisfaction is at stake. It remains a pot of earth against the pot of iron. I don't think that there is necessarily a guaranteed coherence between the fact of seeking to invest in the circular economy and that of adopting a different, more sustainable management of human resources. The most promising avenues at this level therefore seem to me to be rather on the side of organizations that have committed themselves to a mature approach to sustainable human resources management."

Christophe Lo Giudice


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