Sustainability is still little embedded in the Human Resources (HR) processes of companies in the Netherlands. This is evident from recent research by the Sustainability University Foundation among sustainability professionals, part of the annual State of the Sustainability Profession survey aimed at the development of the profession of the sustainability professional and the implementation of sustainability and circular economy (CE) in companies. The research was carried out from the Circular Competences project, supported by the Goldschmeding Foundation.
HR does make use of sustainable or CE performance of the company when recruiting and “onboarding” new employees. However, when it comes to the other HR processes, such as training & development, assessment processes, job descriptions and personal goals, aimed at the current employees, sustainability or the CE strategy is hardly taken into account. This is a missed opportunity, especially when it comes to training & development. The same research among sustainability professionals shows that the transition to the circular economy requires a number of specific and new skills. It is striking, for example, that skills aimed at innovation are considered important, while according to respondents, insufficient time is spent on them. System thinking is the most important competence for 44% of professionals to be able to carry out circular projects effectively. To develop these specific skills for CE, employees will need to be educated and trained. HR is a crucial link in this.
New circular skills are needed to accelerate the transition
Systems thinking is a new competence (source GITP) and can be explained on the basis of an apparently simple case such as separating and recycling office waste. In order to do this, you will first need to identify all parties involved, such as building management, employees (OR), cleaning, logistics service, waste collector, purchasing and finance. Everyone should participate, and those who have extra work should like it or be rewarded for it. In office waste, it is often still ultimately “cheaper” not to separate. This system error will first have to be solved in order to structurally close the loop. To this end, even more parties will become part of this system, such as the legislator, the recycling market and designers. The system thinker decides which knobs to turn to achieve the desired result.
HR and sustainability together ensure an inclusive transition
The sustainability professional is the starting point in this changing need for skills and knowledge. However, in order to do business in a circular manner, employees from many different departments will have to work (together) differently. All departments involved, including financial and legal departments, will have to do something different, but also be aware of the relationship with the other. Examples of this are: a buyer who has to buy in a circular way by asking for recycled materials and recyclable packaging; or a designer who must ensure that a product is easy to repair; or a controller who has to learn to ‘circular’ by accounting for the (residual) value of raw materials in the business case. This growing need can only be met by deploying HR knowledge and processes. It is therefore essential for a transition to a circular economy that the sustainability professional and the HR manager in companies work together more.
The follow-up study, which will be presented at the State of the Sustainability Profession event in September 2020, further develops the ideal competence profile of the CE professional. This also allows HR to further integrate the competences for a circular transition into other processes, such as training and development. This gives every employee an opportunity to develop the skills needed for circular initiatives within the company.
Do you want to know more about this research and what it can mean for your company? Please contact the Sustainability University Foundation at firstname.lastname@example.org.