Section 1. Conceptual Understanding and Adoption Challenges of Circular Economy Practices

The Conceptual Model Framework for the Role of Human Resources in the Adoption of the Circular Economy: A Content Analysis Approach


The concept of circular economy (CE) is postulated to be a new business outlook, an emerging approach that may assist the organizations and the societies in realizing the goal of sustainable development (McDowall et al., 2017). The production and consumption patterns of the humans across the globe have put the environment into a state of increased risk and precariousness. To address this issue, the adoption of CE proposes a novel perspective in terms of the organizational production and consumption, the perspective that emphasizes on restoration of the value of resources used. It suggests that replacing traditional approach of linear economy (‘take, make and dispose’) with the circular approach (Jabbour et al., 2018) of energy as well as physical resources can contribute toward economic, environmental and social advantages (Geissdoerfer et a!., 2017).

In the linear economy, nearly 80% of what is used is straight away discarded after use (Sempels & Hoffmann, 2013).The waste generated in a linear economy affects human health and the environment, whereas the waste that comes from different processes when inserted into a CE produces ‘beneficial artifacts’ for human use (Sikdar, 2019), as CE is a production and consumption system that aims at keeping the parts, products, resources and energy in circulation for addition, recreation and maintenance of value over a period of time (Jabbour et al., 2019a).

The discussion around the concept of CE began in the mid-1960s (Murray et al., 2017). The term CE was first introduced by an ecological economist Boulding (1966) and is deeply rooted in the general systems theory (von Bertalanffy, 1950), according to Ghisellini et al. (2016). Boulding (1966) in his seminal work has depicted earth as a closed circular system with finite absorbing capacity, and articulated that there should be an equilibrium between the economy and the environment for them to coexist (Geissdoerfer et al., 2017). Since the 1970s, the concept of CE has been gaining momentum (EMF, 2013). Merli et al. (2018) have viewed CE as a progressive, multidisciplinary concept that extricates the economic growth from utilization of resources and social implications only. CE is the foundation of a green economy perspective that advances the focus from utilization of materials and associated wastages to welfare of humans and ecosystem resilience (Reichel et al., 2016).

As far as the conception of CE is concerned, there is an absolute lack of consensus. Kirchherr et al. (2017) in their extensive work have singled out 114 different definitions of the concept, pinpointing toward the lack of concurrence on the subject. As diversified as the conceptualization of CE might be, the active role of human resources in adoption of CE is undeniable, and this is one of the major gaps in the CE literature that needs to be pursued further. ‘Circular Economy’, ‘Circular Economy and Human Resources’, 'HRM and Circular Economy’ and ‘HR and Sustainability’ were used as the key terms to delineate the contribution of human resources toward the adoption of a CE.

The purpose of this study is to ascertain the role that the human resources can play in smooth transition toward the CE in today’s times. The prominence of Green HRM (GHRM), Eco-Innovation. Awareness at various levels of the organization and management control have been discussed as a part of the role of human resources. The chapter has been structured as follows: Section 2 discusses the CE - sustainability link, Section 3 incorporates the prominence of adoption of the CE. In Section 4, the role of human resources has been discussed in length followed by conclusion and future research recommendations in Section 5 and 6 respectively.


The notion of CE is associated wdth the sustainability sciences, w'hich is grounded in the research streams of industrial ecology (Erkman, 1997), cleaner production (Fresner, 1998), cradle-to-cradle (C2C) (McDonough & Braungart, 2002), industrial ecosystems (Jelinski etal., 1992), industrial symbioses (Chertow & Ehrenfeld. 2012), biomimicry (Benyus, 1997), regenerative design (Lyle, 1996), performance economy (Stahel, 2010), natural capitalism (Hawken et at., 1999) and the conceit of zero emissions (Pauli, 2010). In the context of business enterprises today, CE is thought- through as a means of better resiliency, cost reduction, creation of value, revenue and legitimacy (Park et at., 2010; Tukker, 2015; Urbinati et at., 2017; Manninen et al„ 2018).

As defined by WCED (World Commission on Environment & Development, 1987), Sustainability is the ‘development that meets the needs of the present generation without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their ends’. CE is an integral part of sustainable development (Moktadir et at., 2018). It is identified as a closed loop value chain (Preston, 2012), w'herein the complete wastage is collected through proper channels and reiterated to the manufacturing units to be reused (Yuan and Moriguichi, 2008). It is that economy whose design happens to be restorative and regenerative, focusing on the expansion of the value chain (Moktadir et at.. 2018). It focuses on sustainable manufacturing practices as well as sustainable environmental practices through elimination and reduction of elementary w'aste (Fischer & Pascucci, 2017).

CE is considered as a part of sustainable development framework, which operates on the principle of ‘closing the life cycle’ of goods resulting in the minimization of raw materials, energy and water (Jabbour et at., 2019a), and intends to conceive a restorative industrial design (Geissdoerfer et at.. 2017). CE is a structure formed by the societal production-consumption systems that magnifies the services produced from the linear nature-society-nature material and energy flow by the use of cyclical material, renewable sources of energy and energy flows of the cascading type (Korhonen et at., 2018). The adoption of CE stimulates people towards more sustainable actions and ensures formulation of regulations that cater to the goal of sustainability (Andersen, 2007; Besio & Pronzini, 2014; Haas et at., 2015; Miliute-Plepiene & Plepys, 2015; Schneider, 2015). CE is the primary driver that gives impetus to a society that is more sustainable (UNEP, 2006), and augments eco-innovations such that the well-being at the social (Geng et al., 2016) and economic level is ensured (Genovese et al., 2017; De Jesus & Mendon§a, 2018).

CE and the concept of sustainability are considered similar, but CE is a condition, a beneficial precursor for sustainability (Geissdoerfer et al., 2016). Both the concepts focus on the intra- and inter-generational commitments triggered by ecological hazards, which indicate the significance of deliberation on the concurring pathways of development, both the concepts emphasize on the shared responsibilities and the importance of coordination between multiple players, wherein the system design and the innovativeness are the main drivers for realization of the said goals. While the CE aims at evolution of a closed loop, eliminating wastages and leakages of the system, the concept of sustainability tends to deliver environmental, economic and societal benefits at large (Elkington, 1997), and the ones benefiting from the adoption of CE are the economic players responsible for implementation of the system. The CE is preeminently associated with the economic systems with primary benefits for the environment and tacit benefits for the society; on the other hand, the notion of sustainability, as originally developed, treats all the three dimensions equitably (Geissdoerfereta!., 2016).

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