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How Industries Can Successfully Make the Shift to Greater Environmental Sustainability

The Head of Sustainability of a family-owned company, Hager Group, tells us more about their circular journey.


In a virtual meeting, Matthieu Alexandropoulos, Environmental Sustainability Director at Hager Group, told us more about how an organisation can make the shift to circularity a success — for the business and the environment. Since August 2020, eolos has been working with Hager Group teams on increasing their circularity and on formulating their sustainability strategy.

During this time, Hager has championed the journey of both understanding external and internal pressure points to create a custom-designed environmental sustainability roadmap. It enables the organization to both address important environmental concerns for compliance reasons and set up “flagship projects” that address critical levers for becoming more circular, such as in packaging and the reduction of plastics in the company’s daily life.

Leena Jäger (eolos): “Bonjour Matthieu! Thank you for your offer to share with us and our readers your experiences of Hager’s journey towards circularity. Let’s start with the most important question: what must a company establish as a first step before it sets off on its journey?”

Matthieu Alexandropoulos (Hager Group): “Hello Leena! Thank you for having me. Well, the first step is to find out your potential for circularity. It might sound obvious, but first the step towards the circular economy is to gather a lot of company data. This includes carbon footprint, product substances, recyclability of your products etc. The purpose of this exercise is to end up with a realistic view of your environmental footprint and to identify possible levers for making your business circular.

Collecting and processing these various types of data is a big challenge, circularity being a typical crossover domain. You definitely need to find solid and experienced data experts to work with you.

Leena: “A company which truly plans a shift to circularity needs a 100%-commitment to this journey. It also needs to understand this will affect the entire company — from structure and processes to culture and values. From your perspective, what’s maybe the most critical point in order to bring about such a profound decision for the future of an organization?”

Matthieu: “Top management drive and buy-in for entering the circular economy is of the essence. Increasingly, business leaders understand the criticality of environmental sustainability and make it an integrated part of their business strategy, as we do at Hager Group. It also seems the Covid crisis has accelerated people’s environmental awareness. Having more people willing to do their share for environmental sustainability is of big help for my daily job.

Leena: “Speaking the language of the top-management is crucial for entering the process and for creating a strong foundation for transformation. So, once we have the management on board, understood the ´circular potential´ of our company and recognized the business models the circular economy offers to our specific business, are we set to sail? This sounds like a lot of work, but manageable.

Matthieu: Even if the circular economy is not a new topic, it comes as a challenge for companies which have been agile in the linear economy. For the linear economy, there are plenty of experienced people consulting on logistics, IT, production, engineering. However, for the circular economy, you have to train your sight on new actors (start-ups, big companies, public authorities or associations, influencers). You need to identify those who together with you can form a piece of the puzzle of building the new circular economy. It’s not (only) about very deep expertise — it’s more about the right approach, the right facilitation of this journey. It is about building something together instead of paying for getting the best practices. The circular economy can only be built by co-construction, co-design and co-processing.

For instance, due to the Covid pandemic, companies use a lot of surgical masks. Today, there is no readily available service to recycle those at scale. If you want to recycle theses masks, you have to go and find a provider able to do so. Which is exactly what we have done at Hager France. To do that, you need to invest in constantly looking beyond your company, screening for new partners. In today’s political climate there’s the added benefit of much public funding being available for companies to benefit from.

Leena: “We also screen many opportunities for our projects to apply for public funding, in Germany and EU-wide. This makes the financial part much easier, especially for small and midsized companies. Let’s go back to what you said right before, co-creating circularity in your business — what does this mean in terms of finding the right people to work for you? What are the most important professions, what skills are needed?”

Matthieu: I have noticed that people who are passionate about our planet in their private life tend to put the same energy into their job. Environmental sustainability jobs are jobs where the frontiers between private passion and professional engagement are very blurred. Passion matters — and you take it everywhere you go. If you fight for less waste in your company, it’s unlikely you’re piling up tons of plastic at home.

In terms of skills, I see data specialists as key assets but also engineers / researchers in building, energy management, materials, etc. Very professional project management is a must, too. The circular economy is about complex projects which you need to manage and facilitate. Change facilitation is par for the course. And, highly connected people will be a key factor, too. The circular economy is about tying ties and engaging with other companies and ecosystems and always being open to all the surprises in stall for you along the way. This is a great journey!

Leena: “Thank you, Matthieu, for sharing all these learnings with us. Have a great day and fun along the way!”

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