Action's Circular Journey: an Evolution not Revolution | Knowledge Hub | Circle Economy Foundation
Business case
Action's Circular Journey: an Evolution not Revolution


Action is Europe’s fastest-growing non-food discounter. Since its first store opened in the Netherlands in 1993, it has grown into an international player with more than 2,100 stores across ten countries: the Netherlands, Belgium, France, Germany, Luxembourg, Austria, Poland, the Czech Republic, Italy and Spain. Every week, Action inspires over 12 million customers in their stores with an ever-changing variety of 6,000 products across 14 product categories—including well-known brand products, Action private labels and supplier-branded items. Another 8 million customers visit each week. As of 2021, Action offered 1,500 products below €1, and the average sales price of their products was €2.

There are currently more than 68,000 people of 124 nationalities working at Action. ‘More Action’ refers to Action’s increasing responsibility to ensure sustainable growth in all aspects of its business, including its human capital development. At the end of 2021, Action celebrated the opening of their 400th store in Maastricht. Research showed that Action was the most missed retail chain during the covid-19 lockdowns in the Netherlands. 


1. The main opportunity for Action is to reinvent and elevate HR functions and involve HR as strategic leaders and active partners in shaping the sustainability agenda. Given that HRM has a key function in shaping new job profiles to meet the needs of the new circular business model, including HR as active partners in shaping the sustainability strategy can go hand-in-hand with creating long-term strategies for talent development—and can promote new circular HRM practices to attract, develop, retain and redeploy people internally (with the support of tools such as the recently launched sustainability training platform). 

2. Action’s circular strategy is currently focused on empowering its buying team. However, the transition also offers a promising opportunity to empower their supply team. Action’s HRM can strengthen the relationship between suppliers and buyers by assessing the type of knowledge and skills required by both groups and facilitating knowledge sharing and upskilling so that both buyers and suppliers are empowered and can work collaboratively to manage the circular transition. By managing and improving the innovative capabilities of suppliers, Action’s ambitious goals can be attained sooner, clearly an opportunity worth considering.



As its competitors increasingly adopted circular models and regulatory changes in the EU were introduced as part of the Circular Economy Action Plan (guided by the European Green Deal), Action sought to intensify its sustainability efforts. Consequently, the Action’s Social Responsibility (ASR) Strategy—introduced in 2016—was rebranded as the Action Sustainability Programme (ASP) in 2020, comprising of four pillars:

1. People: People are proud to work for Action,

2. Planet: Halving the carbon footprint of operations by 2030,

3. Product: 100% product and supply chain transparency by 2030,

4. Partnership: Action is an active part and partner of society.

To implement ASP, Action set up a sustainability team in 2021 and collaborated with Circle Economy, an impact organisation based in Amsterdam. The partnership was driven by Action’s initiative to work with an experienced organisation to shape its new direction. As a first step, a baseline assessment was conducted to understand the company’s degree of circularity. The assessment indicated that Action is 7% circular, leaving a 93% circularity gap. To bridge the gap, the research noted that Action’s circular retail strategy should be centred around its products and procurement.


In line with this, Action has reviewed its product portfolio to identify necessary changes to improve the circularity of its products. The Circle Scan, conducted by Circle Economy, analysed and visualised Action’s global value chain, including: the origin of its resources, the production of resources into products, its operations, the use of its products by consumers, and waste creation and recovery, to identify key hotspots for change. The assessment was conducted for half of its product lines in 2021, including Action’s private label and it is planned to be completed for all product lines by the end of 2022.

Action is very hands-on. Circularity has to be practical, specific and actionable. To move buyers towards sustainable and circular procurement decisions, Action is currently upskilling its buying team to procure products in a more resource-efficient and sustainable manner. As part of this initiative, Action has set up a circular buying guide for their buying team (and may extend this guide to their suppliers in the future). . 

Additionally, Action is nudging customers to make sustainable choices. In 2021 Action expanded its communication, to better inform customers of their product quality and sustainability efforts. Across their communications channels, their green thumbs continue to highlight their increasing range of sustainable products and provide information about certification labels and other relevant knowledge to guide customer purchasing.

How have the employees perceived Action’s increasing focus on circularity?

“Everyone is really onboard with sustainability- So the question is more practical - How do we do it? And not so much - Should we do it”

- Fabeel Butt – Sustainability Manager 

Additional information


1. Action is an encouraging example of a leading retailer with an increasingly global presence, who is gradually but surely pivoting towards sustainability and paving the path toward sustainable sourcing and production to make a positive circular contribution. 

2. In order to realise Action’s circular ambitions company-wide, it launched a sustainability training platform aimed at raising awareness and upskilling their employees towards the company’s circular ambitions. This initiative includes a variety of courses for employees based on their role and their sustainability knowledge and falls under Action Academy, the company’s training platform.

3. Currently, the implementation of the circular business model has been focused on the optimisation of its product portfolio—with the sustainability team being key in shaping the new strategic direction. Less attention has been given to the optimisation of human capital and the active involvement of the HR team in the transition. As a result, Action has faced challenges in finding the right talent for its new ambitions. The sustainability team has had to actively assist the HR team in recruitment. Action’s difficulties in finding the right talent in sustainability and circularity may also be compounded by the fact that their sustainability journey is fairly recent and they are still in the process of rebranding. As a result, individuals with circular and sustainability expertise may not be considering opportunities in Action.