Sustainability or limitless expansion: paradigm shift in HRD practice and teaching

Alexandre Ardichvili (Organizational Leadership, Policy and Development, University of Minnesota, Minneapolis, Minnesota, USA)

European Journal of Training and Development

ISSN: 2046-9012

Publication date: 9 November 2012



This paper aims to discuss a shift from the mentality of limitless growth and expansion to the new sustainability paradigm in HRD practice, and identifies what corresponding changes are needed in human resource development (HRD) university programs.


The paper is based on a review of the literature in HRD and related fields, and of curricula of a sample of HRD programs in the USA.


Five themes were found in the academic literature: critique of HRD's fixation with performance outcomes and lack of emphasis on developing sustainable and responsible members of society; role of HRD in embedding sustainability in organizational cultures; training and development methods, aimed at increasing sustainability awareness and at developing related skills; sustainable leadership and leadership development; and interconnectedness of HRD, sustainability, corporate social responsibility (CSR), and business ethics. Review of the contents of a sample of HRD graduate programs suggested that these programs rarely incorporate sustainability‐focused courses or course segments.

Research limitations/implications

Future research needs to conduct an in‐depth review and analysis of the existing HRD graduate coursework in a larger sample of HRD programs to determine the extent of coverage of sustainability‐related topics. In addition, a review of the literature from related fields (e.g. business and management, HRM, and engineering), is needed to identify successful examples of sustainability‐related curricular innovations. Furthermore, it would be beneficial to conduct action research‐based studies of experimental development and implementation of courses and/or teaching modules, focused on sustainability issues.

Practical implications

There are three main areas where changes in HRD curricula are needed: economic foundations of HRD (to demonstrate the economic necessity of the paradigm change); systems theory (to provide a solid understanding of the systemic nature of inter‐relationships between the economy, environment, and society); and self‐leadership and individual moral development as related to individual employees' role in promoting sustainable organizations.


While there is some research on the role of HRD in organizational sustainability, this article is the first to address issues of corresponding changes in HRD academic curricula.



Ardichvili, A. (2012), "Sustainability or limitless expansion: paradigm shift in HRD practice and teaching", European Journal of Training and Development, Vol. 36 No. 9, pp. 873-887.

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Copyright © 2012, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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