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The 100-year brand — Air Liquide also has a sense of juvenile

2020-04-20GoldenBeeChina Sustainability0

Interviewee|Marcelo Fioranelli, Chairman and CEO of Air Liquide China
As a world leader in gases, technologies and services for industry and health, Air Liquide has already been established for 117 years. Even if you look at Europe as a whole, it's a "longevous" enterprise.

For enterprises that have spanned a hundred years and are still able to grow, people's curiosity has always focused on the history, culture and vision of enterprises, and tried to sum up some of the secrets of success from the past history. But unexpectedly, when we put the same questions in front of Air Liquide, this enterprise with a long history presents a rare "sense of juvenile".

Recently, in a more than an hour interview with Marcelo Fioranelli, Chairman and CEO of Air Liquide China, the secret of this century-old enterprise's sense of juvenile and continuous growing fundamentals has gradually emerged.
"Development with the local society is the secret of sustainable development"

China Sustainability Tribune: Some data show that Air Liquide came to China as early as 1916. In recent years, group's business in China has been developing steadily. In your opinion, what is the key to the sustainable operation of Air Liquide in China?

Marcelo: Air Liquide can't operate in China for such a long time without the favorable policy support of the Chinese government for many years.

This is reflected not only in the good business environment, business market and fair competition opportunities provided by the government, but also in the fact that in recent years, China has continuously eased access to foreign investment and expanded its open market. Foreign enterprises can introduce capital, technology, production expertise, modern management and marketing skills into China, developing and making progress with China together.

China Sustainability Tribune: The new round of scientific and technological revolution is in the ascendant, but at the same time it faces risks such as anti-globalization and trade war. How do you view the development prospects of foreign enterprises in China?

Marcelo: In the last five or six years, the global market and political situation have undergone profound adjustments. Technological and digital changes are impacting China and the world, the way we communicate, behave, and the way we develop our businesses. These changes force us to think actively about how we can achieve more sustainable development on a global scale.

There is no doubt that China will play a very important role in this revolution. If foreign enterprises want to get better development in China, I think they must fully identify and respond to the main concerns of stakeholders. For example, if our business is related to the environment, we should pay more attention to environmental laws and regulations, while ensuring that business is conducted in a more sustainable way.

China Sustainability Tribune: The Chinese government has been working to optimize the environment for foreign businesses. In your opinion, what other advice do you have?

Marcelo: As for the advice, in my opinion, China should continue to promote and follow the digital transformation. In more than six years since I came to China, I have deeply felt that digitalization not only affects our lifestyle, but also affects the interaction between enterprises and employees, customers, business, etc.

In addition, although China provides a fair competitive environment for the development of foreign enterprises, we also expect the government to further improve the vertical guidance between the central and local governments, as well as the horizontal coordination (including mediation mechanisms) between departments of local governments, so that international enterprises can be in the same rules to compete with Chinese local enterprises.

In fact, in our field, this vertical integration is advancing. At present, Air Liquide’s businesses will move more to the west and north. Therefore, it is very important to establish a mechanism to provide equal conditions for all in the market competition.

We will also continue to promote the integration between foreign investors and the local environment in China, and contribute to technological progress, local development, accelerating digital transformation and sustainable development.
"It is not easy to achieve sustainable development, only action is the beginning of change"
China Sustainability Tribune: As far as we know, Air Liquide launched the Corporate Sustainability Program (CSP) in 2016. What is the original intention of launching this program?

Marcelo: The CSP has brought a series of clear guidelines to the global business of Air Liquide, and also straightly delivered to the market that we want to make a real contribution to sustainable development. Because air quality is very important for Air Liquide, we have been focusing on doing our best to improve air quality, and benefit the environment and people's health.

The launch of this plan is mainly based on the following three considerations:

First of all, we should expand our business to the world. In China, we need to further promote our suppliers, hoping to have a cleaner supply chain or clean environmental footprint. Air Liquide has many products and all are transported to customers. So we have been advocating not only to produce clean products, but also to transport them in a cleaner way.

Secondly, the society is experiencing energy transformation. Air Liquide has more than 100 large and medium-sized plants in China, covering almost all large, medium and small cities and prefecture-level counties in China. It is very important for us to pay attention to the way of interaction with communities around the plants. Therefore, we are very concerned about projects related to community education, road safety and so on.

Finally, we should respect the environment. This is also a key challenge for Air Liquide in China. It can be found that many of our projects not only need to improve the community around our plants, but also hope to mobilize the enthusiasm of employees, and even infuence their families and friends.

These are the three main focuses of our project, which will help translate sustainable development into something measurable, so that it can be truly promoted.

China Sustainability Tribune: You mentioned the respect for the environment. Does Air Liquide has good experience and practices to achieve clean production and green development?

Marcelo: All along, Air Liquide has been promoting cleaner production and green development through product promotion and technology application.

The first thing I want to share is the Heat Oxy-Combustion technology--the innovative technology of Heat Oxy-Combustion of Nexelia can increase the efficiency by up to 10%. Compared with air combustion, the technology can save up to 50% of energy and reduce carbon dioxide emissions by 50%. At the UN Framework Convention on Climate Change (21st Conference of the Parties -COP 21) in 2015, this technology won the Innovation Award from the France-China Committee.

At the same time, we have been paying attention to the impact of daily operations on the environment, constantly innovating in and upgrading technology, and using intelligent innovation operation mode based on big data and digital tools to promote plant automation, improve production efficiency and reduce energy consumption. In addition, some of our factories in China have also realized the use of solar panels to provide office power.

It is worth mentioning that supporting the development of renewable energy is also one of our important investments for reducing emissions and promoting more eco-friendly reforms. As the first group of members of Green Electricity Consumption Cooperative Organization (GECCO), we actively participate in green power certificate procurement and direct purchase of renewable power projects, purchasing cleaner renewable energy while urging suppliers to pay attention to environmental protection. Statistics show that about 5% to 7% of the electricity we currently buy comes from clean and renewable sources of energy.

China Sustainability Tribune: So what can we do to deal with climate change and global warming?

Marcelo: We should actively respond to climate change. It is urgent to take actions as the situation is becoming more and more serious.

For enterprises, we all need to adopt more responsible practices, transform our mission and ambition into the core of the operation process, and contribute to sustainable development.

For Air Liquide, no matter in the production or transportation process, we need to be cleaner. More importantly, we will further invest in resources and develop applications to support the access to the cleaner of air, environment and water.

It should be said that our CSR initiatives have been integrated into the corporate strategy. We not only respect laws and regulations and company values, but also strive to make Air Liquide a global leader in investment innovation, solutions developer of world energy transformation (such as hydrogen energy and all other related applications), so as to make contribution to energy saving and emissions reduction in the process of our operation as well as our customers’ industrial process.

China Sustainability Tribune: In this respect, does Air Liquide have any specific products or plans?

Marcelo: I think hydrogen energy will play an important role in the energy revolution. Maybe by 2030, at least in countries like China, 10% to 15% of renewable energy will probably come from hydrogen. As a clean energy, the development of hydrogen energy is not only conducive to energy conservation, but also can provide more clean energy solutions for transportation and other areas.

Although hydrogen energy is still at a very early stage, the Chinese government's attitude towards energy transformation is very clear, which is the key to the promotion and utilization of renewable energy. In this regard, Air Liquide has invested a lot of resources to prepare for energy transformation, and even Air Liquide CEO worldwide has put lots of efforts in studying the sustainable development projects - hydrogen energy development, and other environmental-related projects.

For example, we have established 100 hydrogenation stations worldwide including Japan, Europe, the United States and other countries and regions to fuel hydrogen fuel cell vehicles. Each hydrogenation duration lasts no more than 5 minutes, and can power the vehicle drive 600 kilometers. Compared with the charging process of standard electric vehicles, it is not only convenient but also cleaner.

Undoubtedly, this is a difficult task, but if enterprises can see it as our common responsibility, this is the beginning of the transformation.

"I want to make sure that every employee is in a good health"
China Sustainability Tribune: During your six years’ stay in China, how do you understand CSR? How do you participate in and coordinate CSR work in the company?

Marcelo: CSR is about the environment, health and safety. Air Liquide’s CSP project is actually an expression of social responsibility. My first step of participating in CSR work is to make sure that we can really move forward with some concrete actions. For example, promoting employees to buy clean energy, developing the relationship with suppliers, promoting business digitization and projects that can improve operational efficiency, and reducing energy consumption.

My responsibility is to ensure that these high-level concepts can be translated into more practical things and be measured. We need to recognize the team's contribution to sustainable development, not only as a top-down management process, but also as a bottom-up process. At the same time, we must recognize employees' own ideas in these projects and think that what they are doing is innovative or more effective. They put a lot of effort into ensuring that there are concrete action plans and measurements.

CSR is our responsibility to the environment and our community as a company and as individuals. I am involved in planning all our CSR activities and providing necessary resources for the implementation of our activities.

China Sustainability Tribune: During your stay in China, you will surely find that communication is important for both enterprises and individuals. So how do you understand inside and outside transparent communication?

Marcelo: Communication is very important in China and other places in the world. Air Liquide regards sustainable development as the core content of its ambitious goal. It promotes a series of CSR activities under the framework of the "Air Liquide Care Plan". It pays attention to the development of employees, and at the same time, it also pays attention to promoting the development of its community.

I believe that when more and more new people join Air Liquide, they will find that the company not only brings development opportunities for employees, but also brings a sense of belonging. This sense of belonging goes beyond the enterprise itself, and this sense of mission is not just working for the company, but on top of that.

To this end, we provide many projects for our employees, such as planting trees or volunteering for marathons. At the same time, we also enhance transparency by opening to the community and employees, so that they can participate in the process, and we can truly build a trustworthy brand.

China Sustainability Tribune: You just mentioned how to build a trustworthy brand. How do you understand the relationship between sustainable development and brand?

Marcelo: Building a trustworthy and sustainable brand based on environmental protection, innovation and responsibility, and incorporating it into the soul of the enterprise, plays a very important role in enhancing the corporate image.

But building a brand is not only about doing things, but also about positioning and understanding how to communicate. Therefore, we often hold activities all over the country, inviting the surrounding communities to join in... All of these have brought strong brand effect to the company, and we have been recognized by more and more stakeholders, and even honored with Magnolia Silver Award from Shanghai Municipal Government.

Sustainable development is closely related to the environment, air quality and health. It is our responsibility to communicate and strive for it. But more importantly, we want to ensure that every of our employee has a good health both during and after work.

China Sustainability Tribune: The greatest sustainability is good health. Good management of health and caring for employees shows a successful entrepreneur's concerns for the employees. In recent years, China has also vigorously advocated "entrepreneurship". How do you understand entrepreneurship? What do you think of the relationship between entrepreneurs and enterprises?

Marcelo: That's an interesting topic. When you start from scratch and build your own business, entrepreneurship is always with you. I think anyone can be an entrepreneur, whether in terms of developing their own business or working for a company.

In Air Liquide, we encourage and support our employees to contribute new initiatives or ideas to innovation, efficiency improvement and better customers' experience. To this end, we attach great importance to creating a good working environment and providing necessary resource support.

In fact, the source of innovation in our series of new products, applications and process improvements in China is people in this field, not managers or directors. Compared with many companies, some of the most skilled technicians think that to get promoted and have better living conditions, they have to be managers, but in Air Liquide, it's not necessary. For young people who are just starting out, whether wanting to be an executive or an engineer, we will provide opportunities to develop their strengths, and give them appropriate recognition and remuneration for their work.

We've invested a lot in changing each of us. It's not an easy job. In Air Liquide, you are not only an employee, you can also become an entrepreneur yourself.
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