A Multicultural Edge in Sustainable Procurement: Four Questions to Air Liquide’s Shui Mahieu
Shui Mahieu is a Sustainable Procurement Manager at Air Liquide, a multinational provider of industrial gases and services across multiple industries. Originally from China, she’s been living in France for 14 years and is trilingual in Chinese, French and English.
Shui, what’s your story?
I was born and grew up in China. On completion of my first Master’s degree in Computer Science and Network at the University of Nanjing, I decided to study for a second Master’s degree, in French economy at the Lyon School of Management in France.
I spent four years at Alcatel-Lucent, part of Nokia Corporations, as a project manager of global procurement. It was an exciting adventure, particularly around the implementation of SAP Ariba. With almost 500 affected buyers in 30 countries, beyond the technical complexity, the big challenge was driving change.
I joined Air Liquide nine years ago and have been in charge of the Responsible Purchasing initiative within the Group Purchasing Department for almost four years.
Does your Chinese origin help in your responsible purchasing mission?
Being multicultural is definitely a benefit. Culturally, the CSR concept is often seen by Chinese firms as an expression of western values. China is on the way to becoming the number one global economic powerhouse; given these circumstances, it is time buyers acted openly regarding methods and processes used by Chinese business leaders to tackle environmental and social issues. This is the only way to truly gain their commitment, and this takes time.
On a more operational level, the EcoVadis assessment method, which involves a combination of questionnaire responses, material evidence and use of external data is not common in China, where on-site audits are used more often. One must therefore explain to a Chinese company the process and importance of documentary evidence. I have a good example in mind of one particularly engaged Chinese firm which improved its score from 19 to 36 and then to 45 in three assessments.
What projects are you currently working on at Air Liquide?
With the new French regulations Loi Sapin 2 and Devoir de Vigilance, I have the opportunity to grow responsible purchasing from “nice to have” to a legal obligation. And I feel more comfortable discussing these issues with our subsidiaries and pushing for real progress. We also have our own internal benchmark, focused on the urgency for action, and to demonstrate the sincerity of our approach: Sustainable Procurement is NOW! Not Only Words.
One of my current projects involves supplier risk mapping. Our organization is being decentralised in two phases over one year. Our aim is to evaluate [over 1000 suppliers on their] CSR performance by 2020.
My second big project at the moment concerns the EcoVadis platform interface and our Supplier Relationship Management team.
One final question, tell us about your EcoVadis experience?
I use the EcoVadis platform on a daily basis and I’m happy with it. To describe it in three words I would call it reliable, simple and global. CSR is a complex subject, but the assessment process and scorecards are simple. When I talk to buyers about CSR, they don’t always understand everything very well, but when I talk about scores it works for them because they are engineers. EcoVadis’ global coverage is also very important. We have suppliers all over the world. Our efforts to inform and support our suppliers has enabled us to obtain an engagement rate of over 70 percent in our evaluation campaign.
Finally, EcoVadis is not just a platform. For example, I call upon the local EcoVadis team and organize quarterly meetings between my best 10 suppliers and an EcoVadis representative. This allows us to be a lot more efficient.
The above interview was conducted in 2018 during EcoVadis’ annual Sustain conference, which brings together sustainability and procurement professionals from all around the world.