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LEARNING CURVE: SITAG INTERNATIONAL

Clean Chairman : Befriending Environment Sits Well

September 24, 1996

When Reto Eberle opened Sitag International, a seating company modeled after a firm in his native Switzerland, he implemented strict environmental policies such as those in Europe. Although they require more effort and money, he learned that being environmentally friendly made his Irvine-based company more efficient and competitive. Eberle was interviewed by Karen Kaplan.

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I worked for five years in the research and development department of Sitag, a company in Senwald, Switzerland, that manufactures ergonomic office seating. But my dream was to come to America, and after I was settled here I decided to open an independent Sitag International business.

Europe has very strong environmental laws, and Switzerland puts a lot of pressure on manufacturers to care for the environment. It is just second nature for me to take the environment into consideration.

Any time we design a new product, we make sure that we can minimize our waste material. That saves us energy and power, which is both environmentally friendly and cost-effective.

We use recycled and recyclable materials in most of our products, especially the plastics for our chair frames. When a company is ready to replace the chairs they bought from us, they can sell them to a recycling company because the material still has value.

We are very careful to be sure our employees are not exposed to any harmful substances in the manufacturing cycle because we don't want them to end up with lung cancer or anything like that. You don't really see the benefits of this in the short run, and that's why a lot of companies don't invest in this. But it pays off in the long run because our employees will stay healthy and work for us for 10 or 20 years.

When we installed a new injection molding machine for seat foam early this year, we bought the most state-of-the-art machine that doesn't cause any emissions. Here in Irvine, the Air Quality Management District is very strict with their regulations, and people were afraid it would take a long time to get approval.

But they signed off right away, and that allowed us to start using it right away. Plus we didn't need to install big fans or filter systems to clean up emissions, which can be expensive. Now we have a reputation for being a very clean firm. That means our dealings with the AQMD are smooth because they know our company is very environmentally safe and friendly.

The equipment costs a little more, and you have to invest some time and effort into finding it. But when you invest in the most advanced technology, you know that you won't need to make changes or modifications when new legislation or regulations come up.

When we're talking to a client, we'll talk about all of our efforts to help the environment. Sometimes people are really impressed by that and it makes them more inclined to buy from us. People who are looking at ergonomic seating are very aware of health problems, so they appreciate our environmental initiatives.

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AT A GLANCE

Company: Sitag International

Owner: Reto Eberle

Nature of business: Manufactures and sells office seating

Location: Irvine

Year founded: 1990

Number of employees: 25

Annual sales: $6 million

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