The emergence of a classic tool as a cornerstone for environmentally friendly entrepreneurship: An interview with PB Swiss Tools CEO Eva Jaisli and Project Manager Development Manufacturing Martin Leuenberger about quality, responsibility and decarbonization.
«We factor environmental concerns into the procurement of a new machine.»
Project Manager Development Manufacturing
Since 1878, PB Swiss Tools has been producing Swiss quality tools and medical instruments for the entire world in its plant in Emmental. Ms. Jaisli, you have been running the company for 25 years – to what can you attribute the many years of success?
Eva Jaisli (EJ): A continuous development process in which we constantly ask ourselves: What will our customers expect from us in the future? Which requirements must we fulfill in order to meet their expectations and inspire them? Other key factors include our innovative capacity, our unmistakable quality and our competitive prices. These aspects play a decisive role in whether we maintain a leading position on the global market and can continue to keep our promise of “work with the best”.
Martin Leuenberger (ML): Something that is also definitely worth mentioning is the lifelong guarantee placed on our tools. If we were not convinced by our tools ourselves, we would not vouch for them. People trust our tools – they are constant companions for those working in industry and the trades, as well as for discerning DIY enthusiasts.
Sustainability is massively important in our company. How did this focus come about?
EJ: From one generation to the next, the owner families have set the focus on sustainability and invested accordingly. We have shaped the development of the company in line with our perception of our social, economic and environmental responsibilities. A good example of this is our completely recyclable handle made from cellulose acetate butyrate (CAB) – a modified natural material that is manufactured based on cellulose. The handle was developed out of necessity during World War Two, when it was no longer possible to source tools from abroad. The Swiss Armed Forces asked PB Swiss Tools to cover the demand. My father-in-law took on the challenge and invested half a year’s turnover into buying an injection-molding system from the USA, a technology that was unheard of in Europe at the time.
That sounds like a bold investment…
ML: Yes, this was massively risky and innovative. He was a pioneer who aspired to manufacture a high-quality handle that could be mass-produced while taking environmental aspects into consideration. This product cut an impressive figure on the market – and is still popular around the world to this very day.
PB Swiss Tools focused on heat pumps from an early stage. Were similar considerations at the heart of this move too?
EJ: My father-in-law was also responsible for this vision. He said: “I do not want any chimneys on the new production plant. There must be another solution.” This meant that, in 1979, we were the first company in Switzerland to integrate a heat pump system on this scale.
ML: And this was despite the crazy costs at the time – an oil burner would have only cost a fraction of what a heat pump cost. Back then, this was a pioneering achievement from which we still draw strength today.
Since then, you have installed further heat pumps. What advantages do these offer?
ML: We can operate the heat pumps using the waste heat from the cooling water from our machines. One of our two plants is heated exclusively using groundwater heat pumps.
Do environmental and energy issues play an important role in the strategy at PB Swiss Tools?
EJ: Yes, sustainable development is one of the focuses in our four-year strategy. This is in line with the vision of a sustainably developing society. Based on this strategy, we are developing an action plan in which the milestones are set for two years. This includes cutting down on environmentally relevant factors such as water, electricity and chemicals as well as the reduction of reduction of greenhouse gas emissions.
How is your working relationship?
ML: Working together is quite straightforward. It does not take us very long to make decisions. If there are questions to be answered or decisions to be made, we take a look at the situation together, carry out an analysis with everyone involved and then make a prompt decision.
«Sustainable development pertains to quality.»
Switzerland aspires to achieve the goal of net zero emissions. Are you also aiming to do this with PB Swiss Tools?
EJ: Most definitely. CO² reduction is one of the requirements needing to be met to counteract climate change. There is socio-political and entrepreneurial interest in this topic. Our measures are helping us to both reduce emissions and also cut costs. The goal is thus in alignment with the way in which we think and is therefore also part of our strategy.
In addition to heat pumps, you have realized further environmentally friendly measures.
ML: That’s correct. Another milestone we reached was the wastewater treatment ten years ago. Thanks to the introduction of the circulatory decontamination for our electroplating system, we now use a great deal less water. We factor environmental concerns into the procurement of a new machine. We test how we can use secondary energy, for example for heating purposes. We are constantly upgrading our technology and production equipment and in so doing improve environmental protection and occupational health and safety. It definitely pays off to question and constantly improve existing processes.
EJ: We are committed to assuming environmental responsibility for ourselves and future generations. This requires us to take a systematic approach to the way in which we think, make decisions and implement solutions. However, the attitude and spirit within the company are also important factors here. If several people have the same mindset, this will normally lead to better results. The measures also require a willingness to invest on an ongoing basis.
How specifically is this carried out?
ML: For example, the maintenance of our systems takes a high priority. Wear and tear is always a loss that can lead to breakdowns and outages. That’s why it is very important to take the entire life cycle into consideration during product development – from development to disposal.
EJ: Suppliers and the way in which they take care of the environment are also of great interest to us. We want to repeatedly examine all of the aspects carefully and then ask: What level of technological development are we at? Where can we use new solutions to further optimize our products and production processes?
What framework conditions do SME require to pursue decarbonization?
EJ: We need entrepreneurial freedom and we must exercise it with all due responsibility and care. The Swiss Environmental Protection Act, which came into force in 1985, became one of the drivers of the obligation to exercise due care and definitely helped to promote environmentally friendly production methods.
You have both mentioned corporate culture as being a factor for ensuring sustainable business activities. Can you explain this in more detail?
ML: One topic we are looking at is eco-sufficiency. In this context, we consider whether taking a flight to visit a client is absolutely necessary and if we could approach this in a different manner. We always check whether there are alternative methods so that we can save resources. The willingness to do without is also part of this. It is an attitude towards life. Fortunately, we have a lot of colleagues and employees that think in the same way and see sense in it.
EJ: Meaningful work is a very important point. Sustainable development is part of what makes life worth living – whether that's as an individual, a family, a company or a society. Responsible economic management is something that is meaningful for me. We focus on this at PB Swiss Tools. We harness innovation and continuity in the development of our products, without losing sight of our responsibility towards the environment. This is because sustainable development is a core component of the level of quality we provide. This is our company philosophy. Standard bearers that exemplify this philosophy in their own lives are needed. And not just within the company.
Eva Jaisli, CEO of PB Swiss Tools und Vice President of Swissmem, is committed to a responsible economy on a national level.
Waste heat from the machines in the plant are used to operate the heat pump.
Acetobutyrate is used in the manufacture of tool handles. This material is recycled on site and reused in the production process.
Martin Leuenberger joined PB Swiss Tools in 1998 and is responsible for the Environment and Occupational Health and Safety departments.
Interview: Corinne Keller
Photo: Sonja Heusinger