Ep. 94: Gregg Buchbinder of Emeco

Gregg Buchbinder, Chairman of iconic furniture brand Emeco, grew up in southern California, on a “long leash” and with a constant longing to be surfing or sailing. That love of the ocean infused him with a very strong sense of sustainability as his driving purpose. The story of Emeco began long before Gregg—in 1944 with the 1006 Navy Chair—but their destinies have been intertwined for generations. They have been through hardship and tragedy together, and have arisen through miraculous transformations.

What is your earliest memory?

At the age of 2 my mom played fetch with me at our apartment swimming pool. She would throw pennies to the bottom of the pool and before really knowing how to swim I’d go retreive them…..in hindsight it was probably dangerous. 

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How do you feel about democratic design? 

Unfortunately some companies have taken this wonderful idea and turned it into a marketing opportunity. They use “democratic design” as a way to persuade people to buy cheap trendy stuff to consume and throw away. I feel better about “consume less”. 

What’s the best advice that you’ve ever gotten?

Opportunity + Preparation = Luck 

How do you record your ideas?

I don’t record them. My ideas bounce around in my head and only the really good ones stick.  

What’s your current favorite tool or material to work with?

Aluminum of course 

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What book is on your nightstand?

Broken Nature by Paola Antonelli. The Emeco Team had the opportunity to see the Broken Nature exhibition at the Triennale during Milan Design Week in April. Very impactful! 

Why is authenticity in design important?

Authenticity in design at Emeco is what makes up our ethos; being true to our purpose of conservation, responsibility, & sustainability. It’s why we make chairs that last. 

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Favorite restaurant in your city?

A little restaurant with 8 tables - Café Gazelle Long Beach, CA 

What might we find on your desk right now?

A fountain pen from Jasper Morrison 

Who do you look up to and why?

I’ve always admired Jacques Cousteau. He was a great explorer, researcher, and conservationist of the ocean. He brought marine conservation to the public eye with his films and his powerful words: “Water and air, the two essential fluids on which all life depends, have become global garbage cans.” 

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What’s your favorite project that you’ve done and why?

The most important project was our joint venture with Coca-Cola because of the measurable positive impact it has for the planet. It took us four years to develop a way to upcycle the rPET and use that material to make a structurally sound chair. So far we have kept over 35 million waste plastic bottles out of the landfills and oceans, and we’ve inspired many other manufacturers to use recycled materials. 

My favorite project was working with Ettore Sottsass. He saw the beauty in the Navy Chairs and took them out of Navy Ships and used them in his beautiful homes and yachts. The Emeco 9-0 Chair was the last chair he designed, and it is named 9-0 because Sottsass was 90 years old when the chair was completed. 

What are the last five songs you listened to?

I listen to KJAZZ 88.1 everyday. It’s a  non-commercial public radio station broadcasting jazz and blues from the Long Beach State campus.

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Special thanks to WantedDesign for hosting this episode of Clever LIVE at their event during NYCxDesign. Thank you also to Tarkett and Paintzen for sponsoring the conversation lounge.


This episode of Clever is brought to you by Tarkett and Sunski.

Tarkett was the official flooring sponsor for WantedDesign 2019, where they were proud to support the Conversation Series. Explore the future of design, and learn more about Tarkett’s full portfolio of sustainable and innovative flooring solutions at TarkettNA.com.

Sunski’s polarized shades are designed for stylish adventure. Their sunglasses are strong, comfortable and made from recycled plastic, all for a fair price. See Sunski’s award-winning shades and save 10% using code VERYCLEVER at Sunski.com/clever.


Clever is produced by 2VDE Media. Thanks to Rich Stroffolino for editing this episode.
Music in this episode courtesy of
El Ten Eleven—hear more on Bandcamp.
Shoutout to
Jenny Rask for designing the Clever logo.