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Southwest Airlines’ Weight Loss Program

In 2010, Southwest Airlines saved more than 570,000 gallons of fuel and reduced emissions by approximately 5,700 metric tons of carbon dioxide equivalent through the use of electric, rather than petroleum-powered GSE. The reductions and others were the result of a program entitled Evolve, the new Southwest interior, part of the bigger picture of corporate responsibility at the company.

The project began in 2009 when Southwest launched the Green Plane, a revamped Boeing 737-700, making cabin interiors more lightweight, recyclable and sustainable. Feedback from customers and in-flight test results helped evolve the interior features including the carpet, seat covers, life vest pouch, and passenger seat rub strips.

The company introduced materials that had never been on a plane:

— Carpet – InterfaceFlor’s “flying carpet” 100 percent recyclable modular Sky-Tiles come in small squares instead of one large roll and are made from a new combination of textiles and backings, both of which make the squares more sustainable than most types of carpet, and are manufactured in a closed loop process. Interface fully recycles its carpets and last year, InterfaceFlor recycled 4 million sq. yds. of vinyl carpet across all of its markets. Flying carpet tiles are removed from planes and sent back to InterfaceFlor for recycling instead going into the landfill.  Carpet part numbers at Southwest, for example, went from 260 to three (3), increasing efficiency.

— Seat frame – A reuse approach preserves seat frames. Aluminum frames are not discarded as is done at other airlines. Southwest saved $50 million by reusing the frames.

— Seats covers – E-Leather, which lasts almost twice as long as traditional leather, is made with leather scraps from the leather industry producing a unique new material that is lighter weight, scuff resistant and wipes clean, something traditional leather does not do.

— Seat parts – Plastic parts of seats have been replaced with aluminum, which is more durable, sturdier, long lasting, recyclable and better looking.

— Life vest pouch – Previously, life vests were housed in a two-pound plastic box. By eliminating the box with a canvas pouch, Southwest not only loses the weight but also saves labor costs associated with safety checks and provides passengers with more room.

— Wind screen or bulkhead – The current leather product has been replaced, thus reducing labor costs and waste as it is more durable and lasts longer.

Nancy Schneider
Nancy Schneider is a sustainability consultant with EarthPeople. She is a frequent contributor on topics of sustainability, leadership and resource management for the commercial and public sectors. For a comprehensive look at Green Business certification programs, see the green paper on this topic in the Toolkit on www.earthpeopleco.com.
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One thought on “Southwest Airlines’ Weight Loss Program

  1. Pretty cool how they can shed ounces here and there and save over 600 lbs across the aircraft. I find it hard to believe that the floatation vest box is 2 lbs. Funny, but when I saw the link for this story, I thought that it was about the flight attendants losing some weight. They would have to be pretty hefty to start with before saving hundreds of pounds across the whole crew.

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