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Repurpose with Purpose: Southwest Airlines Takes Sustainability to the Next Level

minnis
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Today Southwest Airlines is excited to launch LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose, our Company’s newest global sustainability initiative that will upcycle the used leather seat coverings from the Evolve retrofit into brand new products that support local communities.  Through the initiative's pilot program, the products will benefit communities in Kenya, Malawi, and the United States by providing access to employment, skills training, and livelihoods.

LUV Seats leather arrives at SOS Kenya to be stored, prepared, and shipped to partners.
LUV Seats leather arrives at SOS Kenya to be stored, prepared, and shipped to partners.

Upcycling—not to be confused with recycling—is the process of converting waste materials into new materials or products of better quality/better environmental value.  During the Evolve retrofitting we removed the equivalent of 43 acres of leather seat covers from our aircraft—leather that we didn’t want to discard in a landfill or shred.  We wanted to do something better, which is exactly what we are doing through LUV Seat.

At Life Beads Kenya, teaching beading skills helps young adults find new lives.
At Life Beads Kenya, teaching beading skills helps young adults find new lives.

Today, phase one of the project begins with a training program in Nairobi, Kenya, where young adults learn skills to make shoes, soccer balls, backpacks, and other leather goods—giving them the critical skills needed to participate in the economy.  By donating our leather and providing grants to create this training program with local social enterprises, Southwest is able to ensure that these products are given back to the local community, reinforcing our commitment to global citizenship, and strengthening and expanding our focus on sustainability. When visiting the organizations we are partnering with in Kenya—SOS Children’s Village Kenya, Alive & Kicking, Maasai Treads, Seed of Hope, and Life Beads Kenya—it was amazing and humbling to realize that something we place little value on—used leather—is life changing for these organizations, its members, and the local community.

Leather from the Evolve redesign will be made into shoes and donated to the Nairobi community.
Leather from the Evolve redesign will be made into shoes and donated to the Nairobi community.

Realizing that 500 leather seat covers will make nearly 2,000 pairs of shoes to help prevent Kenyans from getting jiggers in their feet, or 1,000 soccer balls so kids can learn about health education while playing with a real ball, shows the importance of looking at used goods in a new way and giving them a second life.  It makes me very proud of everyone at Southwest who worked on this special project—the Company's Green Team who developed the idea; VP of Supply Chain Management Bill Tiffany, who grew up in Kenya, pointed us in the right direction and advocated for the effort; and Southwest’s Senior Leadership, including CEO Gary Kelly, who supported the idea and helped make it come true. And this is just the beginning.  We have even more used leather from the retrofit, and we need your help to find other opportunities where it can make a difference!  Have an idea?  Use hashtag #LUVSeat and tweet or post to Facebook your great ideas and organizations that could benefit.  To learn more about the project and meet James and Robinson, two of the many Kenyans that we hope will benefit from the program, go to www.facebook.com/southwest and click on the leather tab or visit www.swamedia.com/luvseat.