Southwest Airlines Upcycling Project Turns Energy Savings into Shoes and Soccer Balls

Earth Day Network partner Southwest Airlines has announced the launch of LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose, a global sustainability initiative to upcycle 43 acres of used leather seat coverings into new products that benefit communities by providing skills training, employment and donated products, while saving fuel and reducing carbon emissions.  

The program was developed following the company’s redesign of its 737-700 and737-300 fleets that replaced the leather seat covers and other interior elements with environmentally friendly materials.  Through the redesign, Southwest reduced the weight of each aircraft by more than 600 pounds.

But they didn’t stop there. Rather than dumping the old seats into landfills, Southwest devised a unique upcycling project that partnered with NGOs to turn the leather into soccer balls, shoes and more while also providing paid apprenticeships that teach valuable lessons.

At a boarding school facility in Malawi, TeamLift will develop a leatherworks training program that teaches entrepreneurial skills while generating proceeds to support the school.

Another NGO, Maasai Treads, is using the leather from Southwest to make shoes for children, supporting a major anti jigger campaign.

Alive & Kicking Kenya uses the upcycled leather to make soccer balls that include messaging about HIV and malaria prevention.

Life Beads Kenya will use the leather to produce goods for distribution to local community groups.

One recipient of the donated products is Cura Orphanage, a Nairobi residence for children who have lost their parents to AIDS.

And the good works aren’t limited to Africa. In Portland, Oregon, Looptworks will upcycle the seats into limited edition merchandise as part of Southwest’s celebration of the end of the Wright Amendment (an arcane law that limited non-stop flights within Texas), creating needed jobs in a region that has been hard hit by the downturn in the economy.

Way to go, Southwest!