US carrier Southwest Airlineshas launched the LUV Seat initiative, named after the airline’s NYSE code. With the tagline ‘Repurpose with Purpose’, the programme represents a global sustainability initiative to upcycle 43 acres of used leather seat coverings into new products that will benefit communities by providing employment, skills training and donated products.
The LUV Seat idea was developed following the company’s Evolve programme, a large-scale redesign of all its B737-700 aircraft, a portion of its B737-300 fleet, and is now standard on all the airline’s new aircraft. The Evolve programme saw all the carrier’s leather seat covers and other interior elements replaced with environmentally friendly materials. Through this redesign, Southwest claims it has reduced the weight of each of its aircraft by more than 600 lbs. Following on from the Evolve programme, with LUV Seat, Southwest donates its used leathers to social causes and keeps them out of landfill sites.
“The Evolve redesign was a major milestone in supporting our sustainability goals,” said Bill Tiffany, VP of supply chain management at Southwest Airlines. “But we didn’t want to stop there – with the pilot of LUV Seat in Nairobi, Malawi, and the United States, we’re embarking on a new vision of social impact through training, job creation, and ultimately product donation. We look forward to identifying additional partners through a call to action, using the hashtag #LUVSeat, for our employees, Customers, and the general public to share their ideas of how we should upcycle the remaining leather.”
These initiatives are the first phase of a multi-year campaign to re-use leather through upcycling projects around the world, according to Southwest. In Nairobi, Kenya (the project’s pilot location), SOS Children’s Villages Kenya, the primary non-profit partner that serves orphaned children and families in need, along with Alive & Kicking, Masaai Treads, and Life Beads Kenya, will use the leather to produce goods for distribution to local community groups.
Through the partnership, SOS youth will receive paid apprenticeships and training to make shoes and soccer balls from the leather. When completed, the shoes will be distributed as part of an anti-jigger campaign. The upcycled soccer balls will be donated to support education programmes that use sports to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and Malaria prevention.
One recipient of the donated products is Cura Orphanage, a residence for children who have lost their parents to AIDS. Cura Orphanage is sponsored by Creative Visions Foundation, a non-profit that supports media and the arts to affect change in the world. Local partners Gina Din Foundation and GoodMaker Films worked with Southwest to develop the on-the-ground partnerships.
Other partners include, TeamLift, a US-based nonprofit whose mission is to transform the lives of women and children in Sub-Saharan Africa. At a boarding school facility currently under construction in Malawi, TeamLift will develop a leather works training programme that will teach important entrepreneurial skills while generating proceeds that will support the school.
In the USA, Looptworks, a Portland, Oregon-based design company that rescues premium excess materials to design and produce sustainable goods will upcycle LUV Seat leather into limited edition merchandise as part of Southwest’s celebration of the end of the Wright Amendment in Dallas. Through partnering with Looptworks, Southwest will create needed jobs in a region that has been hard hit by the downturn in the economy.