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

Jul 15, 2014 1:00 PM ET

It is with great excitement that today, we’re launching 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 pilot of this initiative, the products will benefit communities in Kenya, Malawi, and the United States by providing access to employment, skills training, and livelihoods. 

Upcycling – not to be confused with recycling – is the process of converting waste materials into new materials or products of better quality or for better environmental value.  With 43 acres worth of leather seat covers coming off our aircraft through Evolve, we knew we didn’t want to just discard it in a landfill or shred it.  We wanted to do something better with it.  And, that is exactly what we are doing through LUV Seat

Today, Phase One of the project begins with a training program in Nairobi, Kenya, where young adults are learning skills to make shoes, soccer balls, backpacks, and other leather goods – giving them the critical skills they need 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 put so little value on – used leather – was life changing for these organizations, its members, and the local community.  Realizing that 500 leather seat covers would make nearly 2000 pairs of shoes to help the people of Kenya prevent jiggers in their feet, or 1000 soccer balls so kids can play with a real ball while also learning about health education through sports, shows how important it is to look at used goods in a new way and give them a second life. It makes me very proud that the Green Team had the idea; Bill Tiffany, VP of Supply Chain Management who grew up in Kenya, advocated for the effort and pointed us in the right direction, and Gary and Southwest’s Senior Leadership 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 and click on the leather tab or visit