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Waste Not
Southwest's 'LUV Seat' Project Will Upcycle 43 Acres of Used Leather, Create Jobs in Africa, US

On Tuesday, Southwest Airlines 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 will benefit communities by providing employment, skills training, and donated products.

Now the airline will donate all of that used leather to partners in Kenya, Malawi and the US for upcycling, creating jobs in these developing areas and keeping the material out of landfills.

"The Evolve redesign was a major milestone in supporting our sustainability goals," said Bill Tiffany, Southwest’s VP of Supply Chain Management. "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.”

The three initiatives are the first phase of a multi-year campaign to reuse Southwest's leather through upcycling projects around the world, with the project partners aiming to increase quality of life and industry standards for the environment and communities in which they operate.

In Nairobi, Kenya (the project's pilot location), SOS Children's Villages Kenya, the primary nonprofit 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.

"We are pleased to join with Southwest Airlines and thank them for launching the LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose program to benefit SOS Children's Villages in Kenya," said Lynn Croneberger, CEO of SOS Children's Villages — USA. "It's a fantastic, innovative program that will help make a positive impact on the lives of vulnerable women and children and the local community."

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 programs that use sports to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS and Malaria prevention.

LUV Seat bags

One recipient of the donated products will be Cura Orphanage, a residence for children who have lost their parents to AIDS, sponsored by Creative Visions Foundation, a nonprofit 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.

LUV Seat soccer balls

Other partners include TeamLift, Inc. 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 program that will teach important entrepreneurial skills while generating proceeds that will support the school.

Here in the US, Looptworks, a Portland, Ore.,-based design company and certified B Corp that rescues premium excess materials to design and produce sustainable goods, will upcycle LUV Seat leather into limited-edition, high-quality merchandise as part of Southwest's celebration of the end of the Wright Amendment in Dallas. Through partnering with Looptworks, Southwest will create much-needed jobs in the Columbia River Gorge region, which has been hard hit by the downturn in the economy.

"Our initial project with LUV Seat will begin to repurpose some of the 80,000 leather airline seats," said Scott Hamlin, co-founder of Looptworks. "We are working with Southwest to create new programs that will repurpose many more seats to help reduce excess, conserve water and fresh air and provide jobs in the process — I would love to see hundreds of jobs created and tens of thousands of these seats repurposed over the next three years."

Tiffany went on to say the airline would look to find additional partners through a call to action, using the hashtag #LUVSEAT, for its employees, customers, and the general public to share their ideas of how Southwest should upcycle the remaining leather.

Another company eliminating waste and creating jobs for those in need through upcycling is Thread, a finalist in the 2013 Innovation Open, which creates fabric from plastic bottle waste collected in Haiti. In May, Thread announced its first partnership with canvas bag manufacturer Moop — fabric made from 16 plastic bottles lines each Moop + Thread bag.


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