As part of a 2012 refit of its fleet of airliners, Southwest managed to save around 600 pounds per 737-700 aircraft by replacing leather seat covers with lighter materials.
The fuel savings are worthy of some sustainability kudos, but what happened to all of that leather?
Rather than let the 43 acres (!) of leather go to waste, Southwest worked with nonprofit organizations to recycle the material into usable products, according to TreeHugger. The initiative, called LUV Seat, is an example of how sustainable thinking is beginning to penetrate the hard shell of Corporate America.
Southwest reportedly spent over a year looking for places to donate the leather. Some manufacturers couldn’t work with used leather, while others couldn’t accept such a large donation.
Eventually, the airline began working with several organizations in Kenya, including SOS Children’s Villages Kenya, Alive & Kicking, Maasi Treads, and Life Beads Kenya. The groups helped set up paid apprenticeships for young people, who learn leather working by making shoes and soccer balls.
Southwest is encouraged by this program, and may move on to recycling other parts of its airplanes. For now, though, there’s plenty of leather to go around.