The Unsuitablog

Exposing Ethical Hypocrites Everywhere!

Southwest Airlines Squeeze All Meaning Out Of “Green”

Posted by keith on October 22nd, 2009

It was with squeals of delight and amazement that I received this gem of a press release from David at Southwest Airlines, a 500 plane, budget airline in the south western states of the USA, has managed to use the word “green” in a spectacularly inappropriate way. See what you think:

DALLAS, Oct. 21 /PRNewswire-FirstCall/ — Southwest Airlines (NYSE: LUV) today announced at its annual Media Day a “green plane,” an innovative idea that marries efficiency, environmentally responsible products, Customer comfort, and reduced waste and weight. This plane, a Boeing 737-700, will serve as a test environment for new environmentally responsible materials and Customer comfort products.

It is a flying testament to the airline’s philosophy that environmental decisions make good business sense. All of the initiatives being tested on this Green Plane, when combined, will equate to a weight savings of almost five pounds per seat, thus saving fuel and reducing emissions, along with adding recyclable elements to the cabin interior and reducing waste.

“Southwest is committed to continuing to lead the industry in emissions reductions through fuel efficiency. Efficiency in fuel consumption benefits our Company as well as the environment, and this has been part of our business model since the beginning,” said Gary Kelly, Southwest’s Chairman, President, and CEO. “As we look to the future, we know climate change remains of vital importance to our industry, our Company, and our Customers, so Southwest works hard every day in every area to be a responsible steward of the environment.”

Southwest has designated one aircraft to serve as a test for eco-friendly products, which include:

— InterfaceFLOR Carpet – this carpet reduces labor and material costs
because it is installed in sections, thus eliminating the need for total
replacement of areas such as aisles, where Southwest currently uses one
single piece of carpet. The 100 percent recyclable carpet is returned to
the manufacturer at the end of its service life and completely
re-manufactured into new carpet; the process is completely carbon

— Seat covers – two new products that will be tested on the aircraft
seats, offering more than twice the durability than the current leather
seats as well as a weight savings of almost two pounds per seat.

— On one side of the aisle, e-Leather is an eco-friendly, lightweight
and scuff resistant man-made alternative to traditional leather. It
is made from recycled materials that have been discarded by the
leather industry. It is then upgraded utilizing eco-friendly
technology, resulting in composition leather, a man-made material.

— On the other side of the aisle, IZIT Leather, a new breed of premium
leather alternative, is an evolutionary step beyond calf skin that
offers a lightweight product that is both economical and durable,
but with the genuine appearance and touch of luxurious leather.

— Life Vest Pouch – more environmentally friendly because it offers a
weight savings of one pound per passenger, replacing the current metal
container with lighter durable canvas. The smaller pouch also creates
more room under the seat for carryon items and offers productivity
improvements due to design change.

— Foam Fill – A lighter weight fill from Garnier PURtec in the back of the
seats that reduces weight while providing increased Customer comfort.

— Passenger Seat Rub Strips – switching from plastic to aluminum will help
with durability, which reduces waste, as well as being recyclable.

“Southwest is proud to lead the aviation industry in environmental stewardship and honored to be working with these eco-friendly vendors and our partners at Boeing,” Kelly says. “We are excited to test their forward-thinking products and expect these green products to not only help the environment, but also create a fuel and materials cost saving for Southwest.”

In addition to the green plane, Southwest also announced the Nov. 1 kickoff of its more robust onboard recycling program, which is a co-mingled system that will allow the airline to capture more recyclable material and divert it from the waste stream. This 18-month process involved team work from all areas of the Company to implement the program on the ground at its Provisioning Bases and re-working of waste collection procedures in the cabin.

“The initiative by the Southwest Airlines Green Team, Facilities Maintenance, Inflight Department, and Provisioning Department was a truly heroic effort; when you serve nearly 68 cities there are often 68 different ways to implement a program,” Kelly says. “We appreciate the hard work of our recycling vendor, Republic Services, and we are excited to take a very effective recycling program and make it even better.”

Environmental Stewardship is a responsibility Southwest takes seriously, and efficient operations are the hallmark of our Company and the foundation of our environmental commitment. Over the decades, Southwest has been at the forefront of such efficiencies as paperless tickets, quick turnarounds, installation of winglets, and, more recently; the installation of fleet-wide advanced avionics. This focus on efficiency not only makes good business sense, it is the right thing to do. For more information on how Southwest Airlines cares for the environment, visit

I included the entire press release so that you have time to grasp the monumental gulf between the cool new materials they are using, and the sheer amount of energy required to transport hundreds of people in a large metal airframe with fuel-packed wings against the force of gravity and at high lateral speed. I am torn between whether Southwest actually believe their own press releases and their “cares” information (that’s where they got the hilarious phrase “Environmental Stewardship is a responsibility Southwest takes seriously, and efficient operations are the hallmark of our Company and the foundation of our environmental commitment”), and whether they are acutely aware of how crap airlines are in environmental terms and are just desperate to suck up a few gullible souls with their “green” message.

The thing that turned me from the former to the latter opinion (i.e. they are Greenwashing Hypocrites) was this:

Southwest Rapid Rewards

Notice the inducement to take no less than sixteen flights (eight round trips) in a two year period; yes, it’s another flight. Which seems to slightly jar with the claim that they take their environmental responsibilities seriously. Let’s get this straight (and I am getting fed up saying this): there is nothing sustainable about burning fossil fuels to keep things in the air. Hence my attacks on organisations like Climate Counts, which promote themselves as being of benefit to the natural environment, but instead end up making people think — and they do, I’ve heard it from ordinary peoples’ mouths — that inherently destructive things can be green.

Seriously people, learn.

4 Responses to “Southwest Airlines Squeeze All Meaning Out Of “Green””

  1. Quick Green Reads For The Weekend Volume 140. | The Good Human Says:

    […] Southwest Airlines, a 500 plane, budget airline in the south western states of the USA, has managed to use the word “green” in a spectactularly inappropriate way. See what you think. […]

  2. Rose Bridger Says:

    A very thorough dissection of this airline’s green claims. I especially liek what you found abtou the free trips. Never mind, Ryan Air have reduced the weight of their in-flight cutlery, East Midland Airport has put a few wind turbines onits roof, and Southampton Airport has got some electric baggage trolleys which reduce CO2 emissions, so the planet is saved!

  3. keith Says:

    Thanks Rose. Do I detect a hint of sarcasm here ;-)

  4. Greenwash Of The Week: Southwest Airlines "Green" Plane. | The Good Human Says:

    […] have already seen this story through my social media channels, after I sent it over to my friend Keith at The Unsuitablog, a big-time lover of all things greenwash. But for those who missed it, I wanted to mention it here […]

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