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Oct 292009

By Melissa Segrest
Green Right Now

Let’s be honest. Airplanes are big offenders when it comes to emissions and use of fossil fuels. Yet even though solutions to that problem are a ways off, some airlines are trying to green other aspects of their operations.

Southwest Airlines green plane 1

(Photo: Southwest Airlines)

The newest effort: Last week, Southwest Airlines flew its first “green plane,” a Boeing 737-700 loaded with environmentally conscious elements.

What makes it green?

  • A recyclable carpet that also reduced labor and materials (because it was installed in sections).
  • Two types of seat covers, both environmentally friendly. On one side of the aisle is “e-Leather” – made from recycled materials discarded by the leather industry and upgraded to composition, man-made leather. Across the aisle, seats are covered in IZIT Leather, a new alternative material. All the seats weigh about 2 pounds less than their predecessors.
  • A lighter-weight canvas container for the life vest (replacing metal ones) that will also create more room under the seats.
  • A lighter-weight fill for the back of the seats.

Reducing an airplane’s weight is a significant factor in emissions and fuel use. Marilee McInnis, a Southwest representative, said that their green plane is 519 pounds lighter than a comparable model outfitted the old way.

Southwest Airlines green plane 3

(Photo: Southwest Airlines)

In addition to the interior changes on the plane, Southwest is kicking off an effort to improve recycling onboard all its flights with a “co-mingled” system that will allow all recyclable items to go into a single container.

Examining how waste was handled took 18 months of study and work by five groups, including facilities maintenance workers and ground operations. “We had to implement co-mingled recycling on the ground first,” McInnis said.

Southwest may be the first airline to test “eco-friendly products” onboard an airplane, McInnis said.

There are other changes that Southwest is mulling. “We are looking at different windscreen (bulkheads) materials that are more durable and slightly lighter,” she said.

Southwest’s 35-member “Green Team” was an active participant in planning the revamped plane. That team tries to “put a green filter on the business decisions being made and to try these eco-friendly materials on one aircraft,” McInnis said. “We believe that environmental decisions also make Southwest Airlines green plane 4good business sense and this plane is proof of that – it’s good for the bottom line, saving fuel and labor costs, but it is also good for the planet.”

The Green Team has representatives from all of Southwest’s major operating groups, and it meets every few weeks to look for ways to “green up” the company. “We also have a Green Ambassador Team composed of nearly 300 employees across our system who help implement . . .initiatives and promote environmental stewardship at work and home,” McInnis said.

What happens next? If the new products are comfortable and effective, Southwest will retrofit each plane as it comes up for refurbishing. “This would mean that after a decision is made, within four years our fleet of more than 500 aircraft would be completely installed with the new products,” she added.

McInnis has a personal stake in the project. She founded and leads Southwest’s Green Team. “I am personally super excited. A ‘green’ plane has been a hope for a long time, but there are many people at Southwest who . . . are excited about what this means for our company, relating to our commitment to the environment . . . .

“We are all thrilled to see this plane flying.”

Copyright © 2009 Green Right Now | Distributed by Noofangle Media