Southwest Airlines unveils first 'green plane'; saves 9,500 gallons of fuel per year

Southwest Airlines has announced the world's first "green plane," a Boeing 737-700 that's 472 lbs. lighter than a conventional model and saves 9,500 gallons of jet fuel per year.
Written by Andrew Nusca, Contributor

Southwest Airlines has announced the world's first "green plane," a Boeing 737-700 that's 472 lbs. lighter than a conventional model and saves 9,500 gallons of jet fuel per year.

It's no secret that the airplanes are some of the worst polluting transportation methods available. According to Outside.com, airlines account for about two percent of "all glacier-melting, polar bear-killing emissions released into our carbon-choked friendly skies."

That article cites Southwest as the leading U.S. airline for carbon footprint awareness, and notes that the company spent $175 million to retrofit the navigation systems on its planes to calculate tighter flight paths and thus reduce jet fuel consumption by six percent, or about 90 million gallons a year.

So it's no surprise that Southwest is again at the forefront of an industry that, in the U.S., lags behind the world in efficiency.

To lighten the Boeing 737-700's load, the company is installing recyclable InterfaceFLOR carpet, weight-saving seat covers and life vest pouches, lighter foam fill in the seats and aluminum (versus plastic) seat rub strips.

Here's a rundown of the advantages, in the carrier's own words:

  • 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 neutral.
  • 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.

The decision to go green isn't just smart for the environment, of course; it's also smart business. Aside from the recyclable elements, the updates will save almost five pounds per seat. That means less emissions (making the federal government happy) and less spent fuel (making shareholders happy).

Southwest also announced the Nov. 1 kickoff of a more robust onboard recycling program.

The company didn't say when the plane would take flight.

This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com

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