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Southwest Airlines One Report: Our Environmental Commitment

Adventurer A

This is the sixth of a series of posts about our new 2009 Southwest One Report™—a single report on our triple bottomline of Performance, People, and Planet adhering to Global Reporting Initiative standards.

Mmm…a cold soft drink on a hot summer day can hit the spot, but be sure to toss that aluminum can in a recycling bin rather than the trash.  Why’s that so important?  It’s possible that archaeologists could stumble across your drink can in a dig since it can take 400 years for an aluminum can to break down naturally.  What??!!  That’s right.  Think about that the next time you finish up your favorite beverage in a can.  

At Southwest Airlines, we know the right thing to do is to reduce, reuse, and recycle.  In the 2009 Southwest One Report™, you may have read that in November of last year we launched a more robust co-mingled onboard recycling program that builds on the success of our already established recycling program at our facilities.  Our Customers played a role in this initiative by telling our Customer Relations and Customer Support & Services Teams that they wanted us to recycle more than just aluminum cans.  We definitely listened and decided to partner with Republic Services, Inc. since they allow for the collection of co-mingled waste (paper, aluminum, and plastic).  Even though a co-mingled waste stream (versus aluminum alone) can reduce potential rebates, it has given us the opportunity to increase the total volume of material collected for recycling onboard.  And, the numbers speak for themselves.  Our waste diversion percentage doubled just one month after our November 2009 launch.  We know that environmental decisions can also make good business sense and this is just an example.  By diverting waste from the waste stream into the recycling stream, we save real costs to our bottomline, because we pay for each trash pickup. Thanks to the Southwest Airlines Green Team, Facilities Maintenance, Inflight Department, and Provisioning Department along with our partner Republic who have helped us make our recycling efforts even better.

But this is just the beginning.  The second phase of this initiative is to provide more recycling opportunities at all of our 69 locations.  Some of our airport stations are already rockin’ and rollin’, Chicago Midway (MDW) and Sacramento (SMF) just to name a few.  Currently, the majority of our locations that offer the opportunity to recycle are equipped with open-top containers.  The containers have as-needed haul service, which is typically once a week.  Well, hang on to your seat because MDW had 17 hauls in May and 19 hauls in June.  SMF has averaged approximately 10 to 12 hauls per month.  What does this mean?  It means they are diverting massive amounts of recyclable materials from the waste stream and, because of this tremendous success, these two Stations will soon be converted to compactors, which will allow the more efficient collection of recyclables.  It’s amazing to see how our recycling programs continue to gain efficiencies. 

Bottomline, our goal is to reduce waste pickups not only for the economic benefit (Southwest pays millions of dollars every year for waste pickup) but because it’s the right thing to do to continue to protect our environment for future generations.  To date we have saved more than 37,000 trees, more than one million gallons of oil, and more than 15 million gallons of water.  We don’t want it to stop there.  Environmental Stewardship is a responsibility Southwest takes seriously, and we remain committed to continue finding ways to minimize waste and protect the Earth.