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Environmental Initiatives

Environmental Initiatives

At Southwest Airlines, we are committed to conservation and mitigation of our environmental impacts.  With efficiency as a core element of our business and climate change strategies, we strive to minimize our impact on the environment while remaining true to our triple bottom line of Performance, People, and Planet.  Read more about our sustainability efforts in the Southwest Airlines 2014 One Report.

Fuel Conservation and Emissions Reduction

Southwest is committed to continuing to lead the industry in emissions reductions through fuel efficiency. We have maintained our position as an industry leader in fuel efficiency and greenhouse gas (GHG) reductions through comprehensive programs of reinvestment in equipment and technological innovation and partnerships with industry and government. Some of our initiatives include:


In 2014, Southwest Airlines signed an agreement with Red Rock Biofuels to purchase 3 million gallons of low carbon renewable jet fuel per year.  This renewable fuel will be refined in Oregon from forest residues, helping to reduce the risk of destructive forest fires.  The blended product of biofuel and jet fuel is expected to be used at rnp demoSouthwest's San Francisco Bay Area operations, with first delivery anticipated in 2016.   

Jet Fuel Efficiency:

In a recent report by the International Council on Clean Transportation (ICCT), Southwest Airlines ranked first for in-service fuel efficiency among the four largest U.S. passenger airlines.  We have improved our fuel efficiency through a combination of fleet modernization, aircraft performance upgrades, weight reduction measures, and implementation of fuel-saving flight procedures. 

Our most significant strategic initiatives to improve fuel efficiency are our fleet modernization plan and our acquisition of Boeing 737-800 aircraft.  In 2014, we acquired 33 new -800s which now make up 13% of our total fleet.  The -800s offer significant fuel savings on an available seat mile (ASM) basis compared with the Boeing 737 Classic aircraft and the remaining AirTran 717-200 aircraft removed from Southwest service last year and leased to Delta Air Lines.  In 2017, Southwest will become the launch customer for the new Boeing 737 MAX aircraft, which will offer an additional 6 to 7 percent fuel efficiency increase over our 737 Classic Fleet. 

Along with modernizing our fleet, Southwest Airlines has invested more than $525 million over the past decade in fuel saving projects such as addition of winglets, engine upgrades, engine washes, use of ground power for aircraft at airport gates, and more efficient control of aircraft ground idle speeds.  In 2014 we completed the installation of split scimitar winglets on 39 of our Boeing 737-800 aircraft.  These new winglets, which extend downward from the wingtip, provided an incremental savings of more than 430,000 gallons of fuel in 2014.

By reviewing our fuel planning calculations and flight planning procedures, we saved an additional 12 million gallons of fuel in 2014 while continuing to provide for the absolute Safety of our Customers and Employees.  We also continue to increase the use of single-engine taxiing in our operations when our Pilots determine it can be utilized safely.  This fuel-saving procedure saved more than 780,000 gallons of fuel last year. 

As a weight savings measure, last year we finished equipping our Pilots with electronic flight bags, eliminating the need to carry paper charts and manuals.  Switching to these tablets removed 80 pounds from each flight and saved more than 60,000 gallons of fuel.  We also changed the way we stock our galleys, reducing the weight carried on each flight, and saving an additional 125,000 gallons of fuel in 2014.

One of our most significant initiatives is the use of Required Navigation Performance (RNP).  We are working with the FAA, airport officials, and industry stakeholders to develop and implement RNP procedures, which enable our aircraft to fly more efficient routes.  We currently use satellite-based RNP at 46 of the airports that we serve.  The FAA is working on a satellite-based Next Generation Air Transportation System (NextGen) that will allow us to utilize the advanced technology that already exists in our modern fleet.  In our 2014 One Report, we discuss NextGen and the opportunities it creates for additional fuel savings. 

Greenhouse Gas Emissions:

In 2014 for the second year in a row, we reduced our absolute greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.  In our One Report, we include our scope 1 and 2 emissions for 2010 through 2014, and for the past two years, we have included information on our scope 3 emissions.  Additionally, we highlight some of the projects that we've undertaken to reduce our GHG emissions on the ground and in the air, including ground equipment fueled by alternative fuels, our fleet modernization program, and LEED Silver certification for our new Training and Operational Support (TOPS) building.  Along with reducing ongoing emissions in our new TOPS building by being 13.9% more energy efficient than local building code requirements, we also reduced transportation emissions in the construction phase by sourcing 39% of the building materials from within a 500 mile radius.

Ground Support Equipment Energy Efficiency

We had two large Ground Support Equipment (GSE) electrification projects in 2014 at Austin Bergstrom International Airport (AUS) and Albuquerque International Sunport (ABQ).  By converting belt loaders and bag tugs from diesel to electric at these two locations, we increased our GSE fleet percentage powered by electricity to 18% systemwide.  Last year, we reduced our GHG emissions and saved more than 770,000 gallons of fuel by utilizing electric GSE instead of traditional diesel GSE.  Along with electric GSE, we also have equipment powered by other alternative fuels including solar, propane, and compressed natural gas.  Thirty-three percent of our fleet is powered by alternative fuels, electricity or cleaner-burning diesel retrofit engines. 

Recycling & Waste Reduction

LUV Seat

Our Evolve program, which replaced the leather seat covers and other interior elements with lighter weight, more environmentally friendly materials, left us with 43 acres of used leather.  As part of our commitment to global environmental sustainability, we saw an opportunity to do something innovative with this material rather than sending it to a landfill.  The LUV Seat upcycling project created new products from the used seat coverings and benefitted communities by providing donated materials to produce products that provided employment opportunities and skills training.  We partnered with Nairobi-based SOS Children's Villages Kenya, which serves orphaned children and families in need, along with Alive & Kicking, Maasai Treads, and Life Beads Kenya.  More information on this upcycling project can be found in our 2014 One Report. 

Waste Management

Southwest Airlines is committed to recycling on our aircraft and on the ground.  In 2014, we diverted more than 3,000 tons of material from landfills as a direct result of recycling.  Our co-mingled recycling program streamlines the process for our Employees, allowing them to recycle paper, cardboard, plastic, and aluminum in the same container. 

We continually look for ways to reduce the amount of waste that we generate in our offices and operations. Since 2010, we have reduced the amount of paper used per Employee at our Headquarters by nearly 40%.  The Electronic Flight Bags that replaced the daily printing of paper charts and manuals by our Pilots have further reduced our paper consumption. 

Employee Involvement and Community Outreach

At Southwest Airlines, we bring environmental issues to the forefront by way of our Green Team. Comprised of Employee volunteers across the Company, the Green Team offers recommendations to augment environmentally responsible business practices. The Green Team works cooperatively with our professional environmental staff and Green Ambassadors in each Southwest Airlines city to answer environmental questions from Employees and to consider suggestions for improvement. View our Who I Am video and learn how our Employees work with a Green filter.

America Recycles Day:

On Nov. 18, 2014, we celebrated America Recycles Day at our Headquarters campus.  Members of our Green Team and Green Ambassadors were on hand to educate Employees about recycling practices.  As part of the remodeling of our Headquarters building, we created Culture Centers-Employee break areas-that included changes and updates to the recycling collection points.  America Recycles Day provided a great opportunity for a refresher on what our Employees can do to contribute to the success of our recycling program. 

Green Team:

Comprised of Employee volunteers from across the Company, the Green Team offers recommendations to augment environmentally responsible business practices.  The Green Team works cooperatively with our Environmental Services Department and Green Ambassadors in each Southwest Airlines city to answer environmental questions from Employees and to consider suggestions for improvement.  Our LUV Seat upcycling project is an example of the projects the Green Team has implemented. 

Community Outreach:

At Southwest, we strive to be good environmental stewards in the locations where we live and work.  Through volunteerism, in-kind donations, and financial giving, we support activities that promote conservation and preservation of our natural resources.  We also promote biodiversity and support organizations such as the National Geographic BioBlitz and the Student Conservation Association whose activities help sustain the diversity of species in ecosystems. 

Noise Reduction

We strive to be a good neighbor in each of the communities we serve, and that includes mitigating noise through our goal of meeting current aircraft noise standards and abiding by locally established curfews. All aircraft in our current fleet are compliant with the minimum FAA stage 3 standard.  Eighty percent of our fleet, specifically our Boeing 737-700 and 737-800 aircraft, are compliant with the more stringent stage 4 standard.  The addition of winglets to the majority of our fleet has further reduced the noise footprint for our aircraft operations. 

The number of people exposed to significant levels of aircraft noise has dropped by 95% since the 1970s, despite passenger enplanements having tripled nationwide.  This reduction is the result of using newer technology and the utilization of voluntary noise abatement procedures at airports.  The FAA's NextGen system will further reduce the number of people exposed to aircraft noise by enabling air traffic controllers to guide and track aircraft more precisely on more direct routes.  NextGen will also enable Pilots to set aircraft engines near idle throttle as they descend which will further reduce noise, fuel consumption, and emissions.   

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