Operating an Efficient Airborne Fleet with Southwest Airlines’ Laurel Moffat

August 2, 2013

JOHN SHEGERIAN: Welcome back to Green is Good, and we’re so honored and excited today to have Laurel Moffat on with us. She’s the Outreach of Communication and the Senior Specialist for Southwest Airlines. Welcome to Green is Good, Laurel. LAUREL MOFFAT: Thanks so much for having me. I’m so excited to talk to you today. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Laurel, talk a little bit about you’re in this great position of messaging for Southwest Airlines. Talk a little bit about how you got here. Was this something you’ve always dreamed about? How many years have you been at Southwest? And, talk about your journey leading up to Southwest. LAUREL MOFFAT: Absolutely. Well, I probably since elementary school, I was always interested in being a journalist or reporter and kind of being a storyteller and so my mom could probably attest to that, but I loved to tell stories and would go on and on, so I actually went to the University of North Texas and I got my Bachelor of Arts in journalism and continued my education to get a master of journalism so put that to use. I did a little bit of media relations at Texas Speedway and did some sales and communication for some other companies and I just aspired to work for a world’s most admired company like Southwest Airlines and so when I started in July of 2007, I just wanted to get my foot in the door because I had heard so much about the culture and how this company puts their employees first and so I actually started out in customer relations answering letters and I was willing to do that just because I wanted to be a part of the cause at Southwest Airlines so as soon as a position opened up in our public relations department, I applied for that and have been in our communication department since January 2010. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, that’s so great because it’s so funny what you just said and a lot of our young listeners out there have to get that. I love how you put that. You just wanted to get your foot in the door. That makes so much sense. A lot of people want to start at some great level or they have big dreams, which is great to have big dreams but just getting your foot in the door is the right step in the direction you want to go and that’s such a great message for our young people out there. LAUREL MOFFAT: Absolutely and you know, working in the customer relations position, I’ve met so many people across the company in different departments. Not only was I able to learn and understand the airline industry but learned to be a spokesperson for Southwest and understand our language because anybody who knows anything about Southwest and our culture, we have our own what we call Colleen’s Bible. Colleen’s kind of the heart of our company and really founded the philosophy behind our customer so we capitalize things like the C in Customer and the E in Employee because those are people that we put first so it was interesting to learn that. I think we probably drive students out there and reporters out there that follow the AP Style, but Southwest has its own style of writing, which we follow. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Well, for our listeners out there, first of all, I’m not only a big fan. I use your airlines all the time. It’s an amazing experience. You guys really do put the customer first. That’s number one. For our listeners out there who are not familiar with Southwest Airlines, please, when you have the opportunity to fly Southwest, try them. You won’t ever want to go back. They’re just an amazing airline that really is leading the way in customer service and for our listeners today who want to follow along with what we’re talking about with regards to Southwest Airlines, please go to SouthwestAirline.com and then you can go to SouthwestAirlines.com/citizenship because there’s a lot of great things that Laurel’s gonna be sharing with you today and I’m on that website right now and there’s a lot to talk about so talk a little bit about, Laurel, green. Green and airlines. Typically, those are not mentioned in the same sentence so talk a little bit about how Southwest started in this journey and how hard is it to be green if you’re an airline? LAUREL MOFFAT: I mean, obviously, we say that a lot. It is very hard to be green as an airline. Just last year, our fuel consumption was almost two billion gallons of jet fuel so obviously, it’s hard to do that but honestly, for Southwest Airlines, it’s the right thing to do and it makes good business sense because when we’re more efficient as an airline, looking at ways that we can reduce our fuel consumption, which is obviously better for the environment when we reduce our emissions but it also helps our bottom line and saves on our cost as well, which translates into being able to offer our customers low fares and our employees great benefits so this has been part of our business strategy definitely, I think, since our beginning honestly with a much larger focus in the last decade to do what we can do reduce our impact on the environment. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Let’s talk about fuel efficiency since it is such a big part of your industry and of your airlines and you guys use a bunch of this fuel o make your great planes go. How do you now look on a macro basis and on a micro basis and create more fuel efficiencies around all of your processes and procedures? LAUREL MOFFAT: Sure. If you look at just last year, we invested about $400 million into projects to improve our fuel efficiency and reduce emissions. That’s very important. If you look at just a couple of our different programs, just flying our aircraft, we use a satellite-based navigations called Require Navigation Performance and it basically just kind of brings together GPS like you have on your car and it makes a more efficient air space system. It allows our pilots to fly a more efficient route so if you think without satellite, it’s kind of like a stair step down when you’re on your descent and this is more of a direct line so that saves us on fuel. If you ever are on one of our jets and you look out the window, you might notice that we have these little tips up on the wings. Those winglets actually help us save on fuel as well and help with the aerodynamics of our aircraft and we have those on all of our 700s. We also do things like single engine taxi when we land to help save on fuel so if you look at all of these fuel efficiency efforts that we have going on, we saved about 29 million gallons of fuel last year, which if you want to put that into a trip equation, it’s about 4,500 round trips between Chicago and Las Vegas, so that’s kind of the fuel there. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Wow, and talk a little bit about the greening of airplanes. There’s so many things we read in the media about greening airplanes. Does Southwest actually have like a beta green plane? You’re on Green is Good today, so we want you to talk about does Southwest have like a green plane in the works or is there one already created and what’s going on with creating a green plane? LAUREL MOFFAT: Sure, so actually, in 2009, we launched what we called a green plane and on that green plane, we were testing different types of sustainable material like with our leather seats so made out of recyclable material. The carpet on our aircraft previously was just laid in one large roll so we actually tested out different carpets that were laid in tiles so just to reduce our impact of what we were putting in the landfills with carpet. If it had to be replaced, we weren’t ripping up an entire carpet on an aircraft. We just replaced tiles so we tested different things and actually in January of last year, we unveiled our new Evolve interior, which is basically our findings of what worked best on the green plane and a lot of what we took into account was obviously wear and tear and making sure that we were improving our customer experience but we had a lot of our customers tell us what they thought about it from a comfort perspective as well so with the Evolve interior, the leather seat covers are made from recyclable materials. The carpet, again, is laid in tiles. Actually, now with the new seat covers that we have, it’s actually ended up making our plane about 635 pounds lighter and so that reduces fuel as well so we’re very excited about that. We’re now retrofitting all of our Boeing 737 700s with the Evolve Interior so in the process of retrofitting our classic fleet with the 300s with Evolve as well and our new Dash 800s, which have about 20% more seating capacity, those are coming out of the Boeing factory with the new Evolve interior. JOHN SHEGERIAN: It’s so fascinating. So, you actually took three years to really test, get feedback, test again, and come up with what was gonna be then your final interior to roll out. That took about three years? You said 2009 to 2012, right? LAUREL MOFFAT: Absolutely. Yeah, we wanted to do testing from just the wear and tear perspective because if we’re gonna retrofit our entire fleet, we want to make sure that was the right investment, not only from the environmental perspective and getting basically, a much more innovative, sustainable interior, but improving our customer experience at the same time so another thing we were able to do is with this complete new retrofit, we actually maintained and used our seat frames so we weren’t pulling out all of these metal seat frames and putting them into the landfills. We were reusing those and improving the seat with a better cushion and that type of thing and the lather that’s actually coming off of those aircrafts, we’re currently investigating opportunities to repurpose that leather for our hopefully a very good cause so we will have exciting news on that probably next year but we’re currently housing all of that leather coming off because we don’t want that to go into the landfills either. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, for our listeners who’ve just joined us, we’re so happy and honored to have Laurel Moffat on with us from Southwest Airlines. She’s talking to us about greening Southwest Airlines and all the great work they’re doing and for those who want to see more of what Southwest Airlines is doing, please go to southwestairlines.com. Laurel, we’re talking about greening the planes. How long does that take to roll out across your massive fleet? LAUREL MOFFAT: We started retrofitting our aircrafts last January, and we actually hope to be completed with all of that by the end of this year so it’s amazing how quickly our mechanics can get in there and put the Evolve Interior in a plane. When we started, it took about 12 hours for our mechanics to retrofit an entire aircraft so they really just do it overnight and they’ve actually gotten a lot more efficient in doing that and so they have it down to about eight hours to retrofit an entire aircraft with 143 seats so it’s pretty impressive. JOHN SHEGERIAN: I’m on your website now and I’m on the citizenship part of it and it’s just really wonderful and there’s so much great information here and I see the big R word — recycling. What are you doing on board with regards to recycling that sets you apart from other airlines? LAUREL MOFFAT: We actually rolled out a co-mingled recycling program. We partnered with Republic Services and it’s really amazing to see how much we recycled since we rolled out the program and honestly, it would not be possible without our flight attendants reminding our customers that we recycle and to hand those over after they’re finished with their beverage and then our provisioning agents who service our aircrafts and stock them with the drinks and peanuts and pretzels that we have on our aircraft, they remove that and the Republic picks it up so through that commingled recycling, we’ve been able to divert about 9,800 tons of material out of landfills and this is since 2008 and 9,800 tons sounds like a lot. It’s about the weight of 233 of our planes so that’s quite a lot of waste that we’re diverting out of our landfills that we’re so proud of but just so thrilled that our employees really embrace it and advocate and encourage each other to participate in it so we can reduce that impact. JOHN SHEGERIAN: And, that continues to grow so the recycling is successful and just continuing to grow. LAUREL MOFFAT: Absolutely, and we have a goal in the next five years to continue increasing that about 2%, which we were able to achieve last year as well. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s amazing, and I’m on your site and I’m also now seeing something called Green Filter. I don’t quite get it. Can you explain what that means on the ground, Southwest Green Filter? LAUREL MOFFAT: Absolutely, so our employees just kind of have this ingrained in them but just to operate with the green filter in everything that they’re doing to be just conservative and conscious about every aluminum can matters. Any way that we can reduce fuel matters and so our employees really embrace that. For example, one way that we operate with the green filter on the ground is through our electric ground support equipment so if you think about our tags that we attach to our customers’ bags for connecting customer son their flight, those we have been retrofitting with cleaner burning diesel and so that reduces fuel and right now, we have about 1,500 of those cleaner burning ground service equipment and last year, we saved about 60,000 gallons of fuel with that effort. JOHN SHEGERIAN: Approximately, give me a rough number. How many employees does Southwest employ? LAUREL MOFFAT: We have 46,000 employees, and that includes Airtram Airways, since we purchased them in 2010. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, you have about 46,000 employees and so when did you create the sustainability efforts that then prompted you to make a green team? How did that happen and who’s involved with the green team? How many people and from what divisions? How does that really work? Because there’s so many companies out there that say we could be green but man, that’s a lot of work. How do we do that? Explain how this all came together for you and what it looks like today LAUREL MOFFAT: Sure, and I think I mentioned it earlier, but honestly, I feel like our employees operating with the green filter since we started flying in 1971 to be kind of a scrappy airline and do more with less and it’s really an easy thing. Our employees it was almost just putting that word out there, sustainability and green, because they were already doing it and so our green team, we’ve formed probably back in 2007 and that team, it meets at headquarters here in Dallas and we’ve got employees from all different departments across the company, which is great. We’ve got technology and finance and communication and marketing and all of our operational departments are in there as well and we all kind of meet to find ways that we can be more innovative, how can we collaborate more together and continue building on the green efforts that we currently have. We also have green ambassadors in our work locations so we basically recruited for ambassadors across the company wide event, folks that just love green and they want to encourage their co-workers to participate and have that green filter as well while they’re working and so they’re kind of at our airports to continue that message and encourage and educate our employees on the green efforts that we’re doing and sharing work tips on how they can live and work green. JOHN SHEGERIAN: So, really what you’re saying is the company started, it was always the David and Goliath battles and it was always the scrappy one and that’s what also made the DNA and the cultural switch not really difficult because it was always in your culture to do more with less. So now that the green team is created in 2007 and everybody’s all in, it’s not just one department trying to push others along. Everybody’s in. Everybody’s loving it so explain to me what are the green team projects and how do they participate? Tell me what they touch and some of the ideas that they’ve rolled out over the last six years. LAUREL MOFFAT: Sure. One thing that we have a campaign we’ve recently done is we asked our employees how can we save $5 a day and we just opened it up to have our employees share ideas with us. One thing that we are in the works of doing is at our ticket counters, when a customer shows up and they have a car seat, we typically put it in a large plastic bag so if you can imagine, and especially during the summer time with families traveling on vacation, how many car seats and strollers we get, that’s a lot of waste so for a while, our employees have been asking for a solution for these plastic car seat bags we have and so getting that suggestion, basically, the green team is investigating opportunities of how we can replace that with a sustainable bag that we could maybe potentially sell at the ticket counter so it could be solving the problem of getting those plastic bags, that we’re not putting those in our landfills and it could be a revenue opportunity for Southwest and a service to our customers. JOHN SHEGERIAN: We’re down to the last two minutes or so, Laurel. Share about your customers now. How much do they know about all these amazing things you’re doing in the green space and with the Evolve Interior and the green plane and how do you get them involved and engage them with your environmental initiatives? LAUREL MOFFAT: We’ve got the Green Tuesdays so that’s a way for us to share those tips and things that are going on with us but honestly, we ask them. Southwest is very active in the social media space on Facebook and Twitter. With those combined, we have over 5 million fans and followers and so sometimes, we’ll share links to our Green Tuesday blog posts and ask our customers is there anything that you see we could do to improve upon and here’s what happened when we did that one time. We had a customer who said every time I check in for my flight, I print out my boarding pass and we have advertisements on our boarding passes and I guess with the setting, it was printing out two pages. He’s like this is wasting my ink and my paper and you could help us be green here at home when we’re printing out our boarding pass if there’s a way to get it on one page so I actually saw that, reached out to a technology person that was on our green team. She looked into it, saw that she could change it to a setting to get it all on one page and so we were able to circle back to our customer and say thank you so much for your attention. Now it’s all on one page so that’s just one example. We are always engaging our customers to be a part of new things that we’re looking into so it was very important to us when we were testing the green planes so things that we rolled out with the new Evolve Interior were things that our customers were asking for and things that were important to them. JOHN SHEGERIAN: That’s so great, and for our listeners out there, we’ve just spent the better part of the last half-hour with Laurel Moffat who’s the Chief of Messaging, all things green for Southwest Airlines and for our listeners that want to learn more about Southwest and all their green initiatives, please go to Southwest.com. You can go to the citizenship section, which I’ve been on during the whole show. It just has a whole list of things that Laurel talked about plus much more and they’re really doing the green thing. We’ve gotta support them. They’re doing the right thing and we’ve gotta support great brands that do this kind of stuff. Laurel Moffat, you’re a green ambassador and truly living proof that green is good. LAUREL MOFFAT: Thank you.