Magic carpet ride

We often talk about environmental progress in aviation in terms of improving fuel efficiency and developing sustainable biofuels. But there are many other initiatives going on, including one that is literally under our feet. It involves carpet tiles for airplane passenger cabins.

Maybe you read about it. A sustainable, 100% recyclable carpet tile concept took flight aboard a Southwest Airlines 737-700 from Dallas to Seattle - what Southwest is calling their Green Plane. Boeing co-developed the concept along with carpet manufacturer InterfaceFLOR and industrial design firm Teague.


The sustainable carpet inside the Green Plane. (Southwest Airlines photo)

So what’s the big deal about this carpet? Firstly, at the end of the carpet’s useful service life it will be returned to the manufacturer and recycled into new carpet. The process is completely carbon neutral.

In addition, with this concept, individual carpet pieces can be replaced, which reduces downtime for the airplane. Right now, in areas such as aisles, airlines may use one single piece of carpet. This eliminates the need for total replacement. It can also be installed quickly with seats in place.


The Green Plane with special “green” logo. (Southwest Airlines photos)

Aircraft carpeting takes a beating, and may need to be replaced as often as every three months. Right now, used carpet ends up either burned or in landfills.

This new carpet could help reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills, as well as lower aircraft installation times and replacement costs. Southwest plans to evaluate the carpet during a six-month in-flight run. They see it as a way to design sustainability into the cabin without sacrificing weight or performance.


This card is tucked into the back of each seat on the “Green Plane.”

Boeing’s Concept Center in Everett, along with InterfaceFLOR and Teague, worked to develop, refine and test the carpet to make sure it met all FAA and Boeing requirements.

By the way, you might want to check out a video Southwest has made available, talking about a number of innovative “green” features in the Green Plane. The airline says that all of initiatives being tested on the Green Plane, when combined, will amount to almost 5 pounds of weight savings per seat.

Comments (16)

Steve (Siggenthal Station, Switzerland):

Well, 5 pounds per seat only partially compensates for the average weight gain of humans in developed nations over the past 25 years. If everyone really cared about being "environmentally friendly" they would lose weight!

Especially by reducing Meat consumption! I once read that it takes about 100 bushels of wheat to make a pound of meat, and you could feed a family of 5 for a year with that 100 bushels of wheat.

Aircraft makers and Airlines are desperately trying to save a few pounds here and there, when if all the passengers in a 777-300ER were 10 pounds lighter, it saves 3650 pounds! That's about 6 times the weight of all the paint on the outside of the plane (or about 9 times the weight of the new "light paint", excluding those airlines that are truly green and leave most of the outside of their airplanes "unpainted".

I have been a big proponent for years of charging passengers by their total weight, person and luggage. The present system is not fair at all, since weight is the primary factor in the cost of flying. You could have a baseline weight/cost amount, because each passenger carried has "weight effects" that are all equal. Basically, their equal share of the airplane weight. When you show up at the airport you and your luggage get weighed. Then they add or subtract cost based on if a persons total weight, compared to a nominal average value, is more or less.

So, lighter people with lighter luggage save costs. When you initially buy a ticket you would pay for the base amount and be told that for each kilogram (pound)your total weight is, less or more than the nominal value, you will have to pay, or get credited back, a certain cost/weight, based on each flights overall costs parameters. This would also give all the airlines supercomputers something useful to do, instead of constantly messing with the price of the tickets!

Plus it's another good incentive to live more healthy, and it would also give you better fuel consumption for your car! "BE GREEN, LOSE WEIGHT!" Now there's a good bumper sticker! (I probably should have copyrighted that, but at least now that it's in the public no one else can). An additional way to be "Green" is to put more thought into how much clothes, and other items, you take on a trip. How many people come back from a trip and realize when they are unpacking that they didn't wear half the clothes they took with them? That could easily add up to the 5 pounds Southwest just saved on the carpet.

Ahmad (AOR, Malaysia):

I agree with the concept of 'individual carpet pieces', and this should be implemented not only in aircraft, but also in office buildings. We should think green now, and please act green also.

Norman (Long Beach, California, United States):

High quality products made from recycled material is as good as those made from fresh materials. I'm glad Southwest is taking the lead to be more green. 520 lbs means a lot in weight saving and fuel savings.

The interior of the aircraft doesn't look at all like many would expect a cabin with recycled materials would look like or that a green cabin would save money, weight and labor. Green is the new black when is comes to money, weight, labor and savings.

Steve Hasegawa (Puget Sound, WA) (Puget Sound, WA):

Along the lines of being green and environmental stewards, I've wondered what will come of the many airplane hulls that will become scrap as they age and go out of service.

It would seem that they could be recycled in chunks/sections to provide shelter/housing for people around the world who currently may live in cardboard boxes or sheet metal scraps. Any thoughts of Boeing leading the way to come up with a strategy to make use of our old products?

Pete Guard:

This is about leadership, doing the right thing and a relentless pursuit of innovation.

The Southwest activity marks a milestone in four year journey that started in 2005 at the Concept Center. What began as a open exploration in understanding sustainability created opportunities by developing a network of industry thought leaders that had made significant progress in implementing sustainable practices in their business operations. Interface Flor has been a critical and steadfast partner in this journey along with Southwest's commitment to find a better way. Congratulations!

Paul Thompson (Puyallup WA USA):

The process of recycling worn green carpet to new cannot be “…completely carbon neutral.” Transporting the expired carpet and renewed carpet between user and manufacturer requires energy, and reprocessing spent carpet requires infrastructure and some consumption of utilities, energy and materials, e.g., shipping containers.

The physics of entropy does not allow a free lunch. By the way, love your postings and please keep them coming.

Margaret (Tukwila):

WAAaay Ding! Way to go SWA. Proud to hear that Boeing & WDTA were involved.

Jim Laurenti (Everett, WA):

I'm sure the aluminum of the old airplanes could be used by Boeing and our customers as yet another revenue stream by reselling the aluminum for many other uses and products as suggested previously by Steve H. My thoughts are along the lines of many things (e.g. aluminum cans, modeling, etc.)

This shoes the value of R&D spending and use of the engineering resources other than than for airplane design and development as well.

Good for SWA for stepping out and leading the way!!

P.Sumantri (France):

That's very interesting.

Considering Southwest's 737 orders (click here) , if they can save 500 lbs per aircraft and if they can do it on their entire 737-700 fleet then they can save more than 300*500 lbs or a total of 150,000 lbs. By the way, what's the 737-700's MTOW?
The estimated fuel cost reduction is 20,000 USD per aircraft per year. If the weight savings are applied to the whole SWA's 737-700 fleet, then the fuel cost saving is something like 6,000,000 USD per year.

Those numbers are not magic, it's simple arithmetic.

Tom (Germany):

What is a "green Plane"? Not a blue red one ... even a lighter chair or carpet doesn't make it green or eco-friendly (What is eco-friendly; is this possible? Even a dreamliner "flying in my mind" produces some COx!).

Anyhow these carpets seem to be an improvement in terms of weight reduction and waste disposal or usage!

By the way who hammered the 737-700 together? The z-team? Or was it an eco-friendly rebuild of a crashed front section by untrained kids?

James D. (St.Louis, MO):

TO: Steve (Siggenthal Station, Switzerland)

So I guess physically fit tall folks (who are already crammed into small seats), should pay extra due to their larger weight (larger clothes/luggage, etc)? And men...because they are, on average, larger than women?

Yeah, that makes a lot of sense...

And I don't think you really know how much a bushel of wheat is. A chicken probably has 3 pounds of meat...if you think a chicken eats more than 10 bushel, you are not even worth talking to. When you throw stuff out there, at least try to be within an order of magnitude...

All in all, I do agree though. Being overweight complicates many areas of our lives and dropping 10-20 pounds would help in all areas.

Steve (Siggenthal Station, Switzerland):

TO: James D.(St. Louis, MO):

Yes, you are absolutely correct! Heavier people should pay more, whether it's because they are "tall & physically fit" or because they are "short & have a high body fat level". By the way, muscle is denser then fat, so being lean and fit doesn’t really help in this situation, although that is certainly a good thing overall.

Due to being a male, I am probably about 50 pounds (23Kg) heavier than the average female. And I definitely do not think it is fair that the lower average weight females have to “subsidize” my flight costs. Just as I do not think it is fair that I have to subsidize the flight costs of someone 50 pounds heavier than me (or with 50 pounds more Luggage).

For “tall people” or “big people” that might have to purchase clothing at a special more expensive shop, and likely have to buy shoes that are very large and more cost, do you think it would also be “fair” for everyone else to subsidize their clothing costs? Should their clothing cost the exact same amount as the average person, even though it truly does cost more to make their clothing, due to more material and lower volumes? I think not, and I venture to say that the rest of the population does not either.

Or if a tall person has to buy a bigger car, should he get the same price as the average height people pay for a smaller car? Once again, I think not.

In regards to the chicken, it is interesting that you picked a livestock animal with one of the lowest meat weight to feed grain weight requirement ratio needs (about 2:1). I believe the article I had read was referring to Beef meat, which has a much higher ratio requirement, and most likely also the feed supplied to milking cows over their lifetime. When discussing cattle raised purely for beef, the ratio appears to be about 16 pounds of feed to 1 pound of meat, depending on whose numbers you actually refer to, or believe. If they included the Milking cows, then the ratio of 100 Bushels of feed to 1 pound of meat is probably on the low side, so maybe it was some type of average? There is also a huge amount of water needed for the process. And possibly the most dangerous environmental item associated with the whole meat and milk producing livestock process, is the issue of lost Topsoil. And there is topic of methane gas from the cows.

There is also the hotly debated topic of whether or not Humans should even be drinking livestock milk, which along with the meat/feed debated subject, are topics for more detailed discussion on multiple other web/blog sites devoted to these issues. Just google some phrases like “grain needed to produce meat, or milk” and you can wander through all the information and decide for yourself what and who to believe. But it appears there is a strong and believable consensus, among the most reliable sources, that the world would be a whole lot better off, if we significantly reduced our livestock population. And people would be healthier…and lighter!

I also would like to mention that this is (and has been for several years now) a very professional blog site, and all the members so far have, in a very professional manor, restricted themselves to critiquing peoples ideas, concepts, proposals, etc., without personally attacking the writer. I would encourage you to do the same.
Thanks, Steve

Steve (Siggenthal Station, Switzerland):

There is at least one company in the USA making all sorts of exotic office, restaurant and home furnishings from pieces of airplanes from the "boneyard" in Arizona. There was a TV show that reviewed this companies work sometime in the past year. There is also a company making Art from old airplane parts.

Here is a link to a site that shows some of this work;

I don't think we have to worry about the proper recycling of Aluminum from Airplanes. It is a very valuable material, and where there is such value, there are always many people out there jumping at the chance to make a buck by recycling.

Aluminum is a particularly good material to recycle because it saves about 95% of the energy needed to make new Aluminum, whereas when you recycle glass you only save about 5% of the energy to make new glass. Smelting Aluminum takes a huge amount of electricity, quite often mulitple Rectifiers with up to 500K Amp ratings are used in this industry. I get to see them every day because we design and make them here on our campus. Check out the link below to see a photo of a guy walking on the Busbar structure of such smelting plant, and for more info on Rectifiers. Aluminum is a great material to use because of it's many excellent properties, and it's very efficient recycling ability. Magnesium has some properties that are even better, and that's why it is making it has made it's way into so many products now. It is especially light, only 1.8grams/CC vs Alum at 2.7grams/CC (water is 1.0grams/CC and Copper is 8.9grams/CC).$File/3BHS203186E01_REVA_ABB%20HPR%20for%20the%20Aluminium%20industry.pdf

TC (Mt. Vernon, WA):

Wow, 5 pounds per seat. Good for the environment, good for the competitiveness of Southwest, and good for the consumer.

As far as fair pricing goes, I think area and weight should be used. Flying an empty plane on a route gives the cost of area (cA). The same route with a full load of passengers, and the increased cost is weight (cW). Pay for what percentage you use.
$ = (cA)x(%A) + (cW)x(%W)

If a selection of seats were offered that were 20% wider, or longer, at fair price, I'm sure they would be hugely popular.

Alessandro (Sweden):

Those little things, in these days with risk of health issues (old carpet full of nasty germs) any
improvement are good.

As for passengers weight, it´s up to the airlines to
decide, nothing to do with the manufacturer.

Paulo M (Johannesburg, RSA):

This reminds me of the ISO 14001 environmental management certification awarded to Boeing's Everett site in 2006 (detailed in the March 2008 Boeing Frontiers magazine). I like the idea of reusing resources. Great direction.

I know this is very very far out, but what happens when we start retiring the first 787's 30-35 years from now? What's the plan there? Or, with replaced composite parts on the current fleet, how do you sort out the non-metallics?

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