Recycling remains one of the most widely adopted green practices among businesses looking to give back to the community. While many brands set up stations to collect paper, plastic and glass, others have found more creative ways to reduce waste in the workplace by breaking down their own products and creating new things from them.

The practice, known as upcycling, has gained impressive steam in the past few years, and many large corporations have jumped on the bandwagon. If your business is looking for ideas to spark its own upcycling endeavors, look to the way these brands have done so in the past.

Southwest Airlines’ LUV Seat Project

In July 2014, Southwest Airlines unveiled a new initiative, known as LUV Seat: Repurpose with Purpose. The project came about after the company issued a major redesign on its aircrafts, leaving 43 acres worth of leather waste from old seats. Instead of sending this massive amount of waste to the landfill, Southwest Airlines decided to turn the material into new products for redistribution.

The company found numerous ways to reuse its old leather, creating a vast range of products including tote bags, duffel bags, soccer balls, shoes and wallets. While some of these items have been made available for people to purchase, the brand made a serious effort to ensure those living in areas of need received items for use. The company partnered with nonprofit organizations in Malawi, Kenya and the U.S. to create and distribute items to as many people as possible.  

“We are amazed with the quality of products made by many of our youth and are excited to help distribute these products to children and families in need,” explained Lynn Croneberger, the CEO of SOS Children’s Villages, a nonprofit that provides vocational training to youth. “It’s great to know this innovative program will continue to benefit the partner organizations and recipients for years to come.”

Smaller companies may not have the resources Southwest Airlines has, but they can seek nonprofit organizations in the vicinity who can provide assistance when looking for ways to upcycle products. Partnering with other organizations not only increases the number of people brainstorming about a given problem, but also allows your business to have a steady nonprofit where it can send volunteers and goods.

Nike Reuse-A-Shoe

Southwest Airlines is not the only large corporation that has found innovative ways to reuse its old materials. More than 20 years ago, Nike established the Reuse-A-Shoe program to collect and transform used shoes into Nike Grind, a material used on the floor of playgrounds and athletic spaces. According to the organization, more than 1.5 million shoes are collected each year. The company noted that surfaces created from old shoes cover more than 632,000,000 square feet of space. 

Similar to Southwest Airlines, Nike partners with various organizations to fuel this operation. It asks spaces to set up donation sites for old shoes, allowing the business to reach a much wider audience of potential donators. 

Read more about how your small business can implement upcycling programs in the office.