Tuesday, July 19, 2011


I knew there was a reason I like to use Southwest Airlines when I fly. In fact, I always attempt to put my money where I sense corporate responsibility. Many companies, especially small companies encourage their employees to do community service, often giving them company time to do it.  But how does a huge corporation that does business in so many communities involve itself with people projects?
Several months ago, the Student Conservation Association, which coordinates young adult volunteers on conservation projects across the country, approached Southwest about a collaboration tied to Southwest’s 40th anniversary. Southwest was enthusiastic about the idea and both groups met and came up with  “Conservation in Action Tour: 40 Projects for 40 Years.”
On the ground, that translates as  a circuitous nationwide trip in a painted Southwest RV, moving from city to city  to work on conservation projects.
Prior to each stop, Southwest organizes a group of its employees to participate in the day’s project and the Student Conservation Association mobilizes its own volunteers. They were spotted in Las Vegas last week at McCarran Airport.
The Las Vegas conservation project was scheduled for the Springs Preserve, a 180-acre center-of-town cultural center dedicated to the desert ecosystem. Organizers at the preserve and the SCA planned a morning of tree planting, mulching, weeding and general garden cleanup. But the night before the event, Mother Nature intervened with a flash flood.  The clean-up became a recovery project that included replacing some downed trees.
The 60 volunteers worked through the heat to get the place back in order in one day, a project that probably would’ve taken the area Springs Preserve volunteers many days to complete.
“They didn’t even want to take water breaks,” claimed Tyler Lau, an SCA project leader for the Tour 40 team.
A  midsummer outdoor project in the sizzling heat of Las Vegas probably had as much appeal as skunk grease, but  the  volunteers pitched right in. They have done invasive plant removals, habitat restorations and wetland and riverbed cleanups, but fixing up a desert garden after a storm was something new.
Southwest spokeswoman Michelle Agnew said the Tour 40 project was something new for the airline, but giving back to communities is something it has done for years. Last week, VEGAS INC chronicled the importance of corporate philanthropy, but imagine how tough that is for an airline that flies into 72 cities?
The company initiated a program called Tickets for Time in which for every 40 hours a Southwest employee volunteers for a nonprofit organization, the benefiting organization is eligible for a complimentary roundtrip flight for fund-raising or transportation needs. Southwest employees logged 45,000 hours of volunteer work in 2009, according to the company website.
On last week’s visit, the SCA crew got a day off from RV living to spend a free night at Bally’s on the Strip.
“I never thought  I’d ever spend a night in Las Vegas,” Lau says.
I’ve  blogged a number of times about bad corporate citizens so it gives me great pleasure to illuminate what happens when tourism, business and conservation work together for the benefit of all.

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