Gambling On Green
Do eco-friendly policies at casinos and hotels really pay off? Las Vegas is betting on yes.
In a city of indulgence that offers everything from a 16-course degustation menu at Joël Robuchon to aerial dog fighting with a real fighter pilot over the Nevada desert, Las Vegas is a destination where excess is the norm. Corporate environmental sustainability might not be the first thing onyour mind when you arrive in Sin City, but casinos and mega hotels are betting on green practices. Businesses are discovering that going green attracts a certain consumer base — an aﬄuent one at that.
Las Vegas has yet to fully recover from the 10.6 percent decrease in gaming revenue in 2008, but going green may help keep MGM Resorts International, Caesars Entertainment and other key players in the black. With more than 150,000 hotel/motel rooms, countless restaurants and a myriad of entertainment options, capitalizing on green building and operational initiatives has the potential to improve profit margins while simultaneously addressing the ever-expanding list of environmental disasters. And let's not forget the possible marketing benefits.
MGM Resorts International, with 19 properties in Nevada and beyond, is a forerunner in the greening of the gaming and hospitality industry. CityCenter — a sprawling 67-acre joint venture between MGM and Dubai World — has been the company's poster child for eco building, but not without a hefty price tag. The $8.5 billion project cost a reported 40 percent more than comparable buildings in Las Vegas.
Peter Soyka, author of Creating a Sustainable Organization: Approaches for Enhancing Corporate Value Through Sustainability and President of Soyka & Company, an environmental and sustainability management firm, believes that the efforts are a smart gamble but that perhaps the impetus might be more about greenbacks than goodwill. "Companies do have ethical obligations, but the real drivers are economic," says Soyka. "And there is enough evidence that companies that do this well will be awarded financially."
MGM's continuing environmental efforts encompass a broad range of initiatives and the results are adding up.
By the end of 2011, the company had reduced electric power consumption by 200 million kilowatt-hours (enough energy to power more than 17,400 homes for a year); recycled more than 28,000 tons of cardboard, food scraps and glass from their Las Vegas properties; and expanded their fleet ofcompressed natural gas (CNG)-powered limousines.
MGM isn't the only one playing the green card. Las Vegas Sands Corporation's master-planned development, which combines The Palazzo, The Venetian and the Sands Expo and Convention Center, is the largest green building in the world. The complex's water-saving initiatives alone have reduced annual consumption by more than 130 million gallons (the equivalent of 195 Olympic-size pools). Sustainability efforts also extend to meeting and convention planners with the company's Eco 360 Meetings program, which can include compostable paper goods, organic and/or fair trade menu items and hybrid or alternate fuel transportation for attendees. And that famous Vegas-style grand buffet? Last year, MGM sent more than 7,600 tons of uneaten food from its Vegas properties to R.C. Farms, Inc., a local pig farmer and composter.
On the gaming floor, the iconic Vegas slot machine, with its dings, bells and countless blinking lights, seems to be the one sticky point where big casinos want to play by their own rules. The Bellagio installed 2,200 LED bulb replacements, and CityCenter's newly designed machine bases displaced ventilation to more eﬃciently cool guests from the ground up, but an implemented national standard for sustainable gaming seems far off.
While the motives may be environmental, economic or a combination thereof, Las Vegas is tackling sustainable business practices in typical Vegas fashion — big. Sands has put all of their cards on the table, acknowledging that the Sands Eco 360° Global Sustainable Development program is the "right thing to do for people, planet, and profit. For every $1 that is invested into the program, Las Vegas Sands Corp. saves $4." Soyka agrees, "As shareholders, this is what we should expect of well-run companies. I am not sure that it is terribly important to know which set of motivations, or perhaps all, are guiding corporate behavior, as long as these companies keep moving in the right direction."
SIN CITY COMES CLEAN
Environmental efforts are reaching far beyond the casino floor, sometimes what happens in Vegas doesn't stay in Vegas.
ARIA's Director of Wine Rob Bigelow spearheaded the property's participation in RECORK by Amorim, a project to preserve cork forests and recycle cork . www.recork.org
Caesars, in partnership with Clean the World, has recycled more than 104,000 pounds of lightly used soap and bottled amenities for distribution for communities in need. www.cleantheworld.com
Las Vegas Sands Corporation sends used fabrics to Opportunity Village, an organization that serves people with intellectual disabilities. www.opportunityvillage.org