Las Vegas greening up its act

Las Vegas greening up its act

Las Vegas still prides itself on selling indulgence. Round-the-clock gambling, high-end nightclubs and decadent restaurants are not going away.

Yet the opening of the Strip’s first green space last month is further evidence that, regarding its relationship to the environment, Sin City is turning a new leaf, reports The Guardian website.

Featuring native Southwestern plants, recycled metal furniture and fountains built with locally sourced quartz, The Park, as it’s called, is designed to create a sustainable microcosm of the surrounding desert landscape and provide a leafy path away from the Strip’s tourist-choked sidewalks.

“We think guests are increasingly valuing the sustainability of destinations they pick,” said Cindy Ortega, chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts, who is behind The Park. “This seems like a little place with some plants and a sculpture in it, but this is a paradigm shift for Las Vegas.”

To avoid using the city’s dwindling water supply at Lake Mead, MGM tapped into an on-site well. Designers from landscape architecture firm Melk installed plants accustomed to arid conditions. Trees and shrubs are irrigated with a drip system, which conserves 72 percent more water than sprinklers. Rather than install mist dispensers to keep pedestrians cool, Melk built red sandstone walls that dissipate heat, as well large metal shade structures. Fountains operate on a closed-loop, and when winds are strong enough to spray water past capturing basins, sensors shut the fountains off.

But declaring Sin City reformed is relative, of course, says The Guardian. Las Vegas welcomes some 40 million visitors annually. The U.S. Green Building Council’s Rhiannon Jacobsen noted via email that, “hotels consume natural resources at an extraordinarily high rate,” and, because most properties allow smoking in their casinos, many would fail to meet current Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) gold standards for air quality.

And though it intends to become the largest U.S. city to power public buildings and lights with 100 percent renewable energy by 2017, Las Vegas has an outsized energy use profile, according to the website. According to GreenBiz, Southern Nevada, which includes Las Vegas, has a peak electricity demand around five times higher than that of northern Nevada. Southern Nevada powers some 103,005 commercial and street lights, compared to northern Nevada’s 45,223. Industrial electricity consumption in Nevada averages 305,373 kWh/month, about 172.27 percent greater than the national average, while the average residential electricity bill in Nevada is about $111/month – 3.74 percent greater than the national average of $107.

The Strip has been trending green for a number of years, and though less visible than what’s happening at The Park, the measures that involve the multi-thousand room resorts have been the most impactful.

Atop the Mandalay Bay Convention Center, MGM has installed the second-largest rooftop solar array in the U.S., according to The Guardian. At peak hours, the more than 20 acres of sun-catching glass can fulfill 20% of the conference building’s energy needs.

Suggesting paperless check-ins, installing showerheads that mimic high-pressure water flow through aeration and replacing fluorescent lights with LEDs are a few small measures that allow properties to significantly reduce environmental footprints at the massive scale at which Las Vegas hotels operate.

On the back loading docks at Caesars Palace (and behind nine other Caesars Entertainment-owned Las Vegas resorts), waste management teams sort through many tons of trash each day to sift for recyclables, allowing the company to divert 44 percent of its waste from landfills since 2007.

Technology advancements are greening the industry too. In January 2016, Caesars adopted software that connects resort hotel room thermostats to the front-desk occupancy list, so that heating and air conditioning can shut off as soon as a guest checks out, The Guardian reports.

Meanwhile, in Caesars’s large meeting halls, thermostats measure carbon dioxide levels to read whether a room is in use or not, and allow temperatures to drift when sensors detect no breathing. Innovations such as these have allowed Caesars to cut energy use by 21 percent since 2007.

Las Vegas’s two largest employers also reward employee sustainability efforts by offering gifts or company-wide acknowledgment for putting solar panels on homes or riding bicycles to work. Even passing a day without eating beef can make an employee eligible for recognition, a culture both MGM and Caesars believe promotes a green consciousness.

Both companies use similar in-house social media platforms to conduct that workforce engagement. Ortega said the rivalry between the two companies does not apply when it comes to sustainability.

“In business, you hold things close to the vest because you want a competitive advantage,” she said. “But in the area of green, it’s a different philosophy. We want each other to be greener and we want Las Vegas to be greener.”


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