Convergence. That's the word that Gwen Migita, vice president of
sustainability and community affairs for Caesars Entertainment Corporation,
uses to describe the city-wide movement toward a more environmentally and
socially sustainable Las Vegas.
On the one hand, the city is coping with the current resurgence downtown—growth that could easily send its electricity and water consumption skyrocketing.
Much of the ink around that is spilled on Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh: the $350
million Downtown Project he kicked
off to revitalize the city, support small local businesses, improve schools and
make Las Vegas it a techie startup hub, as well as his Project 100 to bring better
transportation options to Sin City.
But Fremont Street's rebirth started
before the shoe mogul became the city's de facto ambassador, says Rick Van Diepen,
executive director of Green Chips, a Las Vegas-based nonprofit working with
public and private stakeholders on clean energy and development projects. "[Hsieh's] efforts are an endorsement that we care about
our quality of life. You can feel it, the investment in the community, the
environment, the social fabric," he says, crediting former Mayor Oscar
Goodman for seeing the potential in downtown. "The seeds were definitely
planted, and then Tony kicked it into hyperdrive," he says.
On the other hand is evidence of an increasingly
eco-friendly Las Vegas Strip.
It's true. You might take a cynical view, and say any
efforts to conserve energy and water in a city virtually defined by excess will
look good on paper. But consider this: Las Vegas has reduced its energy
consumption by 22 percent since 2010. What's more, 8 percent of what it uses now comes through
a collective 5.1 megawatts (MW) of solar panels. Another 15 MW of solar capacity is in the works, and additional conservation efforts should cut consumption by
another 13 percent. There have also been inroads made in water savings and
recycling, especially in new housing developments (though many downtown
homeowners refuse to give up their bright green lawns). Now, Migita says, the downtown's renewal and the Strip's green awakening are converging, amplifying
Could that "convergence" be the answer to the other "C" words—conspicuous consumption—that have defined Las Vegas nearly since
"It comes down to everyone doing their part," Migita says. "Industry and government setting the canvas, entrepreneurs like Tony
but also others—advocates that come to the table to build the convergence.
Everyone's end goal is making Las Vegas a beautiful livable place to live and
That trend is also seen in more residents choosing to live
close to city center. "On the Strip we're starting to see high-rise
residential units, and the local government is trying to put in walkable communities,"
says Tom Perrigo, chief sustainability officer for the city of
Las Vegas. "Just like any other city, we're pushing hard"
toward that kind of urban planning. "The challenge is that while our
suburban density is high, it's just below what makes transit works, so we're
looking for areas downtown where we can build better transit."
Down on the storied Strip, casinos and hotels have learned to
exploit some of their basic infrastructure to find opportunities to reduce
For example, waste oil from kitchens serving the nearly 40 million
annual visitors is collected and used to help power city busses, running on
biodiesel. Recognizing the value of their considerable waste streams, casinos now operate their own "mini-MRFs" (small municipal recycling facilities).
For Caesars, which has reduced its landfill contribution by 25 percent, this
means a brigade of employees comb through refuse and pull out recyclables—and also a surprisingly high number of non-garbage assets. These include not just
the expected items, such as flatware, but also real head-scratchers, like
ironing boards, Migita says.
Some of the efficiency gains casinos and hotels have
made were born from necessity.
The Southern Nevada Water Authority has gotten
serious about water conservation—as if it has a choice, with the Colorado River
in the midst of a 14-year drought and levels in Lake Mead, where the city extracts
its water, falling dangerously low. All of these factors have products a per-capita reduction in water consumption of about 40 percent since 1989, despite the city's significant growth. The Strip, in
particular, has developed closed-loop water use systems that keep its consumption
to just 7 percent of water in southern Nevada.
This being Vegas, appearances are important, which is why
news that the city's iconic "Welcome to Las Vegas" sign had been converted to
solar power (the switch was flipped during the Consumer Electronics Show in
January) was a headline grabber.
"After the Bellagio fountain, the sign is
our most recognizable icon," says Van Diepen from Green Chips, the group
responsible for the project. "So it is a symbol, yes, and also an introduction
to our city and our region as having an ethic about clean energy."
But lest anyone look at the sign as window dressing, he
adds that just behind the sign, MGM Resorts is installing enough solar panels
on Mandalay Bay's 20-acre roof to generate 6.2 MW of energy, which is
expected to supply 20 percent of the building's power demand at peak use. "Things
like that," Van Diepen says, "blow people's minds."
Photo courtesy Marco Verch, Flickr
This post was originally published on Smartplanet.com