Originally published on Huffington Post
At least if you’re staying at the swanky Las Vegas Sands properties
I recently got a “back of house” tour of the huge Las Vegas Sands Corp. (LVS) property on the Strip, thanks to Jenny Yu-Mattson, Executive Director of Global Sustainability. LVS hosts some 50,000 visitors per day (18 million per year!) in more than 15 million square feet of space at The Venetian, The Palazzo and meeting and convention space. According to Trade Show Executive, Sands Expo and The Venetian Congress Center comprise the fifth largest meeting venue in the country.
So, after a half-day tour, what did this enviro-cynic learn? I mean, seriously. I’m tired of those confounded cards in my hotel room asking me to please reuse towels and sleep on the same sheets – all in the name of the hotel’s so-called greenness. Not that I mind reusing linens because I do at home — for probably too many days at a time.
But whether or not it’s The Venetian with its splashy gondola rides in the middle of the desert in Las Vegas, or the Holiday Inn in AnyWheresVille, USA, I know there’s got to be a lot more water-saving tactics going on behind the scenes that hotel guests should know about. Why should we care? We Americans take our water for granted. The majority of us don’t know where our water comes from, and we get cranky when we conserve and water rates still go up. (Witness this story fresh out of Yorba Linda, California.) Not many people comprehend the tremendous water infrastructure that brings us reliable, clean water every day, or the innovation that’s going on behind the scenes to make our communities more water efficient.
I learned from Jenny at LVS that I shouldn’t freak out about those “green hotel” cards, at least at The Venetian or The Palazzo. Not because LVS doesn’t display those cards, because they do. Jenny and her LVS team confirmed on our tour that there’s a whole lot more going on underneath all this Vegas opulence that I believe significantly mitigates the footprint of the gamer, vacationer or conference-goer.
As Jenny puts it, “Our mission is to be sustainable without compromising the luxury experience of our guests.” I agree with this strategy, for the most part. Look at Tesla, a luxury brand that doesn’t position itself primarily as a “green” brand. However, most of us know Tesla is a pioneer in the electric vehicle world. Why can’t or don’t luxury hotels do likewise, and let us visitors know the cool environmental steps they’re taking so we don’t have to? We can handle it, and still feel confident we’re well-pampered.
After my tour of the giant property — and conversations with Jenny about balancing luxury with sustainability — I’ve identified 8 EnviroThings you don’t have to worry about when visiting The Venetian, The Palazzo and Sands Expo.
8 EnviroThings Not to Worry About
1. Green Hotel Cards: Don’t fret about the “green hotel” cards in your room asking you to sleep in the same sheets. LVS really is doing far more behind the scenes than you know to avoid hogging up potable water. All of the irrigation water for The Palazzo is “off-grid” and goes through a “nanofiltration” system that cleans “nuisance water” (seeping in from a shallow aquifer) on site. No irrigation water is drawn from the municipal water system, which gets its water from Lake Mead (currently 80 feet below average, by the way).
2. Linens: LVS reuses bed sheets just like they expect their guest to. Linens too worn for luxury suites are reclaimed and turned into rags for cleaning, and quilts for charities. Plus, this linen-reclamation program provides jobs to disabled workers in the community.
3. Amenities: Don’t worry about wasting those little shampoos and lotions (aka: “amenities”). What goes unused is turned into new personal hygiene kits, which go to charities around the world, including hurricane-stricken Haiti.
4. Soaps: Unfinished bars are melted down, sanitized and turned into new soap, which is distributed globally helping to keep children healthier. Speaking of soap, did you know more water is saved by washing your hands with foam versus liquid soap? All the soap on these Las Vegas properties is foam.
5. Hot Water: At The Palazzo, your showers get their warmth from the sun. The Spa, pool and a portion of the hotel tower’s hot water are heated by solar panels that sit atop the meeting space.
6. Lighting: At The Venetian, 100 percent of the lighting in the hotel suites is LED. Not only is it energy efficient, but I’m told the female guests prefer LEDs too because it makes for better lighting for applying makeup.
7. Recycling: Don’t see too many recycling bins around the property? There are some in common spaces, but there’s lots more recycling going on behind the scenes. More than 55 percent of the solid waste generated on these properties is recycled. Thirty percent of overall waste is food. Leftover meals from the giant Sands Expo Center are distributed to local charities within 24 hours. The rest of the food waste is composted or becomes feed at hog farms. Exhibition halls generate tons of cardboard and all of it is recycled. Even displays that can’t be reused are broken down and donated to local charities for reuse.
8. Certification: Credible third-party certifications matter. With LVS, green building goes back a long ways, when The Palazzo became the Las Vegas Strip’s first hotel to receive LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
LVS runs properties they call “Integrated Resorts” (luxury accommodations, gaming, retail, fine dining, conference/meeting space) not just in Las Vegas, but also in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania; Macao, China; and Singapore.
Providing all that fun and commerce under one roof in far-flung places can have enormous environmental implications, primarily in the areas of water, waste and energy. But, with LVS’s “Sands ECO360°” sustainability program, I’m gratified by all the thought, passion and ingenuity that goes into running these properties as efficiently as technology, capacity and budgets will allow.
A Ways to Go
Beyond the 8 EnviroThings I laid out, there’s a lot more going on — and a ways to go. Jenny tells me when the toilets, shower heads and faucet aerators were first installed more than 10 years ago they were tops in water efficiency. Replacing them with even higher-efficiency plumbing is on the to-do list, as is converting all of The Palazzo suite lighting to LEDs.
The Palazzo parking garage is underground, and would be flooded with that nuisance water every day. So instead of discharging this water into city storm water, LVS captures it, cleans it with the nanofiltration system, thus generating some 32,800 gallons of “off-grid” water a day for The Palazzo irrigation and street sweeping. Even still, that’s more water than can be used by The Palazzo alone. What needs to happen next is to install new piping so The Venetian landscaping can benefit from this water. That piping is expensive, but at least, with LVS, it’s in the queue.
Says assistant facilities chief Jim Albers, who runs the nanofiltration system: “It’s just cool stuff we do that other people don’t. That’s why this is the coolest job in the world.”
So, next time you’re in Vegas, remember there are a lot of great properties like The Palazzo and The Venetian doing what they can to reduce our environmental impact while we have fun. To all the hotel properties out there, everywhere: please, tell us more about why you’re a “green hotel.” We can take it!