CarbonFootprint.com Interview: Can Las Vegas Really go Green?
Dr Wendy Buckley
When Las Vegas first began taking part in Earth Hour back in 2009, the U.S managing director of the event, Leslie Aun, commented that the city’s decision to participate “put Earth Hour on the map”. On the 27th of March, 2010 Sin City, one of the brightest places in the United States shut off some of the most breathtaking and, some would say, gaudy neon-lit displays once more, in the name of climate change awareness. While Las Vegas’ decision to participate may simply appear to be a “token” gesture to some critics, who refuse to believe a city built on excess can become “green”, to others it signifies just how seriously businesses, visitors and residents alike are taking environmental sustainability in the so-called City of Lights. We spoke with Dr Wendy Buckley, of the internationally recommended website, CarbonFootprint.com, about her work in reducing carbon emissions, as well as how the Las Vegas casino industry can cut its emissions, without compromising quality.
As one of the first businesses in the UK to receive the Government’s Department of Energy and Climate Change Quality Assurance approval, Dr Buckley’s company has quickly grown since launching in 2005 and has become one of the world’s leading resources on carbon management. As Dr Buckley explains, one of the key services CarbonFootprint.com provides is its help for businesses and consumers looking to “save on costs by way of reducing their energy use”. Dr Buckley makes clear that CarbonFootprint.com advises businesses “on some of the new and ongoing legislation for the environment” and helps them develop “true green credentials” and unlike others, CarbonFootprint.com offers more than just a “greenwash”. By comparison, Las Vegas casino operators have been accused of merely “greenwashing” their gaming resorts in order to pander consumers and residents concerned with the environmental sustainability of buildings on the Strip. As if Sin City needed a further nudge towards environmental awareness, a report published by the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’ in 2008 suggested that Lake Mead, which supplies 90% of Las Vegas’ drinking water, has a 50% chance of going dry by 2021, if nothing is done to address sustainability in the city. Even before the Scripps Institution of Oceanography’s report, both businesses and the authorities have been working hard to improve sustainability and in turn, cut carbon emissions in the city.
A report from the ICLEI Local Governments for Sustainability suggests that since 2009, Las Vegas officials have made sustainability a core element of major investment decisions and as evidence of this, the newly opened CityCenter resort has made sustainability and lower carbon emissions an integral part of its gaming experience. The mega-resort has been awarded a Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) certificate and offers visitors the ability to control their own air conditioning, as well as installing “lighting occupancy sensors” which turn off lights when no one is in a specific area. Dr Buckley suggests that technological advances, such as the ones CityCenter have incorporated, as well as others (including LED lighting) have meant that hospitality and entertainment businesses can now “create impact and also be responsible with it”. On the topic of CityCenter, Dr Buckley suggests that the resort is “taking a leadership position” with regards to sustainability and observes that, quite rightly, “that’s being recognised”.
However, while businesses must of course prioritise environmental sustainability, according to Dr Buckley, it’s also down to consumers to make “the right types of choices”. The carbon emissions expert suggests that while enjoyment is an integral part of our holiday experiences, we shouldn’t “gamble on the environment”. While visitors to Las Vegas must be offered green solutions in order to do their part for the Las Vegas’ future sustainability, those travelling to Sin City must also do what they can to “minimise and optimise travel”. Dr Buckley admits that “you can’t cut things completely”, noting that “where you can’t cut on emissions, the best solution is to carbon offset them”.
So, how pressing is it for visitors to Las Vegas to actively make greener choices? We may not believe that the water supply of Lake Mead directly affects one-time visitors to Las Vegas, but as Dr Buckley makes clear:
“The very existence of Las Vegas is dependent on us being responsible with resources that we use when we’re in the resorts, so there could be no greater incentive than to try and be as responsible as you can be when we’re on holiday there, to keep it for future generations.”
From Dr Buckley’s comments, it seems obvious that reducing carbon emissions isn’t something we can simply rely on casino operators such as Harrah’s and MGM to do for us whilst we stay at their resort; as visitors to their casinos, we have the opportunity and responsibility to make greener choices. Of course, no one wants to holiday in an “austere environment”, as Dr Buckley notes, but if we make the effort to choose more sustainable casinos and holiday resorts to stay at, we won’t experience a compromise in quality. As Dr Buckley explains, thanks to developments in technology, operators “can still create a resort that has real impact, but also ticks all the right boxes and makes the right contributions in terms of protecting the environment”. Indeed, UK businesses within the hospitality sector will also have to begin examining their impact on the environment, just as Las Vegas casino resorts have done. As Dr Buckley explains, the CRC Energy Efficiency Scheme, which came into force this month, means that companies are now obligated “to manage and reduce their emissions or face fines and reputational damage.”
Returning to Las Vegas, now that the groundwork has been put in place by operators, it’s down to us visitors to improve sustainability during our short stays in casino resorts. A particularly useful analogy is that, while Las Vegas operators can only turn off their non-essential lighting for an hour, when we’re staying in an MGM or Harrah’s hotel room, we can choose to leave our lights off all evening. While it may just seem a small part of the overall Las Vegas experience, we have control over our own sustainability choices whilst in Sin City and must make use of this responsibility. If we really want to be singing “Viva Las Vegas” in fifty, twenty or even ten years time, we have to begin considering how our time on the Strip will impact on the present and future residents of Vegas.
If you would like to find out your household carbon emissions, or the emissions involved in a trip to Las Vegas, visit CarbonFootprint.com for a free online carbon calculator. Visitors to the website can also offset their emissions online, through socially responsible projects. For more details, please visit CarbonFootprint.com. Casino Online wishes to thank Dr Wendy Buckley for participating in our interview.