Gambling On Sustainability: How The Las Vegas Sands Corp Goes Green

Posted on October 2nd, 2012 by

Norbert Riezler, Chief Sustainability Officer and Chief Procurement Officer for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation, opens up about his company’s energy and sustainability strategy.

Full Transcript:

My name is Norbert Riezler and I’m the Chief Procurement and Sustainability Officer for the Las Vegas Sands Corporation. I don’t know if you know much about Las Vega Sands, but we are one of the largest integrated resource operators in the world. We have resorts and villas in the United States ( visit
) and also in Asia. Sustainability for us really touches all aspects of the business. It has four pillars that we focus on. It focuses on green buildings. We are a large development and operating company. And so we develop our own buildings. We want to make sure that we have energy efficient buildings right from the start. When we design them, when we construct them, that we do so using a lot of recycled materials whether it’s steel or concrete. When we picked the building materials, whether its furniture, carpet, paints that we have the right building materials. So the first pillar is the buildings itself.

The second focus area is our operations and we operate these buildings for a long period of time. On the operations it’s really three areas that we focus on. Number one is our energy and water consumptions. There it’s simple, it’s all about reducing those as much as we can. It’s about recycling and increasing our recycle rates. So that’s all about increasing recycling. And the third area in the operating is about what we buy; the goods and services that we buy, sustainable goods and services; that’s the second pillar.

The third pillar focuses on green meetings. Las Vegas Sands runs some of the largest conventions and exhibition centers in the world, whether it’s in Macao or in Singapore or here in Las Vegas. For Las Vegas, for example, we have 20 of the largest 50 trade shows in the United States at our Sands Convention Center. Green meetings is all about offering our clients a wide array of green meeting choices. Some of it is already built into the program that we automatically have, but then you can choose and pick from a menu, like organic foods, and we also give you an impact statement so that when you have a meeting with us that you know exactly what your carbon footprint was when you held the meeting.

The fourth pillar is about stakeholder engagement. Stakeholders that includes our own employees. We have 45,000 employees by now and engaging them, educating them, training them, it’s about including the external community and engaging them through different charitable organizations and also to make sure that people understand what we are doing. And so we have our sustainability report that we created so that we can communicate with the external community as well about our efforts.

First of all, we have a sustainability team at each one of our properties. So there is a small sustainability organization. Tthen around that small group we have created the green counsels at each one of our property that really includes all of our operating departments. There are gaming people and hotel people, facilities people, HR, you name it. So, we have this organization set up at different properties. And then we kind of like separated out to what are the operating items that we want to do. So that is again, what initiatives can we have  to reduce our energy consumption. I’ll give you a couple of examples in a second. Or what initiatives can we have to increase our recycling rate. Or we also look at it from a capital expenditure side. So what big initiatives can we drive, what new technologies can we implement whether it is ideally upfront when we design and build the buildings or sometimes when we do retrofits.

On the operating side, lighting technology is just incredible these days and it’s changing so rapidly that in Las Vegas, for example, we are already on our third integration of energy efficient lighting. Here in Las Vegas, we are an all-suite-hotel; our typical room has 750 square feet. Maybe about 4 or 5 years ago, the energy consumption per room was more than 1000 watts. Through the third integration already of energy efficient lighting, we have been able to reduce it down to 270 watts from more than a 1000. And what is great about it is that you can actually increase your gas experience as well because we were able to increase our lighting in the streets and at the same time reduce our energy consumption by 75%, which is fantastic. On the capital site,  things that we do for example is, we implemented a large nano-filtration system here in Las Vegas where the runoff water that you have here in Las Vegas that is around the building we are actually pumping it up, we are filtering it through our nano-filtration system. And of 4 gallons of water, we get 3 gallons of clean water and then we do all of our irrigation for the entire properties. We do from this nano-filtration system so we’re completely off the grid when it comes to the irrigation for all of our plant throughout our properties here in Las Vegas. So those are two examples.

In 2011, we consumed about 2.3 billion kilowatt hours of electricity. For our existing and stabilized properties in 2011, we were able to reduce that by 1.6%. Now, the first number was a really big one because we are a very large company so 2.3 kilowatt-hours is really big but then 1.6 % of 2.3 billion is also really big in reducing it. So that’s for example on how much electricity that we consume. Now, having said that what we are looking at constantly is new technologies to offset that. So, for example, we have solar panels here in Las Vegas right on the strip. I believe we are the only property or integrated resorts that have solar panels. It’s in our share garage for the employees. When you go to the top of the garage you have the solar panels that are right up there and we are using our own energy efficient electricity production to offset some of those energy costs.

Maybe I’m just very optimistic about it but in my mind what it takes is two things, right? You need to have really strong support from senior leadership and look that’s why they created this position that I hold to have a chief sustainability office here in the company. But we have really strong support from Mike Leven who is the Chief Operating Officer, Kenneth Kay who is our Chief Financial Officer or Chris Cahill who is the President of our operations globally.

And there is a really strong commitment with a business plan with the appropriate funding from the top of the organization but then it also takes real grass roots level. And there are people around the world that really care about the environment. It is actually not difficult to engage these people with 45,000 people that we have, they’re coming out of the road works. They are passionate about it. They want to see that the company is not wasting resources. They want to see that we recycle. They want to participate. They want to be creative in their ideas. They want to engage. So, it’s all about grass root level efforts and it’s all about senior management support and then it’s about prioritization. What can we do and what can’t we do. But we have been, like I said, we have a pretty substantial capital budget that we have approved. We have an organization in each one of our properties that focus specifically on this. And any idea that is turned up that makes somewhat sense we were actually able to implement it. There isn’t that many challenges. Maybe the challenges with all the ideas they come up we can’t implement fast enough which is great it is a nice problem to have.

We just released our sustainability report and in it we made public commitments saying reducing our carbon footprints ou to 2015 and also increasing our recycling rate, reducing our water consumption. Obviously, we are very focused on implementing that plan. Since we are a developing company and a fast growing company our properties are at different stages. So let me walk you maybe through with at a more mature property as our Las Vegas properties are. Here it’s all about increasing and continuously driving the plans that we have in place. So that is the recycling rate in Las Vegas, I believe, today we are at a 43%. We want to drive it up to 55% over the next couple of years and there is a clear measurements in place to do that. In Macao, we just opened up Sands Cotai Central, the first phase of it early April, and we are opening up the next phase in September. There it’s all about fine tuning, as  we open up massive property with 6000 rooms, large casinos, shops, restaurants. Now, it’s all about establishing a baseline when the building is open and then setting those clear objectives in it. Singapore is kind of, like, in between a very mature operation that we have here in Vegas or a property that we just opened up. They have been operating for about 2 years. There we are ready to really establish the baseline now and set the right objectives on it.

A couple of items that I do want to highlight is green meetings. The program is fully rolled out today in Las Vegas and it’s very strong it’s very good. The green meeting industry is really changing rapidly or the meeting industry is actually changing rapidly to become green. Large convention groups, they really do care because people started to really care about this. They want to know that what do they do with all of the soak sorts of amenities that are in the room, how do they wash all this towels? Do they do it in a sustainable manner? Is the carpet and the paint, is it really low VC for example? So there the gases are becoming much more sophisticated. And it truly becomes a differentiator.

The other point that I do want to highlight also is how easy it is to engage in the community. I’ll give you a couple of good examples here in Las Vegas. There is an organization called opportunity village that supports mentally challenged people and they hire them to do various different jobs. With the economy as bad as it is and especially with handicapped people to find this employment opportunities are just fantastic. We have a program for example, we recycle all of our linen and all of our terry and we cut it into cleaning racks. So this is a very simple little program. But in the past, we threw that away and we bought cleaning racks. Now we are able to actually use the linen and terry to make cleaning racks. We actually save money doing that ,but it provided, I believe, 10 additional shops to the community here in Las Vegas.

The other one is our program that we have with Clean The World which is recycling all of our soaps and amenities. It’s a pretty comprehensive program. We started it here in Las Vegas and we are working hard to bring that overseas as well into Macau and Singapore. You recycle the soaps, the housekeepers all collect it then it goes to Clean the World. They are reprocessing it and re-cutting it and then the soaps have distributed throughout the world. They do it in the local communities but they also do it in the third world countries. It’s really pretty touching when you actually something that you threw into a landfill not a long ago. Now, it’s actually recycled and it actually has an impact to save lives. A simple activity like that. There is hundreds of these opportunities out there and each one, piece by piece, you’re able to make a difference. So, it’s a pretty exciting time.

I grew up in an Austrian ski resort. So, I grew up in the Alps yodelling around all the mountains and the natural environment. Where I grew up, the economy is very dependent on a sustainable business model because people come to ski today to ski at the winter time and the beautiful alps and in summer they come to hike and bike and canoe and do all of that. S,o there is an understanding that you have that the natural environment around you, you really have to protect it because that is your life stream, that is your economy, that’s your income. So, it’s really ingrained in your culture, I’m still to this day, when I go back there and visit my almost 81 year old, mother on how deep the recycling is in there because she produces maybe a garbage bag of plastic a month. That’s it. Everything else is either composted, the glass is recycled. When you pick up a cup of yoghurt, the plastic goes here, the aluminum lid goes there, it’s just really, really deeply ingrained. So, I’ve always been passionate about recycling everywhere that I have lived. So, when when the executive leadership of Las Vegas Sands gave this additional responsibility to me on top of the procurement I was obviously delighted because it’s deeply in my blood.

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