While the general public and Fortune 100 execs alike are united in skepticism (per a recent poll) over the concept of businesses going green, some companies are just doing it anyway. MGM Resorts International, which runs some of Vegas' biggest casino resorts, including the Bellagio, Luxor and the MGM Grand, has recently been working with Green Key, an eco-rating program for hotels, to seriously green their operations. This means changing everything from how housecleaning is performed to what's served in their restaurants to what kinds of plants add flair and panache to the exteriors of the hotels. For their efforts, MGM Resorts International has earned five keys (the highest rating) for their ARIA and Vdara at CityCenter properties, four keys for the Bellagio, Excalibur, Luxor, Mandalay Bay, MGM Grand Las Vegas, The Mirage, Monte Carlo, New York-New York and MGM Grand Detroit. Circus Circus Las Vegas earned a three-keys designation.

"Green Key is the de facto rating system for hotels worldwide and is engaged with a number of leading travel and hospitality organizations such as Marriott Hotels, Sofitel International, AAA, Travelocity, and Expedia," according to press materials. Tony Pollard, managing director of Green Key Global, says that more than 1,500 hotels have signed up for the program in the United States and Canada, and that almost any property can be rated, from the largest, like the MGM resorts down to smaller properties: "The program has no limits on the top end and a property with 10 or more rooms can be accommodated," says Pollard.

Green Key worked directly with the MGM Resorts International to show the company how to achieve the high ratings it received (though several of the casino-resorts were already LEED certified), a process that has taken several years. A weighted survey that covers both hotel facilities and casino and restaurants (if applicable) helps Green Key determine the rating each property receives. 

As expected (and contrary to some of the old-fashioned ideas about environmental conservation and profit-making), MGM Resorts International has seen financial gains from greening operations. "We think there's a natural parallel between conservationism and environmentalism. When you conserve you save money. Without exception, every one of the [green] programs have benefitted our shareholders," says Cindy Ortega, senior vice president of Energy and Environmental Services at MGM Resorts International.

But it isn't all about money, especially considering the ecosystem that surrounds Las Vegas, which is already strained with the unnatural influx of people to the desert there every year. "We understand the value and preciousness of resources," said Ortega. The company started with operational greening first, which involves retraining employees not only in specific new ways of doing tasks (for example, retraining all housecleaners how to minimize water use when cleaning a tub) but also making them aware of why such changes are necessary, she said. This education and training extended to how employees could make energy-conserving (and therefore money-saving) changes at home.   

The response from employees has been surprisingly positive: "Conservation begins at home. Our objective was to get average person to think about [saving resources] by themselves," explains Ortega. After that, operational changes at work become part of the greener mindset and don't seem like arbitrary suggestions from the powers that be (even though there are a set of specific guidelines for each area of the hotel). Instead, the less wasteful mindset becomes part and parcel of a new way of thinking about water use, electricity use and garbage reduction, and isn't tied to training sessions or guidelines that could be forgotten over time.

MGMRI has 41,000 employees and 40 million guests last year, so these incremental changes have big impacts over time. Ortega says employees are now coming to her to suggest new, more efficient ways of doing things. Operations are part of the broader effort to make change, but other sustainable solutions abound. "Because we are large, it can be hard to make changes. We focused on areas with heavy environmental impacts first. Cooling and heating, water conservation, and waste," were obvious and immediate places to start, says Ortega. Replacing just one A/C unit at a hotel or casino to a more energy-efficient one saves 300-500 homes' worth of electricity, for example. 

Educating guests is also important, and indeed, MGM Resorts International is reaching out to the people who stay in the properties as part of its conservation education program. In addition, Ortega says that greening the supply chain is one of the next orders of (conscious) business, citing the need to get more organic food choices in restaurants. Here, scale can be an issue, since the size of the company's properties demand that products be reliably available in bulk. They key, Ortega says, is to keep moving forward, which sounds like good business advice, as well as sound sustainable practice. 

MNN homepage photo: Serge Melki/Flickr 

Starre Vartan ( @ecochickie ) covers conscious consumption, health and science as she travels the world exploring new cultures and ideas.

Eco-Vegas? Bellagio, MGM Grand, other hotels earn high ratings from Green Key
Some of the biggest properties in Vegas are going green, and not a moment too soon.