The casino resorts of the Las Vegas Strip do not spring to mind as environmentally sound institutions. From their blazing marquees to their overflowing buffets, they seem to be studies in excess. With the current mindset conflating any sort of personal indulgence with environmental degradation, casinos seem a lost cause.
But many casinos have made great strides in delivering a little slice of decadence to their patrons in ways that use fewer resources and are more cost-effective. If protecting the environment is important to patrons, it stands to reason that they will sooner spend their money at a vacation resort that works to minimize its environmental impact than one that doesn’t.
Major projects—such as CityCenter and the Venetian/Palazzo/Sands Expo Center attaining Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) status—grab headlines for their green impact, but much of the real work takes place on the front lines—in the kitchens and on the loading docks of hotels and casinos.
Restaurants are an obvious place to start looking at how casinos are trying to run greener. On any given day, about 450,000 meals are prepared, served and cleaned up each day for visitors to Las Vegas. That’s a lot of food to be shipped, packaging to throw out and dishes to wash.
Those numbers are almost too big to contemplate, so let’s look at a single casino resort to put them in perspective. Bellagio, which has been particularly serious about conserving resources, provides a great example. Each day, the resort’s restaurants log 15,000 to 18,000 covers (industry parlance for meals), while its employee cafeteria serves about 5,000 more.
And most of these meals aren’t fast food. Bellagio has received nine consecutive AAA Five Diamond Awards for excellence, and its fine-dining restaurants are known for using the finest ingredients, consistently prepared in innovative and artistic ways. You don’t get this kind of recognition by cutting corners.
According to executive chef Edmund Wong, Bellagio’s restaurants are guided by a “food-focused, people-driven” philosophy that puts an emphasis on exquisite cooking while encouraging 900 team members to help create new concepts.
“Every step of the way, from selecting the vendors to serving the meals,” he says, “we focus on maintaining our integrity and giving our customers incredible food.”
It’s possible to keep that standard while making strides toward sustainability. One way Bellagio has reduced its waste is by embracing upstream recycling, a way of separating trash at the source into color-coded bins for plastic, glass, metal, paper, cardboard, kitchen grease and food waste (much of which ends up as livestock feed at a local pig farm). As a result, removing the need for an extra sorting stage further “downstream” reduces labor costs, and less energy is wasted carting trash to the landfill.
Sometimes a little effort can translate into big savings. If you’ve prepared asparagus at home, you’ve probably clipped the stem ends and pitched them into the trash. Many restaurants do the same. But following the dictates of upstream recycling, Bellagio no longer tosses these edible ends; instead, they are cleaned and kept for soup stock and low-profile uses. It might not seem like much, but with 2,500 pounds of asparagus served each week, it adds up.
In little ways such as this, the Las Vegas casino industry is adapting to a leaner, smarter model that is both sensitive to environmental concerns and good business. In both cases, a greener approach doesn’t take away from the customer’s overall experience, and if casinos do a better job of communicating their efforts to conserve resources, it might even enhance it.
David G. Schwartz is the director of UNLV’s Center for Gaming Research.