The Greening of Las Vegas
City Center in Las Vegas is touting itself as the largest green and sustainable development in the world. With six LEED-gold certified buildings and an onsite power plant, the development is definitely greener than anything else on the Strip, but sustainable? Not.
Each morning, the Vdara Hotel at City Center in Las Vegas, delivered the Wall Street Journal to my room in a plastic bag. It wasnt the only thing that struck me as less than eco friendly during my stay at the smoke-free, gambling-free, “green” hotel, one of the new venues that make up the professed “sustainable” City Center. I was also struck by the fact that there were no recycling bins throughout the property for the dozens of empty plastic water bottles I alone produced during my three day stay. Yet City Center is the worlds largest Gold LEED certified development and was envisioned to be the first environmentally conscientious and sustainable city within a city. MGM/Mirage Chairman Jim Murren and his team believe they have redefined Las Vegas once again for the next decade by creating a walkable, urban district where people can live, work, and play.
Of course, this is Las Vegas. And while City Center is made up of residences: 669 in the two Veer Towers, 227 at the Mandarin Oriental, 1,495 Hotel Condos at Vdara, its not like a neighborhood where theres a food market, a coffee shop, a cafe, and a drugstore. This is resort living with concierge services, hotel-style fine dining options and investment property and vacation “homes” for those who can afford $500,000 glorified hotel suites, spa treatments and shop at the stylish and chic Crystals which boasts one of the largest Louis Vuitton stores in the world and Vegas firsts: Tom Ford, Assouline, Carolina Herrera, Kiki De Montparnasse, Kiton, Lanvin and more.
The most environmentally friendly boutique at Crystals is the Rodney Lough Gallery which features reclaimed barn wood from near the photographers home in Happy Valley Oregon. Amidst the sleek contemporary architecture and contemporary art, Loughs earthy gallery of wilderness photographs was the busiest place at Crystals. Hmm? $1,000 photo or $1,000 handbag?
Yet it is no small feet that each of the six projects that make up 67 acre, 18-million-square-foot City Center qualified for Gold LEED certification.
“This collection of buildings will change the way that we look at buildings from now on,” said Richard Fedrizzi, founder of the US Green Building Council at the City Center grand opening. “We honestly believe that these will change the world.”
One agrees with Fedrizzi when he starts talking about the lack of toxic chemicals and odors asking wouldnt it be great if all our schools featured as much daylight and healthy air as the Gold LEED certified buildings of City Center.
“This is transformative,” he concluded.
Perhaps it is.
In their promotional materials, City Center claims the added construction costs to achieve LEED certification were 5% and their energy savings add up to 30%. They reduced potable water in the buildings by 33% and water used for landscaping by 87%. In fact, City Center landscapes feature native desert plants. No recreated Italian villas, or fake Venice canals here.
Yet, the most surprising thing about City Center and its “greenness” is that solar energy is not utilized. But in fact, because of the density of the project all computer models suggested that solar power would not generate enough electricity to provide a return for the investment. In other words, it would have worked, it just would have cost more money than they were willing to spend. Additionally, since aesthetics were such a huge part of the project, for example, Crystals was designed to be viewed from above as well as from street level, putting solar panels on a roof may not have been agreeable with the starchitects. And its all about looks in Vegas. Yet Pelli Clarke Pelli did design every window of Aria Resort & Casino to have a sun shade and Helmet Jahn used color glazing on the Veer Towers to reduce radiant heat.
That said, City Center has brought the idea of sustainability and green construction to Las Vegas.
MGM/Mirage capitalized the expansion of Las Vegas based Evergreen Recycling since no company was prepared to handle a recycling operation of this size. The company was able to reuse 94% of the construction waste from the demolition of the old Boardwalk hotel that previously occupied the 67 acre site. In fact, Evergreen Recycling recycled more waste from City Center than the entire city of Las Vegas produced in one year from their curbside recycling program according to the press materials. For 20 years, Las Vegas has been the fastest growing city in America. Imagine how much could have been recycled if all those old casinos being demolished on the news had been recycled and not just dumped in a landfill somewhere?
City Center also features the first on site power generation station on the Las Vegas Strip. Through is 8.5 megawatt natural-gas cogeneration plant the development will provide 1/3 of its own electricity, reduce emissions and capture the “waste heat” to produce hot water. And natural gas also powers the first eco-friendly fleet of 26 limousines custom made for City Center. And preferred parking is available to those who arrive at the resort in an eco-friendly car or via carpool. They even have bicycle valets. Nothing like a bike ride down the strip when its 120 degrees outside.
Even the slot machines are designed to be more eco-friendly. At Aria resort, the slots are all run from a server and the machines feature LED lighting to reduce electricity. The slot stands were custom designed to also be air handlers and provide air flow from the in-floor radiant cooling system. Additionally, 87% of the wood products used in Aria and Crystals are Forest Stewardship Council Certified, meaning they came from a sustainable forestry program or were recycled.
And recycling is part of the public art program as well. Maya Lins “Silver River” installed at Aria, an 84-foot long cast of the Colorado River is made from reclaimed Nevada silver. Lin had never to been to Las Vegas and she was inspired to create her project partly because of the sustainability efforts of the development. Nancy Rubin created “Big Edge” with recycled aluminum boats and Iza Genkens steel and aluminum “Rose” contains 75% recycled material.
And if recycling is good enough for the art, well its also good enough for the sales materials and printed collateral, all of which is printed on 100% post consumer recycled fiber paper, and for banquet server uniforms which are made from recycled polyester.
As for the food those servers are serving, In some of the restaurants, farm-to-table ingredients were used and there is an attempt to buy produce, meat and dairy products from local growers, however, there are few local growers in the Nevada desert. Wine corks are recycled and used to create cork flooring. Some food scraps are sent to local pig farms. But the oyster shells were discarded and there were no recycling bins located throughout the property to recycle glass, plastic and newspaper. And what about that Wall Street Journal in the plastic bag? City Center press materials claim that they have integrated recycling at all facilities, but I find it hard to believe someone goes through the trash to separate out the glass, aluminum and plastic bottles.
While it may not be transformative, its at least a start at sustainability. But City Center is not “sustainable.” It is not recycling everything it uses and returning it to be used again. It is providing a portion of its energy, but not all of it, and is not fueled by what is so prominently available in Las Vegas””sunlight. But we all have to start somewhere.