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A Green Casino - Dealing the environment a winning hand at CityCenter

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March 01, 2010
Gaming & Green
Bill Geoghegan - Bill@LGTConsulting.com

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According to the U.S. Green Building Council (USGBC), buildings in the United States are responsible for 39 percent of CO2 emissions, 40 percent of energy consumption, 13 percent of water consumption and 15 percent of GDP per year, making green building a source of significant economic and environmental opportunity. Greater building efficiency can meet 85 percent of future U.S. demand for energy, and a national commitment to green building has the potential to generate 2.5 million American jobs.

When MGM Mirage envisioned its CityCenter project, one of the most important criteria of its planning was achieving the highest level of sustainability.  Every aspect of design, construction and operations for the centerpiece ARIA Resort and Casino as well as the Vdara Hotel & Spa, Mandarin Oriental Las Vegas, Veer Towers and Crystals retail and entertainment district was planned and implemented with green in mind. 

The U.S. Green Building Council is a non-profit, industry-supported council with more than 20,000 member companies whose mission is “to transform the way buildings and communities are designed, built and operated, enabling an environmentally and socially responsible, healthy and prosperous environment that improves the quality of life.”

USGBC has developed a point-based Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design (LEED) ratings system. Homes, neighborhood development, commercial interiors, core and shell, new construction and schools/healthcare/retail are the categories in which standards are set, and the design, construction and operations phases are all considered.

LEED is a third-party certification program which is considered to be the benchmark for green buildings. A company desiring to obtain LEED certification must first register its intention, and then continue to provide complete documentation throughout the duration of the project.

New construction considers items such as construction activity pollution prevention, alternative transportation, protection or restoration of habitat, open space, heat island effect, water efficiency, innovative wastewater technologies, and water use reduction. Storage and collection of recyclables, re-use of materials, use of regional materials and certified wood are all considered for point value. Similar criteria are used for renovations.  In addition to these considerations, continual training of the construction crews is a large part of the process. Not only does this assure that LEED criteria will be met during the construction phase, but the training assists those contractors and their personnel to develop habits and techniques that will assist them in future projects, whether those projects are pursuing LEED certification or not.

Each area has a checklist that is used to score the number of points that are achieved by the project, with certification levels available based on the accumulation of points. Similar rating systems are in place for the operation and maintenance of existing buildings, commercial interiors, core and shell construction and the specialized considerations for schools, healthcare facilities and retail spaces.

CityCenter is one of the world’s largest sustainable developments. Virtually every decision in the design, construction and operation for all of the buildings and common areas were taken with environmental impact issues in mind. 

The project includes an 8.5-megawatt, natural gas co-generation plant, providing efficient electricity on site (10 percent of overall CityCenter use), reducing emissions and using waste heat to provide all domestic hot water at CityCenter, including within its numerous pools. The water conservation technology and programs save approximately 40 percent of water within the buildings and 60 percent in outdoor landscaping, for an overall savings of approximately 50 million gallons annually. Energy-efficiency initiatives provide a savings equivalent to powering 8,800 households annually. 

The creation of a large-scale recycling operation enabled the recycling or reuse of more than 260,000 tons of construction waste, more than 80 percent of the imploded Boardwalk Hotel.  Collaborating with the nation’s foremost sustainability and LEED consultants, CityCenter introduced more than 10,000 construction trade and craftsmen to green building techniques that can be implemented at future developments.

Operations at CityCenter focus on sustainability. CityCenter offers sustainable options for meetings, conventions and events by incorporating environmentally responsible practices and services including sales kits constructed from recycled paper; ARIA’s banquet server uniforms also are made from recycled polyester. Employees have undergone LEED training as part of orientation, educating them about CityCenter’s green initiatives and how to do their jobs in line with the development’s green focus. Many restaurants focus on farm-to-table ingredients, buying produce, meat and dairy direct from responsible local growers.  Spas are committed to using organic or wild-crafted paraben-free products, the implementation of a recycling program and use of recycled paper for spa materials. CityCenter uses green cleaning practices within the hotels, using products that minimize concerns to human health and the environment. Additionally, the areas where chemical use occurs are negatively pressurized with separate outside exhaust and no recirculation of air. All of CityCenter’s facilities have integrated recycling programs.

A Las Vegas casino is not the type of place you think of when you consider a green environment, but for CityCenter, ARIA’s gaming space was designed and built with these same objectives in mind.  As with the rest of the project, casino-related design includes the world’s first fleet of stretch limos powered by clean-burning compressed natural gas (CNG), and the development of slot machine bases that serve as displacement ventilation units, efficiently cooling guests from the ground up, rather than wasting energy on empty space by cooling from the ceiling.  Air coming up from the floor level rather than being pushed down from the ceiling allows clean, conditioned and filtered air to be circulated on the guest, rather than blowing the smoke filled air back down from above. While these types of innovations are difficult to retrofit into existing spaces, building them into the design process makes for a better guest experience as well as a more efficient ventilation system.

In November of 2009, prior to the opening of CityCenter, the Forest Stewardship Council-U.S.(FSC-U.S.) honored CityCenter as the best commercial project of 2009 in the Designing & Building with FSC Awards. 

But in spite of the high accolades achieved by CityCenter in all other aspects of its design, development and operations, the ARIA Casino cannot receive a LEED Gold certification because smoking is allowed within the casino. The inability to achieve the coveted Gold level certification for the ARIA Casino has not inhibited MGM Mirage from applying all the principles of sustainability. Thinking green is a way of life at CityCenter, not just a certification.

Bill Geoghegan is a consultant in Las Vegas. He can be reached for comment at Bill@LGTConsulting.com.

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