Caesar's Entertainment Empowers Employees to Lead Water Reduction Efforts

(3BL Media and Justmeans)- For some reason, I’ve never thought about the impact of the hotel industry on the planet. My hotel stays are typically rushed and more about what I came to a particular town to accomplish than about lounging in the hotel pool or lobby. So, except for the moment when I decide to leave my towels on the floor or hang them up, understanding how or what it takes for hotel to operate responsibly has not been on the forefront of my sustainability research.

Until . . . I started thinking about water. According to the International Tourism Green Partnership, water accounts for 10% of the utility bills in many hotels. Green landscaping, crystal clear pools, golf courses and yes, showers and air conditioning, cost hotels thousands of dollars in water use each year. And these customer-demanded amenities cost the planet even more. Research by the Stockholm International Water Institute predicts that by 2030, the world might face a 40% global demand/supply gap of accessible, reliable water supply for economic development. Yet the water used to maintain one golf course at a luxury hotel equates to the same amount of water need by about 60,000 people. Clearly, it is crucial that the tourism industry takes responsibility for their impact and makes changes in their operations.

Caesar’s Entertainment has taken the plunge. In 2007, this Las Vegas-based,casino hotel chain began tracking their impact across several environmental externalities, including water usage. Their short-term goal is to reduce their water use per air-conditioned square foot by 10% from 2008 to 2015. By 2020, they want this reduction to be 15%.  Not that much, perhaps you’re thinking? Why can’t they do more, you’re asking? Well, for a company that owns and operates over 50 entertainment hotels across the world, this is a big start.

I spoke with Eric Dominguez, Corporate Director of Engineering, Utilities, and Environmental Affairs at Caesar’s Entertainment, about the details of the hotel’s water reduction plans. Turns out they are a very smart company. They know that it takes empowered and incentivized front-line employees to implement water conservation efforts.

“You have to have engagement at the property line. We need people at front lines to have the knowhow they can make a difference in their own lives, day to day. There’s a lot of benefit in this. It’s not just the executive team telling them about it. We started Green Code Teams. They are a balance of people from different departments. It’s not just the facilities staff, but also the food service and housekeeping employees. They take ownership over our environmental initiatives. I’ve seen a sense of pride among them. The younger generations expect these types of efforts and ultimately, it provides a lot of other benefits for us, like happy employees. Our employees feel good about what the company is doing,” Dominguez told me.

Over half of Caesar’s employees say they are very familiar with CodeGreen programs. And, slightly over one quarter of employees have participated in a CodeGreen event in the last six months. Caesar’s Entertainment has also sent over 200 managers to obtain an internal certification called the CodeGreen Meetings Certification, training them on planning and hosting environmentally responsible meetings.

“How are you scaling your impact? Tell me about the specifics of your water efforts,” I asked Dominguez.

“We are constantly retraining and re-emphasizing programs to make sure they work.  We recently changed out 12,000 showerheads with low flow models. We went beyond compliance from 2.5 gallons per minute to 1.8 per minute. First we piloted that program. We put surveys in guest rooms to see if they had any negative feedback. Overall, guests didn’t notice the difference."

"We also refurbished our public sinks and restrooms with low flow aerators. Again, this was immaterial in terms of guest impact. We are also introducing technologies that look very closely at how we treat water. We can increase the number of times we use the water before we send it down the drain. We are piloting these programs in Vegas. It’s not so sexy, but really impactful,” Dominguez explained.

At Caesar’s hotels in Las Vegas, they have converted to desert landscape instead of grass and greenery. And, in my opinion, one of the most interesting projects they are piloting is testing a new technology that grinds fruit and vegetable wastes.

“All of our food waste has water content. The new technology will squeeze the liquid out of macerated food, preventing runoff from entering water streams. Our long term goal is to reduce our food waste by 50%,” Dominiguez told me.

“Are you implementing these same efforts at your properties in Egypt and in South Africa?  What are you doing to contextualize and reduce your water use at your hotels in Egypt and South Africa where there is both economic and physical water scarcity?” I asked.

“Egypt is challenging.  We don’t have much influence on operations in Egypt. In South Africa, we are trying to push the same technology. We are trying to convert their showerheads and to push the same best practices. We haven’t gotten to that point globally yet. I’ve never been to a South African property. If there are any specific challenges, it’s based on proximity to waterways. I can’t go beyond much beyond the generalized approach we are taking.”

“But we are learning from the World Resource Institute how to better address water stressed areas. We are asking ourselves how we can learn from some of these tools. We want to know how can we take the program to the next level.  One benefit is that our program is broad. We try to look at our community impact and the challenges they are facing,” Dominguez explained.

Caesar’s Entertainment uses the Global Reporting Initiative’s (GRI) Sustainability Reporting Framework to track and report their water work, though the most recent report online has not been assured by an external source. One significant accomplishment, however, is that since they began tracking their goals in 2007, Caesar’s Entertainment properties in Las Vegas have reduced water consumption in laundry facilities by 30 million gallons a year while expanding capacity by 40%. I guess it does matter whether I decide to hang up my towel or not.

Caesar’s Entertainment is the first company to sign up for the EPA’s 2014 WaterSense H2Otel Challenge. This challenge encourages hotels to use best management practices that will save water and money, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions.

“We partnered with the EPA because we felt like it was natural fit for us to join. We want to share what we are doing with industry as a whole. We are trying to use water-tracking tools to assess operations strategically. It goes beyond low flow showers. We want to partner with the EPA and through the program bring light to the importance of water conservation,” Dominguez said.

As we recognize World Water Day, March 22, whether you're staying in a luxury hotel or not, remember that water is finite resource. Every interaction we have with it is an opportunity to use less.

Thanks, Eric, for this engaging conversation. Keep up the good work, Caesar’s Entertainment!

Sources: UNEP, International Tourism Green Partnership