Off-Site Sustainability Stars

These three corporate-level green stewards are not far from reach for their on-property green leaders.

Successful Meetings last week spotlighted three sustainability leaders who are responsible for greening their individual meetings hospitality properties. When the on-site green teams at properties belonging to Caesars Entertainment, MGM Resorts International, and InterContinental Hotels Group need assistance with their green meetings, they go to their diligent corporate-level sustainability officers, whom we highlight this week.

At MGM Resorts, Christopher Brophy became vice president of the company's four-year-old Energy and Environmental Services Division in 2008, heading an eight-person team that liaisons with all 15 properties in the brand, most of which are in Las Vegas—such as Mandalay Bay, Bellagio, and Luxor. The members of the division, who are analysts, engineers, and sustainability experts, meet with the property green teams each month to debrief them on their green progress, and share any novel operational practices gleaned from fellow properties, as well as the corporate big picture.

"We implemented green teams at all our properties, ranging from senior executives to line-level employees and averaging 15 people in size. Each team has a chairman and its own particular green plan," Brophy details. "Their activities are developed around our six-pillar framework, and our division guides that framework. We make sure they're implementing best practices."

Brophy refers to energy management, water conservation, green building, recycling and waste management, sustainable supply chain, and outreach and education, around which the division has developed some 500 best practices. "They're relatively formal, but it's understandable that some properties will have challenges implementing some of the practices due to their age," he says. But he adds that employees throughout the MGM Resorts chain have embraced the "Conservation Begins At Home" internal outreach program, showing them how to individually practice sustainability at work and at home.

That human-capital commitment toward things like recycling, the company's capital investments in energy-efficient cooling and heating equipment and lighting, and the use of eco-friendly suppliers have brought home a stable of green awards, including six Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design – New Construction (LEED-NC) Gold certifications for its CityCenter campus and 12 key designations from the Green Key Eco-Rating program.

At the end of this month, MGM Resorts is expected to release its first-ever company sustainability report, thanks to Brophy and his division's efforts in compiling all green-related data for 2010. The report will encapsulate what all of the sustainability work has meant for the company and its customers and guests. And the flag is finalizing a formal green meetings offering. "We've been working with the meetings and conventions teams at each property, having training sessions," he says.

He continues: "Groups are moving toward where they can measure their meetings energy consumed and waste produced. They want to reduce bottled water, have more organic and local food choices, participate in the community, and expect recycling. It's not even a question anymore."

Brophy, who joined MGM Resorts in 2002 as an operations consultant, then left to work in Florida, and returned to the company to manage a preopening LEED-related project for CityCenter, says it is essential to have a comprehensive meetings program for companies making green efforts. "The Newsweek top 500 green companies, the Dells, H-Ps, IBMs, they are our customers, so we're thrilled to show them our practices that help us keep them as customers," notes the green officer.

"My role is to educate, to speak about the environmental responsibility of our company. If our green team chairs are having trouble communicating with clients, we'll come in and help out," Brophy says of his division. "I'm responsible for our company's carbon footprint."

Engaging the Constituents at IHG

David Jerome, senior vice president of corporate services and corporate responsibility for InterContinental Hotels Group, says hotels can no longer treat going green as some outlying business fad with short-term gains. "Whether it's a car company or an oil company, all businesses have aspirations to do better in this space," says Jerome. "Our corporate clients have green targets, and we have to be onboard. We care about the IHG name, as a company that other companies want to do business with."

With the Green Engage program, launched in 2009 and which recently gained LEED volume precertification for existing buildings—a preliminary step in the path to certification for a large group of hotels—IHG has a systematic approach to green meetings for corporate clients. Part of the program is an online tool where IHG-flag hotels can measure and manage their environmental impact against a standardized checklist of more than 100 green hotel design, construction, and operational attributes, which range from lightbulbs to solar panels.

Jerome, who is now in his fifth year at IHG and was an operations executive at InBev and General Motors, likens Green Engage to a visit to the doctor: "You get analyzed, except in hotel terms, like your water usage being benchmarked against others, and it tells you how to 'get fit.' " For IHG, a hotel management company, the key is convincing its individual property owners to get their proverbial check-ups as well as line up their efforts with the corporate strategy. "Right now, we have 1,000 of our 4,500 properties onboard, but momentum is strong," he says.

Brought in by IHG to design and execute a corporate social responsibility strategy, Jerome cites several compelling reasons for his hotel-owner partners to engage in eco-practices. "I prefer not to think of it as cost savings, but to stop losing money and to do things more efficiently. You're also future-proofing against carbon taxation, and, of course, tomorrow's [high] energy costs," he notes. "Our hotel owners are pretty smart folks. They're thinking in their long-term interests, and we're helping them be more competitive. It's very collaborative."

According to IHG, an average hotel property in the U.S. has $500,000 in energy expenses every year—the second-largest cost area—and Green Engage can deliver up to 20 percent increases in energy efficiency. Carry that out to IHG's entire portfolio of 4,500 hotels and over $300 million in energy costs can be conceivably cut. And now, following up on Green Engage is a "Version 2.0" of the program, designed for IHG's new builds.

The operations stalwart says there is a five-year initial blueprint for Green Engage, and it will undergo further iterations on the experience curve. Explains Jerome: "We'll treat it the same way we treat everything else in our business. It's become clear that there is a lot at stake around environmental issues and the hospitality industry's impact. Our corporate clients understand that we're on a journey. We want to be able to answer that we're a green hotel company."

Hail Caesar to a Better Environment

Last year, Gwen Migita, Caesars Entertainment's corporate director of sustainability and corporate director of social responsibility, spoke to SM about CodeGreen, the company's internal eco-practices initiative, which won Environmental Protection Agency awards for leading significant impact-reduction changes across the brand's properties throughout the United States and notably in Las Vegas. Since then, Migita has led a public rollout of CodeGreen to wide recognition, with Caesars Entertainment capturing the Nevada chapter of the U.S. Green Building Council's (the organization behind LEED) 2010 Organizational Excellence Award and Travelocity's green-leaf badge for eco-friendly hotels for its seven Las Vegas properties.

Although Migita is Caesars Entertainment's internal, corporate green leader, in the country's largest meetings market, "there are definitely situations where Gwen works directly with customers," says Jordan D. Clark, vice president of sales for Las Vegas Meetings by Caesars Entertainment. "When we do larger programs, we reach out to Gwen, and she can help convey specifically what we've done for green meetings."

But in Las Vegas, it is Clark who helps steer the company's green initiatives, providing assistance to the on-site staff at the Caesars Palace, Paris, and Rio resorts, among others, from his corporate office. Clark says that for awhile, there remained a green knowledge gap between meetings customers and his sales team, especially those off-site. That led to some additional green training conducted by consultant Esty Environmental Partners, which was founded by a Yale professor of environmental law and policy.

EEP ran an internal certification program for over 100 Caesars sales and services managers for Caesars Entertainment's Las Vegas resorts, involving best practices in the disciplines of venue, F&B, accommodations, and transportation. The consultant provided additional education on how they can implement those practices into "real-life" client situations. "Our customers would request green meetings after their site inspections," says Clark, "and lots of times we'd ask them what they'd like to do, and their response was, 'We just want to make it sustainable.' "

He continues, "The core of the certification program was to have the sales and services people become even more aware of the types of things our company has done, like CodeGreen, helping them understand how all our properties are recycling back-of-house, strategically sourcing F&B and serving locally made food, and implementing timers on our lighting. They can carry that [knowledge] torch to our customers."

Clark also has helped lead Caesars Entertainment in corporate responsibility activities managed by other organizations, including Teacher Exchange, which repurposes for Clark County educators office supplies left over from meetings and conventions; Clean the World, which collects and donates recycled soap and other toiletries internationally; and a local tree-planting directive. And two of Clark's staff members, regional sales managers Jim O'Donnell and Roma Giordano, are founding members of the recently initiated Las Vegas chapter of the Green Meetings Industry Council.

"Hey, we're not experts at this, but we have some ideas and some knowledge," says Clark of the green movement that has changed how the world lives and conducts business. And on green meetings, he notes, "We're always talking to customers, and we'll do the research and make it happen."