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Is There Anything Green About Las Vegas?

As a self-proclaimed environmentalist, one might be surprised that I would write a post about Las Vegas. But if there ever was a place that needed some environmental scrutiny, it would be Vegas. A place of rampant indulgence and capitalism on crack, with ridiculous hotels in the shape of pyramids and a Venetian palace, where you can find a full-size pirate ship and a mock-up of the Eiffel Tower, Las Vegas is the antithesis of living gently on the planet.

Strangely, I have been there more than any other city due in part to it being the centre of business conferences, especially in the tech industry. It has also been a great jump-off point for desert road trips - a personal favourite. So when the opportunity to go came up again (another conference), I couldn’t pass up the chance to see and feel a bright desert sun. But before I went I did a little googling. I typed in, “is there anything sustainable about Las Vegas”. What came back was actually surprising.

What are the biggest challenges facing a place like Las Vegas? A place where 36.7 million visitors arrive each year, where there are 124,270 hotel rooms at 89% occupancy, almost 200,000 slot machines and 37 golf courses?

Power consumption, water usage and waste management.

A sidewalk billboard at Town's Square Park off the Strip.

And yet, in the past few years, the governments of Las Vegas and Nevada have been making huge strides to conserve and recycle. According to some changes to the building incentives, Vegas can boast the highest number of LEED certified buildings in a city. Part of that certification requires water conservation including low flow toilets and showers and new initiatives for washing all that linen.

In addition, rebates have been given to the locals to replace their yards with xeriscaping (desert landscaping that uses native plants). And recently, the hotel New York New York developed an outdoor park on its property. It includes an event area, stunning statues and an outdoor sitting area complete with planters made of local rock and filled with native cactus and trees. In addition, Water reclamation programs have reduced water usage by 37% in the last decade.

They have also made great progress with their recycling program. You won't see recycling bins in front of the house. All the work happens back of the hotel where waste is sent to the largest, most technically sophisticated plant in North America.

And, there are some very lucky pigs in the area that get to feed on all that buffet food that doesn't get eaten.

Ever since I started going to Vegas I wondered why there wasn’t more evidence of solar power. That has started to change with large solar farms being constructed on the city limits and more hotels like the Mandelay Bay putting solar panels on their own vast roofs and the MGM looking to leave the grid to source their own solar power.

Las Vegas is still a town of decadence. It is a far cry from its origins as the place called "The Meadows". My mind was not completely at ease in this Disney Land for adults because I knew that the drive for these changes had more to do with saving money and the scarcity brought on by drought than a true desire for sustainability. But no matter what the motivation, I’ll take this drive for change any day. If Las Vegas can do it, any city can.

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