Reducing Emissions Is a Sure Bet for Caesars Entertainment

May 21, 2014

CREDIT: tenaciousme (CC).

It was an especially gratifying moment to shut down the high-intensity discharge lights on the Flamingo facade and the Eiffel Tower Experience and turn on the LEDs.

My life changed forever on April 20, 2010 when the BP Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded in the Gulf of Mexico, killing eleven workers and poisoning the ecosystem. By the time the oil stopped flowing 87 agonizing days later I had discovered the motivation to unleash a deeply rooted passion for sustainability. It drove me to start a sustainability initiative at OppenheimerFunds, and subsequently to leave a successful career in financial services.

Passion alone is not enough, so in the fall of 2011 I began an M.S. in sustainability management at Columbia University's Earth Institute. Over the next three years I learned multiple ways to lessen society's impact on the environment and to promote resilience.

An important opportunity for me came in the spring of 2013 when I was accepted into the Environmental Defense Fund's Climate Corps fellowship program. The EDF Climate Corps matches graduate students with companies, municipalities, and universities across the country. Each fellow is trained for one week by energy efficiency experts and then sent on a 10-week fellowship to reduce cost, energy, and carbon emissions at a host organization. The program has been so successful that it caught the attention of the producers of Years of Living Dangerously, a documentary series about climate change airing this spring on Showtime.

I was matched with Caesars Entertainment (CET) in Las Vegas, Nevada and subsequently selected by the Years Project to be one of three fellows whom they would follow throughout the summer. So, in early June I packed my bags, boxed my bike, and headed to the sweltering summer heat of Vegas to deliver maximum cost and CO2 savings.

Upon arriving, it became apparent that much of the low-hanging energy efficiency fruit had already been plucked, so my supervisor decided to challenge me with an outdoor wall lighting project at the Flamingo Las Vegas, and an energy audit of all pool, spa, and fountain pump systems at CET's eight Las Vegas resorts. I also attempted an energy retrofit project for the Eiffel Tower Experience at the Paris Las Vegas.

Managing all three projects simultaneously while cameras were following me around was by far the most challenging and rewarding experience of my career.

It was an especially gratifying moment to shut down the existing High-intensity Discharge (HID) lights on the Flamingo facade and the Eiffel Tower Experience and turn on the Light-Emitting Diodes, which were expected to reduce annual energy consumption by 70 percent.

Scott Miller (left) consults with Jessica Alba (right), founder of The Honest Company. IMAGE: Courtesy of Showtime.

In addition to lighting, I had the unique opportunity to partner with the chief engineer of the Flamingo to conduct a CodeGreen audit at three in the morning. We surveyed countless square feet of resort space, identifying energy and water efficiency and conservation opportunities, all of which would help reduce operational costs, carbon emissions, and water consumption—the latter being especially relevant in the desert.

Lastly, I surveyed 125 pump systems, which circulate water through the iconic pools, spas, and fountains of the CET Las Vegas resorts. To reduce energy demand from their around-the-clock operations, I researched an energy efficiency solution known as a variable frequency drive (VFD). I built a life-cycle cost model and talked to VFD suppliers. Toward the end of my fellowship, I was tasked with presenting my findings and recommendations to Caesars CEO Gary Loveman and other key stakeholders, while Showtime cameras captured it all.

In the end, I determined that CET could reduce the average annual energy consumed by their pools, spas, and fountains by more than 60 percent. The financial payback was so attractive that we were able to install four VFDs in the Caesars Palace pool pump room prior to my departure. By implementing my project recommendations at all their U.S. properties, Caesars Entertainment could save more than $350,000 and approximately 6 million kilowatt hours annually, enough to power more than 500 homes and avoid 3,400 metric tons of carbon dioxide emissions per year.

The stories featured in Years of Living Dangerously include activist celebrities, renowned climate scientists, famous journalists, and inspirational business leaders who have made social and environmental responsibility a top priority for their firms. And, it turns out, ordinary people like me.

Taken together, I believe these stories have the potential to fuel a fundamental shift in how the public views climate change, and to inspire individuals, businesses, and maybe even politicians to make a big pivot toward a more sustainable future.