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A Las Vegas Experiment: Can Sustainable Development Save the Economy?

| Monday August 10th, 2009 | 0 Comments


Las Vegas’ Strip, already world famous for its gambling, boozing, and entertainment opportunities, will soon become a leader in sustainability as well, according to a recent press release. A new luxury eco-resort called CityCenter – one of the world’s largest sustainable developments, the press release says – is in the works. Some analysts say CityCenter will not only allow the Strip to develop responsibly without sacrificing quality, it will also pave the way for sustainable growth throughout Las Vegas. Still, I wonder: Is it possible for one resort to have such a strong impact an entire city?

CityCenter’s green credentials abound. Its LEED-certified hotels, residences, as well as dining, retail, and public spaces will occupy 18 million square feet. It will essentially power itself with an 8.5 megawatt natural gas plant, which will also use “waste heat” to provide hot water. Truly a desert resort, CityCenter will deflect heat with energy-efficient exterior coating, use reclaimed water (instead of drinking water) for dust control, and utilize pressurized shower heads. Guests can enjoy natural gas-powered limo transport, slot machines doubling as air conditioning units, organic, locally-grown cuisine, and other amenities. Those who constructed the facility used 95 percent (230,000 tons) of the construction waste generated in the demolition of the site’s previous occupant. Only sustainable wood, carpet, and low-VOC paints were used in the construction. These green-friendly traits could be enough to offset CityCenter’s (potentially obnoxious to land conservationists) square footage.

Now, to answer my own question…. Easier said than done, it seems: As in all economic matters, there are two sides of the camp.

On one hand, CityCenter’s economic thrust will reportedly stem from its sheer size and purchasing power. By driving large-scale economies in multiple industry sectors, CityCenter is empowering green innovation by paving the way for those sectors to build and operate sustainably. Not to mention the fact that the resort itself will employ approximately 12,000 people. CityCenter’s introduction of green building techniques to its 10,000-plus workers is a valuable contribution to their careers and to the furthering of sustainable development in Las Vegas and beyond. Moreover, as eco traveler Leslie Garrett notes, Vegas is a city the world tends to watch. Therefore, the success of CityCenter could demonstrate, on a wide scale, the power of green building.

On the other hand, if a recent Las Vegas Sun report is correct, an “if you build it they will come” mentality may not be the safest, given the state of the economy. According to the report, the city’s economy is based primarily on growth and tourism. If there has indeed been a fundamental shift in American attitudes toward spending (i.e. buying tickets to places like Vegas), there may not be enough tourists to even fill the CityCenter’s rooms (or other hotel rooms in the city for that matter). This would force room rates down, cutting into profit margins and funds for future projects – thus further stalling Vegas’ growth. If tourism to Vegas does recover, it is unlikely to do so quickly enough to cover CityCenter’s initial investments.

What do you think: is Vegas going out on a limb, or is sustainability itself a strong enough leg on which to stand?

ED Note – we covered the city center project a few years ago here. Has anything evolved?


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