Las Vegas — land of excess — seems like a strange home for corporate responsibility. But even casinos (or “gaming and hospitality companies,” as MGM Resorts prefers to be called) find value in looking deeply at social and environmental issues related to their operations. It makes sense since these are enormous operations. MGM Resorts employs 62,000 people at 23 resorts worldwide. Many of the 39 million people who visit Las Vegas annually will stay at an MGM property like Bellagio, Mandalay Bay, Mirage, Luxor, New York-New York or Circus Circus. That’s a lot of people descending on a desert property, with a huge potential environmental and social impact. But as I learned, MGM Resorts is deeply focused on both employee satisfaction and minimizing its environmental footprint.
Diversity, philanthropy, sustainability
MGM’s corporate social responsibility (CSR) program is focused on diversity and inclusion, philanthropy, and sustainability (the company’s word for environmental efforts). Diversity is a core focus and approximately 65 percent of MGM Resorts’ employees are minorities. MGM Resorts was the first organization in the gaming and hospitality industry to voluntarily adopt a formal diversity and inclusion policy in 2001, and the CSR reporting initiative grew out of the reporting efforts on that policy. Environmental efforts were added to the report in 2005.
The report is titled “Inspiring our World,” which is also the name of the MGM Resorts’ employee show. The Vegas-style production was developed by and for employees to “deepen the company’s corporate culture and motivate employees to excel in guest service while making positive contributions to the communities they call home, embracing diversity and being exceptional environmental stewards.” According to Phyllis A. James, MGM Resorts International Executive Vice President and Chief Diversity Officer , the goal was to showcase the value of sustainability and share some of the big wins MGM Resorts had made in the world of sustainability. Unfortunately for us, the full video is unavailable online so we have to be content with b-roll.
The Inspiring Our World show is a fantastic example of using the company’s core skill set — entertainment — to both drive employee engagement and share the message of sustainability in a non-linear way. No one says CSR reporting needs to come through boring .PDFs full of graphs and charts (although they can certainly help). Wouldn’t it be incredible if MGM Resorts created a similar show in future reporting cycles to talk about their sustainability? That would win them some awards for innovation and certainly lots of press from the sustainability world.
On the environmental end, MGM Resorts’ accomplishments really came to life when I spoke with Cindy Ortega, MGM Resort International’s chief sustainability officer. “When we created our program, one of the objectives was to have credibility. At that time sustainability was a politically charged term. Energy and Environmental services was original name. We’ve framed whole program around conservation in terms of the concepts of carbon and global warming. Conservation is the proper route to those.”
The 2013 report includes many graphs with information from all 23 resorts combined.
The groups’ improved recycling rates are especially impressive and demonstrate a commitment to improvement over time.
Some of the charts in the report were a bit less successful, like the two below demonstrating efforts in energy and water conservation. The sidebars note some of the improvements, but it is difficult to suss out the change over time due to the lack of specific numbers on the graphs. Unfortunately this report didn’t include any narrative beyond the sidebars, so it was difficult to understand how big these wins were, or how they fit into the overall environmental sustainability plan for the organization.
However, it was clear from my conversation with Ortega that there is a lot going on behind the scenes. For example, when I asked if MGM Resorts had considered its energy intensity by guest, she explained that the company had run the numbers but it was difficult to measure improvements because of the wide variation in seasonal temperatures impacting energy load.
Said Ortega: “We looked at a couple metrics to measure. Because a guest has such a different profile in the summer than in the winter, it doesn’t make sense to measure by guest. Intensity per square foot is more accurate. That gives us the ability to look across venues and share best practices.”
She explained that her team has focused on granularity and detailed information-gathering in order to uncover effective paths to reducing energy and water use.
Where MGM Resorts really shines, I learned from talking with Ortega, is in the area of water conservation. “Water is our most important natural resource,” she explained. “Our very existence here [in Las Vegas] is based upon our ability to conserve water.” She explained how water use works in Las Vegas. “All the water we use is borrowed from Lake Mead. After it gets used, it’s pumped to sewage, cleaned and returned to lake.” Everyone understands that it’s bad to use sprinklers or spray in air because any water will go to the aquifier rather than back to the lake where it’s desperately needed.
The biggest area of conservation for MGM Resorts, planting, “is almost an illusion to the guests. ” Casinos “do a good job making things look like a big lush landscape when it’s not.” Ortega spoke with pride about MGM Resorts’ accomplishments with the landscaping at the City Center Las Vegas building, which includes 76 acres of open space. The property manages all of that space with only 3 percent of its total water consumption. To put that in perspective, the average homeowner in Las Vegas uses 50 percent of its total water use outdoors to irrigate lawns and wash cars.
MGM Resorts sees a huge part of it’s mission to work with employees and educate them about the impact of water use and the importance of water conservation. Phyllis James told me that employee training happens through a variety of methods: trainings, recharges, rallies, a company newspaper that comes out on a daily basis, and “pre-shifts” where the lead manager goes through key information for the day.
Exec summary vs. full-blown report
Unfortunately, few of the fantastic stories of connecting social and environmental sustainability made it into the “Inspiring Our World” report. This was the first year MGM Resorts has tried an executive summary instead of a full-blown CSR report, which led to a report focused on graphs and bullet-pointed lists of awards won by the company — it seems there was little room left for a narrative explaining MGM Resorts’ approach to sustainability.
The report featured a number of graphs comparing data between MGM Resorts’ domestic operations and their resorts specifically in Clark County, Nevada, like the chart at right. While the significance of this breakout is likely meaningful to employees and other internal stakeholders, it was lost on me. This breakout was used for eight graphs without context, which represents a missed opportunity for MGM Resorts to explain to the larger sustainability community why it is tracking information in this manner. I was left wondering about where energy intensity by guest and comparisons to other hospitality companies fit into the story.
The report also neglected to share clear statements on boundary (what was included and what was left out), and goals for improvement on social and environmental sustainability.
At the end of the day, it’s clear that MGM Resorts really excels at entertainment and storytelling, and it was a disappointment to not see these core competencies highlighted in the design and presentation of the report. There’s no reason for CSR reports to be static documents, (although this is a natural starting point for many companies on the sustainability journey). Next time around, I hope the company has fun with its report and uses it to share some of the fantastic culture of diversity and sustainability it has created among the staff.
Images credit Inspiring Our World