How Caesar’s went sustainable on Showtime

Scott Miller went to work at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas

Scott Miller went to work at Caesar's Palace, Las Vegas

When you think of sustainable hospitality, Caesar’s in Vegas might not be top of your list, but a new TV show sees them going all out to improve their sustainable credentials.

This Monday 26th May on US channel Showtime, the next Years of Living Dangerously episode shows what happens when the EDF Climate Corps’ Scott Miller gets the challenge of a lifetime to reduce the carbon footprint of Caesars Entertainment Corporation.

Green Hotelier caught up with Scott to hear how he got on.

Miller, 37, worked at Caesars Entertainment last summer and was filmed in Las Vegas at the Flamingo Hotel, Caesar’s and the Paris Hotel Eiffel Tower Experience.

Miller grew up in Los Angeles, but moved to New York in 2001 where he had a high-flying career in finance at AXA Equitable and then Oppenheimer Funds where he created Oppenheimer’s GO Green Committee, winning executive level sponsorship for the Sustainability Programe from Oppenheimer’s CEO Bill Glavin.

But, when Miller saw the Gulf Oil spill in April 2010, he decided to leave the world of finance and dedicate the rest of his life to sustainability. He applied and was accepted to the Masters in Sustainability programme at Columbia where he Co-Chairs the Earth Institute Leadership Council.

In 2013, Miller was accepted into Al Gore’s Climate Reality Leadership Corps, and into the highly competitive EDF (Environmental Defense Fund) Climate Fellows programme. The Corps has been working with Showtime’s Years of Living Dangerously to help some big US organisations improve their environmental performance. The show sent actor Jessica Alba who narrates the episode, into the field to see why changes in the way we use resources are so essential. She interviewed Miller and the other EDF Corps members on their work.

Miller was matched with Caesars in Vegas at the beginning of June to work with them for ten weeks. This was the second year of Caesars’ participation with the programme, and they already have some formalised sustainability goals.

Miller is filmed by the famous cinematographer Maryse Alberti working in Las Vegas,  bike commuting to work, walking through the lights of downtown and making his final presentation.

Miller’s role involved looking at Caesars’ pool, spa and fountain pump systems. He also looked at their outdoor lighting. The pool pump systems were across all eight Caesars properties in Vegas. Outdoor lighting was predominantly at the Flamingo hotel, but of his own volition Miller decided to take on a third project which was to attempt to relight the Eiffel Tower experience at the Paris Hotel.

“We were there to save them money, energy and carbon,” he says. “Las Vegas is pretty novel because it’s a place where you think ‘that’s the last place on earth where they’re thinking about sustainability’. In fact they are thinking about it in a huge way so it’s shocking in a good way for people to realise that hotels in Caesars really do care about this and they get it.”

Describing his life-changing decision Miller says, “The BP spill happened in the Gulf of Mexico and I became so enraged about that event that I came to a major realisation that ‘I think I need to do something about this’. So I shifted my entire career.”

But his background in finance stood him in good stead for working with Caesars Entertainment. “At Caesars business, money, numbers are extremely important and my background is strong in that area,” he says.

By the end of the show Miller had completed multiple large-scale energy efficiency test projects and made recommendations to trim energy costs and carbon emissions on the company’s mega lighting and pool, spa and fountain pump systems.

“The entire experience was entirely authentic,” he says. “I said whatever I wanted to say, I did whatever I wanted to do. There was no real sense of control or structure or staging of the filming. I’m so passionate about sustainability and this topic that there was no way I was going to sugar-coat or make something any less serious than it was.”

Miller also got the chance to meet Alba. “I spent an entire day with Jessica Alba at her company called The Honest Company in Santa Monica California,” he says. “We took a tour around the facility and learned all about the company which is extremely progressive on the environmental and on the social responsibility front. A lot of the themes really resonated with them, particularly transparency which I think is a huge part of this puzzle and is especially relevant for the hospitality industry because it is clear that guests are becoming more demanding in the way they expect hotels to demonstrate their transparency from supply chains and so on. And Caesars underlined to me the importance of the guest experience, so that was a really important part of this puzzle,” he says.

“My projects at Caesars worked really well with their Code Green public goals of energy and carbon emissions reduction. I was working with the engineers and the environmental group at Caesars who report to the carbon disclosure project (CDP) or report for the GRI. My projects contributed directly to their goal to reduce their energy consumption by 40% per sqft by 2025 and to reduce their carbon emissions by 40% from a 2007 baseline.

“My recommendations had to fit both of those measures but also their very intense financial guidelines on return on investment. First and foremost I had to show that I was going to save them money. Sustainability makes good business sense and it’s a very good thing for everyone, but I had to show projects that were financially responsible in line with their investment expectations and that was critical,” he explains.

Miller talked about why he thought Vegas was a good location for the show. “At face value Vegas is not the most sustainable of places but we can’t just go and pull the plug, so my take on it is that as long as there is a Las Vegas, you may as well make it tread as lightly as possible. That makes me even more motivated to reduce the impact of a city where people think that’s the last place on earth for environmental work.”

At the end of his project Miller had to present his findings to a number of top figures within the company. “That was really intense,” he says. “The pressure was incredible. I was regularly spending nights in the office until midnight. This presentation was like the culmination of my entire career change. It was like ‘holy crap this is big! This is the moment where I can literally have a huge impact not only on this organisation but on the overall reduction of carbon emissions and the reduction of cost.’

“I gave it in front of the CEO of Caesars and other senior executives and key stakeholders and Beth Lowery the senior advisor of sustainability and environment for TPG which is the private equity firm that owns the majority of Caesars Entertainment. Plus four or five cameras one of which was manned by this incredibly famous cinematographer!

“There was one moment that was pretty amazing where I started to talk to the CEO about the savings potentials for the pools and spas with these pump systems using a technology called variable frequency drives. The magnitude of the energy savings potential blew him away and there was this amazing moment where he was like ‘why haven’t we done this?’

“Then it was awkward because my supervisor was right there! But I said ‘believe me your team is doing an amazing job’ and they really are.

“It went extremely well and I delivered what I thought was a really effective presentation. I have confirmation that they’re implementing my recommendations when it comes to the pump systems so they are installing the drives I recommended. The lighting project unfortunately did not make the three year payback period, it was just over, but that was still a successful project because it thoroughly investigated the possibility of changing out their light fixtures around their hotels to LED.

Miller looked at the lighting requirements for Flamingo

Miller looked at the lighting requirements for Flamingo

 

“So this laid the groundwork when it comes to seeing what that would look like for them. But the reality is that energy is very cheap in Las Vegas. So long as you have very inexpensive energy, energy efficiency becomes more difficult and one of the things I said in my presentation was if there was a price on carbon, my project would have worked, but with extremely inexpensive energy I’m not meeting their requirements. But in other properties like Atlantic City where the energy is much more expensive, it definitely works.

“One of the things I showed the CEO was ‘here is your top ten properties by most expensive energy cost’ and it’s easier to make the financials work for energy efficiency in these properties, but ironically Vegas is not in the top ten because energy is so cheap.

“But that changes when you look at ‘here’s your top ten properties by greenhouse gas emission intensity’. Using the e-GRID which is an emissions factor, it depends where you are in the country and is based on how much coal is used to produce your electricity. If the hospitality industry companies declare greenhouse gas emission reduction goals and energy reduction goals, it drives them to identify properties that are producing the highest rate of greenhouse gas emissions, and when they reduce energy in those properties they get the biggest reduction and the biggest add to achieving those goals. So I stressed that because I really wanted to take the conversation beyond the financials.”

Miller was happy with the outcome. “I’m very proud of that,” he says. “I really didn’t want to be a part of something that was just going to be recommendations and hot air without actual implementation and results. And they really did embrace that in the end so that was extremely rewarding.”

His experience overall was very positive and he enjoyed working with hotels. Now he’s working with a company assessing the supply chain of hospitality companies. He thinks hotels have an important role to play in changing the way we see environmental issues. “The hospitality industry has a very unique position in the world of sustainability and that is they get to influence people outside of their own homes,” says Miller. “So that is a very powerful platform to show the positive change and the ways that guests can do something differently back in their own homes. It has a very influential potential in society all over the world,” he says.

And he thinks the Showtime episode in Las Vegas will be a real eye-opener for viewers. “It’s a reality check for people who traditionally go to Vegas to let loose to find that these hotels are thinking very seriously about energy efficiency and water efficiency.”

Still, he sounds a note of caution against complacency. “Whilst I’m happy that the hospitality industry is taking a lead on these issues, I’m a bit concerned about the pace of change. As a whole we are not moving nearly as quickly as we need to be,” he nods.

Watch a taster for episode 7: Revolt, Rebuild, Renew:

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