Las Vegas may be a man-made center of culture and consumption located in a neon desert, but Vegas is also powered and watered by one of the largest dams in history. But with ever-worsening drought conditions and a growing demand for eco-friendly activities, the city with dollar signs in its eyes has set its sights on a different kind of green.
Completed in December of 2009, CityCenter Las Vegas sets the bar high for sustainable tourist venues. As the most expensive privately-funded project in the Western Hemisphere, the massive complex of hotels (including Aria and Vdara) didn’t come cheap, but the money was spent in the pursuit of eco-friendly luxury. Its planet-saving features are impressive, including the use of recycled materials for construction, energy-efficient exteriors and air circulation systems, and use of compressed natural gas to power its fleet of stretch limos (a world-first), as well as generating 10% of its own electricity on site! These efforts have have made CityCenter one of few tourist-centered venues in the United States to earn a Gold LEED certification from the U.S. Green Building Council.
CityCenter isn’t the only Vegas institution in the green game. The Palazzo is the largest (by a factor of four!) LEED-certified building in the world, featuring (among other things) an advanced water-treatment facility and massive recycling program.
Vegas may be in the middle of a desert, but that doesn’t mean there aren’t places dedicated to the eco-traveler interested in local flora and fauna. The Springs Preserve is an 180-acre home to a botanical garden, nature trails, and a rotating series of exhibits and classes focusing on science, nature, and sustainable gardening. The Bellagio, in addition to a hotel and casino, also offers its Conservatory & Botanical Gardens for year-round horticultural exploration. There’s also plenty of local nature to explore outside of Vegas proper, including Valley of Fire State Park (opened in 1935), Red Rock Canyon (Nevada’s first National Conservation Area), and the Tule Springs Fossil Beds, designated a National Monument by Congress in December of 2014, where tourists can glimpse what the Vegas area was like during the last Ice Age.
How You Can Help: Paint (The Town) Green
Resorts and casinos can only do so much to keep things eco-friendly, but the rest is up to you. The Vegas Strip is very pedestrian-friendly (though not very bicycle-friendly), so skip the cab, and take the time to walk. Public transportation is also readily available, including the Las Vegas Monorail and RTC’s “The Deuce” double-decker bus. Many Vegas cabs have been outfitted to run on natural gas, and rental car fleets in the area offer electric and hybrid options. A natural-gas filling station was opened near McCarran International Airport in 2011 to keep transportation to/from the airport as green as possible.
Vegas has been hopping aboard the sustainable food train as well! From the luxury of Sage to the Downtown Farmers Market every Friday, there’s plenty of farm-to-table, healthy alternatives to that all-you-can eat buffet near the craps tables.
Multi-billion dollar energy-efficient hotel / entertainment / shopping / casinos are important steps towards a more sustainable future, but there are still plenty of small things you can do to keep the world green, from taking shorter showers and reusing towels, to turning off lights when leaving the room. If Las Vegas, a beacon for conspicuous consumption, can turn a new green leaf, so can you!