03/18/2010 05:12 am ET Updated May 25, 2011

What Happens in Vegas Stays in Vegas (And Goes Green?)

Blazing neon lights 24/7, the world’s most grandiose fountains, gridlock on Las Vegas Boulevard, frigid indoor air over millions of square feet when it’s a hundred and ten outside ... not exactly a poster boy for sustainability.  Name the top ten green cities in America -- I’ll bet Las Vegas would not make your shortlist.

Well, think again.  After meeting with officials from the City of Las Vegas to learn more about their green initiatives for our Sierra Club Green Home Web site, I must conclude that America’s adult playground is making a sincere effort to embrace sustainability.  And the major casinos have actually been pioneers in energy saving techniques – with the power and water bills they generate, it makes economic as well as altruistic sense for them.  “What Happens In Vegas Stays In Vegas” but it might be beneficial for the casinos to get the word out about their green initiatives.

Sometimes controversial, always quotable and often progressive, Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman is somewhat of a legend on the local and national scene.  Under his stewardship, Las Vegas began to embrace green environmental policies before it became de rigeur.  Goodman was one of the first to sign the Mayors Climate Protection Agreement, a pledge to green their city which now has over 1,000 mayoral signatures.  Currently, Las Vegas has one of America’s toughest consumer watering policies.  “Water cops” can fine you if they see runoff on your sidewalks.  Outdoor fountains at residential developments have come to a grinding halt.   Vegas was also an early adopter of hybrid fleet vehicles and even embarked on a recycled anti-freeze program in 2007 to help power the city fleet.  They also have a green building program, which rewards developers with tax breaks for building energy efficient structures. 

Tom Perigo, Deputy Director of Las Vegas’ Planning and Development Center further enlightened me about how the city has been a pioneer in all things sustainable since 2005.  The city government and related buildings all have strict environmental guidelines for power and water usage as well as recycling.  They are setting a great example here, and many of the major casinos in town have followed suit with state-of-the-art technology for saving power on laundry, lighting, climate control and water consumption.   City Center, the largest real estate development project in the country, is being built to varying degrees of LEED standards with help from prominent consultant John Picard and other leading green architects and designers.  Another noteworthy Las Vegas program is Green Chips, which provides free home energy audits for residents of low income housing and loans to consumers and businesses that will use the funds to improve energy efficiency.  

Things are not perfect in Las Vegas, for sure.  To the average homeowner, recycling is not commonplace.  There are several neighborhoods that pick up recycling, but for a city of this size and scope the recycling efforts have a long way to go.   Some people have the false notion that the trash companies separate out the recyclables at their facilities.  I could not find any proof that this is accurate.   And most obviously, sun, sun, sun everywhere, but where are all the solar panels?  It is disturbing to think about how much solar power could be generated for residential and commercial applications here, yet solar panels are almost non-existent on the residential side.  Hopefully continuing advances in solar panel technology, additional governmental subsidies, and cost reductions will change this.  Perigo also mentioned Nevada’s terrain is primed for generating Geothermal power; he has high hopes that the state will embrace this renewable source in the future. 

Sierra Club Green has staffers from UNLV’s environmental studies program who are committed and enthusiastic about spreading the word on sustainability.  These young people are Las Vegas residents who inspire me with their dedication and willingness to help America go green.   


Pictured: Sierra Club Green employees, Abi Wright and Bridge Barnes, meet Las Vegas Mayor Oscar Goodman.

The point here is that if an inherently non-green city like Las Vegas can embrace sustainability, so should all municipalities.  I urge you to look into what your city is doing to improve the environment.  Sierra Club’s Cool Cities program outlines sustainability agendas  across the nation.  Please take a moment to see what your city is doing at Cool Cities.  Let us hear your comments, and if they aren’t doing enough, be sure to urge your mayor and council members to do more.