Go Green, Save Money

Environmentally friendly investments pay more than just moral dividends

By Gregory Furgala, with files from Kavita Sabharwal-Chomiuk

Casinos aren’t crowned by towering smoke stacks. They don’t produce ammonia-laced tailing ponds. Disaster scenarios aside, in the event of a catastrophic operational failure, it’s unlikely that a casino would do much more than temporarily close. A casino certainly isn’t going to rupture and gush oil anywhere (its owners might get into a new line of work if it did). In terms of environmental impact, casinos aren’t nearly as visible as international shipping, marine plastic pollution and fracking.

But they’re not perfect. Casinos and resort hotels produce tonnes of organic and inorganic waste that needs to be hauled away. Hauling staff uniforms and linens off to get laundered costs carbon and money as well. Casino and resorts’ biggest impact, however, is energy usage. A 2005 study by the United States’ Environmental Protection Agency notes that casinos are extremely energy intensive due to their 24/7 operations, high ventilation requirements and high energy loads. By way of example, the EPA report found that the Turning Stone Resort and Casino in New York used 57.6 million kilowatt hours of energy per year to power its 750 rooms, 500,000 square foot casino floor, 30,000 square foot event space andamenities. To put that in perspective, in 2016, the entire city of Hamilton used 351.6 million kilowatt hours.

Turning Stone is a massive resort, but the EPA study makes it clear that casinos and casino resorts, with their abundance of lights, games and massive open spaces, demand more energy per square foot than other lodgings. Managing down that usage might at first glance seem like a thankless, capital-intensive task, but it can quickly pay dividends, both environmental and financial. Steve Stone, the director of facility management at Fallsview Casino Resort in Niagara, recently found that out for himself.

An Efficient Plan

“It began as we reviewed the efficiencies of our programs and the associated costs,” says Stone. “As we made decisions on what programs could be improved and reviewed for opportunities for capital investment, it became clear that creating these efficiencies would work hand-in-hand with sustainable and environmentally friendly programs.”

The initial goal was to cut operational costs, but it led Stone to making investments in projects that dovetail with sustainability and energy efficiency. Most of the changes are what you would expect. Stone’s team installed variable speed drives on fans and pumps, switched to LEDs, added automatic lighting controls in under-used areas and installed energy-saving window treatments. Fallsview even added a film to the southwest-facing side of the building that ref lects UV light, relieving the HVAC system of some stress. Rebates helped offset some of those costs, as well.

“Energy audits are an imperative part of the process in order to ensure that we are comprehensively reviewing opportunities for efficiency and to create a baseline for our programs,” says Stone. “Once we established a baseline we were able to identify and prioritize opportunities that would al low us to increase efficiency.”

But some of the biggest benefits came from unexpected places. Dyson hand dryers, for example, allowed Fallsview to get rid of paper towels in washrooms. That eliminated a significant chunk of their waste disposal, which in turn decreased the amount of haulage needed to get rid of it and the amount energy required to process it. The results at Fallsview bear out an MIT study concluding that Dyson’s dryers had the least environmental impact compared to other dryers and paper towels. Dyson estimates it costs 97 per cent less than paper towels to run its dryers, and 81 per cent less than slower dryers. Bringing laundry in house brought on a similar cascading series of benefits, and, given Fallsview’s “always-on” nature, lighting controls were another boon. Routine operational reviews yielded other small ways to make Fallsview more efficient, as well.

Despite Stone’s overall success, there were challenges. On-site organics disposal, for example, was particularly difficult. To work, staff have to sort waste perfectly. Otherwise, the disposal units break down. “Even just a small fraction of the waste being misallocated will cause the loads to be rejected and caused almost daily breakdowns in equipment,” says Stone. “This is a real challenge when you are relying on a large population to perform the procedures perfectly every time with little to no margin for error.” When the machines worked, they worked well. But too often they didn’t. Given the chance to do it over again, Stone says he’d purchase smaller machines and work in smaller loads, which would make it easier for his staff to keep the waste stream clean.

Operationally, the cost-benefit of Fallsview’s green initiatives have worked out in its favour, but the environmental benef it might yield more revenue unto itself. Green Keys global, an international environmental certification body, awarded Fallsview its 4 Green Key rating. Green Key designs sustainability programs specifically for the hotel industry, and Stone says the rating helps signal to potential clients and guests that Fallsview act ively works toward reducing its environmental footprint. It’s a moral value-add to go along with the traditional amenities for Fallsview guests. “We want to ensure that their experience is a good one while on property, therefore we inform them of the environmental benefits behind the changes made that impact them,” says Stone. “If we make the guest feel as though they are making an environmental impact, they are likely to accept and have more positive feelings about these changes.”

Big Picture Change

In aggregate, re-tooled processes, retrofits and guest-facing changes can have a significant impact on overhead. Bringing in certain processes, like laundry, helped Fallsview meet its goals, but particularly large facilities can consider bringing in their own power generation. In a 2007 report, the EPA analyzed energy use at two casinos, the Rio All Suite Hotel and Casino in Las Vegas, and the Seneca Niagara Falls Casino in New York state. Both recently had combined heat and power (CHP) systems installed with the aim of reducing their carbon footprints. In a nutshell, CHP systems generate energy more efficiently than traditional power sources. In a process sometimes called cogeneration, heat created by power generation is contained and channeled toward a useful purpose, like heat ing or cool ing, making product ive use of what would otherwise go to waste.

The results were staggering. Rio has 2,800 suites, 15 restaurants, theatres, lounges and, of course, gaming rooms. Before its CHP system was installed, Rio’s annual energy bill was $9 million. Once installed, the CHP system generated 40 per cent of Rio’s electricity, heated 60 per cent of its water and managed 65 per cent of the resort’s heating. With 95 per cent up-time, Rio saved $1.5 million annually. Seneca Niagara installed its CHP system to operate in the event of a power outage (its installation was partially a response to the 2003 Northeast blackout). Its system was designed to meet the thermal load of the facility, provide heating and cooling, and heat water, as well. The report goes on to say that during the summer months, Seneca Niagara’s CHP system will meet 100 per cent of its thermal needs, and at peak load, 73 per cent of its electricity needs. The numbers at Connecticut’s Foxwoods Resort & Casino are even more impressive. The Alliance for Industrial Efficiency, a sustainability advocacy, reported that Foxwoods’ 15 megawatt CHP system met 100 per cent of its heating and cooling needs and 60 per cent of its electricity needs. In three years, it recouped $36 million.

That’s money that could be reinvested into the operational savings, or expansion, or staff raises to reward performance and at tract new talent. It could be doled out in bonuses or go to shareholders. Wherever it goes, the source is the same: investment into green initiatives. Efficiency saves money, and the cost of things like LEDs and solar panels have both consistently decreased over the past decade, making simple retrofits and upgrades that much cheaper. The entire electrical system could be reconfigured around a CHP system, or bulk soap dispensers could replace individual bottles. Both help.

Green Ink

Despite his overall success, Stone cautions other facility managers about just diving into going green. “Before making any big decisions in starting green initiatives, it is crucial to fully understand the needs of your business as a whole. Each business is a unique entity and while some initiatives may look desirable on paper, it is imperative to think through the potential impact on guest and staff experiences.” Fallsview didn’t invest into energy efficient retrofits and processes purely out of environmental guilt. For casinos and resorts, sustainable practices are a new means to an old end: improving customer experience and the bottom line. They just have the added benefit of reducing waste and environmental impact, and, for now, coincide with consumers’ approval of green practices. “We are proud to have set ourselves apart as a green leader in the community,” says Stone. “Not only have we implemented many green initiatives on our properties, but we also work to educate our employees on green pract ices in hopes that they will carry some of it to their own homes.”

There aren’t smoke stacks or tailings ponds, but there is plenty of room for improvement. There’s also thousands of dollars — in some cases millions — left on the table. It just takes a bit of investment to get it.

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