Las Vegas-based Caesars realized a double payoff when it gambled on saving water.
By cutting back on washing, lawn-sprinkling, and plain old waste, the hotel and gaming conglomerate saved both water and energy.
But as is usually the case with casinos, Caesars knew the odds were in its favor. "I don't think we appreciate the value of water as much in our country as in much of the world," said Eric Dominguez, corporate director of engineering, utilities, and environmental affairs for the company, which owns Harrah's, Planet Hollywood, Bally's, Showboat, Rio, Flamingo, and Caesar's Palace. "Because the pricing of water here does not reflect its true value, we are spoiled here."
In the United States, households typically pay about $2 for every 1,000 gallons of water (53 cents per cubic meter). That's a cheap rate among developed nations, about 40 percent less than in Germany and 30 percent less than in Japan.
Dominguez added that water's relatively low price compared with the cost of energy has made it harder to get companies excited about conserving it. But in fact, as Caesars has realized in recent years, saving water can actually lead to savings in energy, because of the intimate connection between the two vital resources. And Dominguez says hotels are uniquely suited to take advantage of the possibilities.
"For us in the hospitality business, water is a big part of what we do, so we were early to adopt reduction targets," he said.
Reducing Big Footprints
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) estimates that hotels and other lodgings use about 15 percent of the total water taken up by commercial and institutional facilities in the United States, according to agency spokesperson Carissa Cyran. The commercial and institutional sector, in turn, is responsible for about 17 percent of the withdrawals from U.S. public water systems.
Swimming pools may be a visible, and sometimes even opulent, use of water in some resorts, but they actually account for less than one percent of hotel water consumption. Restrooms are actually the biggest drain on the resource, accounting for about 30 percent of hotel water use. Laundry operations and landscaping are next, at 16 percent each, followed by landscaping at 14 percent, according to the EPA.
Under Dominguez, Caesars reduced its water use overall by 7 percent per square foot of indoor space from 2008 to 2012, and plans for further reductions. Thanks to a recent installation of 10,700 low-flow showerheads (1.8 gallons per minute compared with 2.5 gallons per minute for conventional models) and a similar number of low-flow sink aerators (one gallon per minute, instead of 2 to 4 gallons per minute for conventional sinks), the company saves an estimated 50.5 million gallons per year in several of its Nevada locations. That's enough water to fill more than one million bathtubs.
Caesars also reduced water consumption in laundry facilities by 30 million gallons a year, while expanding capacity by 40 percent, after upgrading to machines called tunnel washers. The large, computerized washers have a giant, porous screw that pushes laundry through a "tunnel," past water and detergent. The process can be run continuously, and it requires less water than standard machines.
As a result of those changes, Dominguez estimates the company also saved 18,200 million Btu per year of natural gas as a result of not having to heat as much water. Based on commercial natural gas prices in recent years in Nevada, that's a savings of about $135,000 to $218,000 per year.
Dominguez said Caesars has worked to reduce the amount of water used on its golf courses; in dry areas, desert vegetation replaced grass. "In Vegas, water is obviously a huge issue," he said.
Dominguez added that he is looking at systems "on the drawing board" that reuse "gray water" from sinks, capture rainwater, reduce water used for cooling systems, and extract water from food waste, although he noted that "we are trying to tackle stuff that we believe is easiest to get to first."
The EPA's New Challenge to Hotels
On February 5, Caesars became the first company to sign on to the EPA's WaterSense H2Otel Challenge. The program is designed "to encourage hotels to use best management practices that will save water and money, while reducing greenhouse gas emissions that contribute to climate change," according to the EPA.
In announcing the H2Otel Challenge, Nancy Stoner, the acting assistant administrator for the EPA's Office of Water, said another goal is to help hotels get a "competitive edge in today's green marketplace."
Stoner said the program builds on the EPA's WaterSense efforts, which have helped Americans save more than 487 billion gallons of water since 2006. WaterSense provides information on water usage for consumers and businesses and puts labels on products that are shown to reduce water use in a number of settings, including around the home, in a business, or for landscaping.
Cyran added that if the average urban hotel with approximately 150 guest rooms replaced all of its older, inefficient water-using fixtures with WaterSense-labeled models, it could save nearly 760,000 gallons of water and more than $7,000 in water costs annually.
The WaterSense H2Otel Challenge specifically asks hotel owners to assess their water use, then switch to WaterSense-labeled devices, and then track the savings that result.
"The program provides a framework to rally our employees, set some goals, and double down on some of the work we were already doing," said Dominguez. "It encourages us to scale our efforts a little quicker."
"We are excited that some of our largest resorts will share their knowledge and participate in the H2Otel Challenge," Doug Bennett, conservation manager for the Southern Nevada Water Authority, said in a statement.
Skipping the Towel Wash
For years, many hotels have been offering their guests the chance to skip washing towels and sheets every day, in a bid to save water and energy.
The American Hotel and Lodging Association estimates that the request reduces the number of loads of laundry washed—as well as the related water, sewer, energy, and labor costs—by 17 percent. The association also notes that such programs increase the lifespan of towels and linens, thus reducing replacement costs.
Dominguez said it's true that "a certain element of people on vacation don't want to think about hanging up a towel," but he said that "a large number of people take advantage of it." He added, "You don't necessarily change your sheets every night at home."
At Caesars, linens are washed every third day of a guest's stay, unless someone makes a special request. "I think people get the fact that we live in a constrained world and things take resources, so the key is to make it easy enough so people don't need to think about it," said Dominguez.
It is that ease of use that makes the EPA's program appealing, said Cryan. "The nice thing about WaterSense-labeled plumbing fixtures is that, because they are independently certified for efficiency and performance, hotels can install them to save resources without sacrificing customer satisfaction," she said.
When it comes to low-flow showerheads, Dominguez said he was concerned about how customers would respond. So he installed some as a test in the Flamingo in Las Vegas and asked for feedback.
"We got very few negative comments on water pressure," he said. "A lot of the negative feedback had nothing to do with the showerheads, it was more about maintenance, such as leaking faucets."
Dominguez added that switching out a faucet that uses 2.2 gallons a minute to that uses one gallon a minute is something "the average person isn't going to notice," but it makes a difference in water use over time.
"Water resonates with people, and people get that we have water issues," he added.
Randy Gaines, the Maryland-based vice president of engineering, housekeeping, and laundry operations for Hilton Worldwide's America division, said an increasing number of customers are asking for environmental responsibility. Many customers "want to conserve and preserve," and they "embrace" water-saving features in hotels, he said.
That is particularly true when it comes to corporate and institutional guests, who often book meeting spaces or blocks of rooms, and who often are trying to balance their own overall footprints, said Gaines. To make their jobs easier, Hilton offers a calculator that assesses the impact of a stay and makes suggestions, such as skipping bottled water.
Gaines, who oversees a portfolio of brands that includes Conrad, Waldorf Astoria, DoubleTree, Embassy Suites, Homewood Suites, Hampton, and Hilton, said his company has reduced its water use by 10.2 percent since 2009. In the same period, the company reduced energy use by 12.2 percent, and its total carbon output by 12.8 percent.
Overall, the company has saved $253 million on its utility bills since 2009 thanks to various efficiency improvements, said Gaines. Specific actions on water have included low-flow fixtures and appliances, on-demand irrigation systems, and employee training in efficient use.
"Back in the good old days, cleaning staff would come in a room, fill the tub, and use it as a mopping station," said Gaines. "In kitchens people would let the faucet run when they were cleaning something. But we trained all our team members in proper usage."
Gaines said many of the water and efficiency efforts in the hospitality industry are being driven by local government incentives. As an example, he noted that he recently swapped out old toilets with new water-efficient ones in a hotel in San Diego. Each new unit cost $175, but his company got a rebate from the local utility for $150 each.
Although water has not been "top of mind" for many building managers, "the price of water is going up, so we are going to be forced to [get more efficient]," said Gaines. He noted that prices for electricity and natural gas have recently gone down, in contrast.
Gaines pointed to Puerto Rico, where the price of water recently jumped by 46 percent. "I immediately went down there and put a much more aggressive plan in place," he said.
He added that similar efforts have been under way in Atlanta, where the price of water has risen due to local bond issues for projects to repair and upgrade the city's aging water infrastructure.
The EPA's H2Otel Challenge program also isn't the first to encourage hotels to save water. Similar efforts have been under way at the regional level, such as the Southwest Florida Water Management District's WaterCHAMP and Austin Water's Waterwise Hotel program.
"People use water at home and they can relate to it, sometimes more than energy," said Dominguez.