How BofA, MGM Resorts, EDF & ASU push sustainability with convergence

There are plenty of examples of how things go awry in the world of business and buildings when it comes to growth and environmental impacts -- those problems help fuel the sustainability solutions industry.

Increasingly, however, companies and institutions are pursuing initiatives and enterprise solutions within their organizations, as well as outside partnerships, to reduce costs and the consumption of resources.

Four organizations with positive stories to tell were center stage at the VERGE DC conference yesterday to talk about what can happen when convergence comes to banks, businesses, colleges and casinos.

Lane Burt, the U.S. Green Building Council's director of technical policy, moderated the panel that included the representatives for the Bank of America, MGM Resorts, which happens to be Las Vegas' biggest employer and Nevada's largest taxpayer, the Environmental Defense Fund and Arizona State University -- a seemingly unlikely mix, even in sustainability circles.

From left, Lane Burt, Lisa Shpritz, Cindy Ortega, Victoria Mills and Duke Reiter.

Bank of America

For example, it has not been the best of times for the financial services industry, observed Lisa Shpritz, a senior vice president in the Global Environmental Group for Bank of America.

Buffeted by the economy and under pressure to provide greater accountability and transparency in its operations, the industry faces enhanced scrutiny from regulators as well as the public. Criticism is swift and sharp for moves perceived as missteps.

However, the challenges and trying times have provided "an opportunity to show the innovation and strength we have as a industry," Shpritz said. "In the sustainability area, we've been doing some great work."

For BofA, that has included stepping up environmental goals by setting a new target of reducing corporate greenhouse gas emissions by 15 percent worldwide and achieving LEED green building certification for 20 percent of company real estate. It also has entailed prominent roles in initiatives that are built on public-private partnerships:

  • Last May, the company launched a $55-million low-cost loan and $5-million grant program for community development financial institutions. The competitive program for community lenders is designed to encourage energy efficiency retrofits in older buildings.
  • It also is among the companies that have joined Duke Energy, public agencies, institutions and nonprofits in "Envision Charlotte," an effort to transform the central district of the North Carolina city (where BofA is headquartered) into a model of sustainability.

Burt asked what prompted the bank's actions, particularly the loan program, Shpritz replied: "Because healthy stable communities are good customers. We live and work in the communities we are serving."

MGM Resorts International

Given its locale and the nature of its business, Las Vegas gaming and hospitality behemoth MGM Resorts International is another firm that doesn't readily come to mind in discussions of sustainability -- especially since "large" generally isn't associated with green.

MGM's portfolio includes 14 Las Vegas properties, and those holdings include 50 percent investment interest in the 67-acre CityCenter development. While the company's operations are outsized, so are the firm's efforts to mitigate it. In 2010, MGM earned Green Key certification -- a standard used in the hospitality industry -- for a dozen properties, nearly all of them in Las Vegas.

In addition, the CityCenter development has earned six LEED-Gold ratings from the USGBC, noted Cindy Ortega, MGM Resorts' senior vice president and chief sustainability officer. Elements in place at the largest LEED development project of its kind include fixtures, equipment and systems developed specifically for the complex, including:

  • Air displacement units built into the bases of slot machines so that the gaming floors can be cooled -- and when necessary, warmed -- from the floor up, rather than the ceiling down. The process is not only more energy efficient, it also promotes better air quality.
  • A fleet of about 30 limos that were designed to run on compressed natural gas -- a first for the hospitality industry and passenger car services.

Next Page: How businesses, communities, NGOs and universities can work together.