As chief sustainability officer and senior vice president of the corporate sustainability division of MGM Resorts International, Cindy Ortega takes a whole-systems approach to sustainability. Her varied background—something she says is a commonality among the men and women leading sustainability divisions of large companies in corporate America—“is a very good platform for a sustainability professional to work from,” she says.
Ortega has built a career with MGM, the Las Vegas-headquartered hospitality and entertainment giant, that spans more than two decades. She began in finance, moved to IT, and then into a senior finance position as a hotel controller for the 3,000-room Mirage Hotel and Casino. It was during that time that she began specializing in energy, learning everything from how electrical systems work to the nuances of energy and natural gas price structures. In 2000, she was named CFO of eight of MGM’s subsidiaries.
Leading MGM’s sustainability division since 2006, Ortega’s current initiatives—which she says consist of dual priorities in two completely different areas of the organization, and which require the use of both sides of her brain—include a massive lighting retrofit that will see the replacement of more than one million light bulbs across MGM’s 17 resorts, reducing total energy use by at least ten percent. On the other side of the spectrum, MY Green Advantage, an employee engagement program deployed to MGM’s 62,000 employees in 2013, uses a social platform through which employees earn points for incorporating green practices—like reducing water use—into their daily lives.
Pursuing sustainability while providing exceptional service is a delicate balance. This is the “continual challenge in hospitality,” Ortega says, but she has succeeded largely by being clear about the company’s real environmental impacts and having an eye for the behind-the-scenes potential.
“We’ve avoided the low-hanging-fruit kinds of programs that are targeted at what the guest sees,” she says.
During her tenure thus far, Ortega says she feels most proud of game-changing projects such as CityCenter, an 18 million-square-foot mixed-use complex on the Las Vegas Strip that is the now largest LEED Gold-certified new construction project in the world. She gives due credit to her team: “I command the ship,” she says, “but the real creativity, the real expertise, knowledge, and drive comes from the people working on my team.”
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