LEED and Hospitality: Q&A with Cindy Ortega of MGM | U.S. Green Building Council
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LEED and Hospitality: Q&A with Cindy Ortega of MGM

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Cindy Ortega knows how to get things done. As senior vice president and chief sustainability officer at MGM Resorts International, she’s helmed a number of high-profile projects, including MGM’s CityCenter, a mixed-use development located in the heart of Las Vegas. This 18 million-square-foot development earned six LEED Gold certifications since its completion in 2009, and boasts three resort hotels, a luxury shopping plaza, two residential high-rises, a theatre and 600,000 square feet of convention space. I had the chance to talk with Cindy about her work with MGM and her insights into the hospitality sector.

Can you describe the professional path that led you to sustainability and your role as chief sustainability officer?

My career at MGM Resorts has spanned over two decades, and I’ve held a wide variety of different positions in resort operations, information technology, energy management and finance. Having a deep understanding of the way major disciplines within MGM Resorts function is the perfect backdrop to implementing sustainability programs in a holistic way.

I’m responsible for creating and executing MGM’s sustainability strategy and for advancing environmental responsibility through MGM’s reach. This includes implementation of environmentally forward practices throughout our operations and facilities. In terms of green buildings and LEED, I oversee a dedicated capital budget that is used to reduce energy and water use in our facilities. I’m also responsible for creating the sustainability strategies and ensuring their execution in all of our development efforts. This includes projects in National Harbor, Maryland, Springfield, Massachusetts, Las Vegas, Nevada and Cotai, China. 

How would you describe green building across the hospitality industry? 

As the green building movement has gained momentum and wide-scale acceptance over the past decade, hospitality has had a unique challenge. More than any other building, a hotel’s primary purpose is to provide an enjoyable experience for the occupant. These environments were often created with luxury materials and lavish use of resources.

As manufacturers of finishes, lighting and plumbing began to market environmentally responsible product lines, these products were practical and functional offerings appropriate for college campuses, offices and municipal buildings, but not the finishes guests expect in fine hotels. I believe this caused a lag in LEED certification in hospitality. Recently, though, these early limitations have been largely overcome and leaders in the hospitality industry require sustainable development practice in all new construction and remodels. Hospitality can be both a pioneer of advancing sustainable technologies and an educator to the half a billion people who travel every year. 

I would say that green building continues to gain momentum in the hospitality industry, as leading corporations realize that sustainable development isn’t just better for the environment but contributes to better businesses as well. Not only are green buildings more efficient, with lower costs to operate, but also customers are becoming more aware of their own environmental impacts and want to reduce those impacts when they travel.

How do you envision the future of the green building movement in this sector?

As people become more and more conscious of how each individual can make a difference and can live more sustainably in their everyday lives, they will want to visit hotels that embrace environmental responsibility and are built and operated in a way that minimizes environmental impacts. Customers of the future will seek out hotels with efficient energy and water systems, high levels of recycling, access to public transportation and access to a wide offering of organic and locally grown food choices.

This is a wonderful dynamic because it will stimulate markets for products on commercial scale, which will ultimately become readily available to the consumer. Having credible, third-party reviewers will hasten this evolution as the consumer can access objective data about hotels and restaurants rather than being subject to marketing claims in advertising.

Learn more about USGBC in the hospitality sector

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Emily Neagle

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