As senior vice president and chief sustainability officer of MGM Resorts International, Cindy Ortega’s responsibility spans all the operations and resorts and all of the entities that MGM owns.
She has come a long way from her childhood on a ranch in rural Utah. Her first job was working as a cowhand on a ranch with more than 500 head of cattle, a role she held until she went to college.
Ortega credits her father — and good parenting — for her own strong presence as a leader and executive. She learned independence and self-reliance at a young age. In rural Utah, there was only a two-room schoolhouse. “When I was 14 years old, I had to board and live away for high school.”
She graduated from UNLV with a degree in hospitality. “I picked that not because I wanted to do hospitality but because I thought it was the best school that UNLV had and I wanted the best education I could get.”
Ortega has worked through MGM in a variety of areas after coming to MGM through the management associate program in 1991. Ortega said “it was a really wonderful career with lots of opportunities for me. … MGM is the perfect place for me and many other young people because we have literally a limitless ability to do the things we want to do and the company is really open to taking ideas from people.”
Q. What drew your focus to Earth Day?
A. The reason I’m in environment in MGM right now is because I believe that a company that’s environmentally correct is a better company; and for me it’s a way for me to add value to the company. We celebrate Earth Day every year; it’s a marking where we can say the company’s committed to the environment. Earth Day, is every day for us, every day of the year.
Q. How does MGM support the environment in a desert climate?
A. The desert climate is the thing we’re most mindful of when we live here. And not just MGM, but everybody in their own home is considering the availability and the precious nature of water. So as we look at the lake and the river and we look at how important it is that we preserve those natural resources, we employ programs to save water, not only in our operation but we educate our employees on how they can save water at their homes, too. The water profile in Las Vegas shows significant amounts used by residential and very little is used by the resort corridor. We spend quite a bit of our energy educating our 52,000 employees on how they can reduce water use in their own home.
Q. What can other businesses do to reduce their overall environmental footprint?
A. It starts with understanding how you impact the environment. So it might be through the energy you use or the water. Once they develop that understanding, then they develop a plan to reduce that. How do they reduce energy use, or water use, or how do they recycle at a greater level? And once they can do that and they measure what they do, then they can reduce those impacts year over year.
Q. Inside the casino, how does MGM manage air pollution?
Q. It’s really important that the indoor air quality remains very high — not just for the guests but for the employees. The way that we do that is we actually circulate external air in through the air vents. We cool that air as it’s coming in, and then we circulate it into the system, into the casino.
Q. Is it fact or urban legend the air is infused with mood-enhancing smells?
A. That’s an urban legend but we do scent the air. In the various casinos, it’s kind of interesting because they have a signature scent. … It’s not a heavy air freshener but it’s a very light air freshener that complements the style of that casino. I can actually, sometimes, tell which casino I’m in by the smell of the air when I walk in.
It’s kind of like burning candles at your house; you might burn a candle to make the indoor air more pleasant. The important thing about the air in the casinos is that the air conditioning is managed in an energy-efficient way. We do a lot of things to cool the air in a way that’s more efficient.
Q. Specifically, what does MGM do in regard to water conservation?
A. I’m going to give you a little (Class) 101 about how the water works in our water system here. Basically, what we do, the water that comes out of the tap at your house or at Bellagio is coming from Lake Mead. We take it out of the lake and clean it, and people use it and it goes back down the drain. That water is back in Lake Mead the next day.
What’s important in Las Vegas is that we’re mindful that what we’re using is borrowed from the lake. It’s our obligation and responsibility to return it. The way that doesn’t happen is when you use it outside, on, say, your lawn. So for MGM what’s important to us is that the water we use in our operation and for our guests is, as much as possible, returned back through the drains, so that it goes back in the lake and is able to be used by others again.
What we do in a hotel to be more mindful of water is we do outdoor landscaping that is a desert type of landscaping. We use drip irrigation, and we use the littlest amount of water possible to have an outdoor environment but not overwater, not have water that’s being evaporated.
Q. How does MGM get involved with the larger scope of environmental management and public policy?
A. MGM is the largest employer and largest taxpayer in the state of Nevada. As a result of that, we feel like we have a responsibility, not only on our own environmental impact, but to educate others and to promote environmental policy. So we are very active at the legislative level both here in the state and at the federal level to promote and support public policy that supports environmental responsibility.