As part of Virtuoso’s ongoing commitment to sustainable travel, we’re profiling the experts, trendsetters, and industry leaders making a difference in sustainable tourism today. Here, a conversation with Yalmaz Siddiqui, the vice president of corporate sustainability for MGM Resorts.

What’s your definition of “corporate sustainability”?
I use two definitions: First, from the United Nation’s World Commission on Environment & Development’s 1987 book, Our Common Future, which defined sustainable development as something that “meets the needs of present generations without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.”  By 1994, there was a growing interest in adopting this idea for corporations; author John Elkington proposed that a business would be sustainable if it pursued “a triple bottom line, focusing on economic prosperity, environmental quality, and social justice.”

My definition: Corporate sustainability is as an approach to driving long-term profitability while protecting the planet and providing for the needs of people of all types.

Yalmaz Siddiqui headshot
Yalmaz Siddiqui, MGM Resorts’ vice president of corporate sustainability.

What’s a typical day like for you?
There’s no “typical” day, but I distill my role into three key ideas: initiate new programs; integrate new practices into core functions such as purchasing, operations, sales, and catering; and communicate our efforts to employees, customers, investors, and the media. On any given day I might be playing one or all of these roles, but the central themes are prioritizing what to focus on, and then collaborating across the company to ensure what we do drives benefits to people, planet, and profit over the long-term.

MGM Resorts has more than 49,000 guest room across 31 properties. How do you successfully execute sustainability initiatives within such a large organization?
MGM has a long history of building and operating in an environmentally sustainable way: from design and construction, to energy, water, and materials management, we have a range of initiatives to reduce our impact on the environment. Our environmental efforts and our social sustainability programs are governed by a Corporate Social Responsibility Committee and supported at each of our resorts by grassroots sustainability teams.

How would you encourage travelers to be more mindful at your hotels?
It starts with ideas that are common across hotels, such as asking travelers if they’ll reuse towels and linens so less water and energy is needed for washing, or having organic and plant-based menu items and fitness offerings to encourage healthier travel. At MGM it extends far beyond these common ideas. For example, we have the world’s largest portfolio of StayWell Guest Rooms and Meeting Rooms, with more on the horizon. These rooms allow guests to be more mindful across all aspects of their stay, from lighting that better matches circadian rhythms to natural mattresses designed for better sleep.

Because we host so many meetings (including Virtuoso Travel Week), we put a lot of effort into working with clients to drive societal and environmental benefits from their events. That’s powerful because one sustainable decision by a meeting planner can affect hundreds or thousands of individual travelers. Virtuoso Travel Week is one example of an event in which more sustainable practices have been mindfully selected by the organizers.

Lofoten Islands, Norway
Norway’s Lofoten Islands, a destination on Siddiqui’s sustainable-travel Wanderlist. (Swen Stroop/Getty Images)

What are some of your biggest sustainability achievements at MGM, or some of the most significant changes you’re currently working toward?
We’re completing one of America’s largest LED retrofits, changing 1.5 million lights. This year we’ll start developing a 100MW solar array to help power up to 90 percent of the daytime electricity needs of our Las Vegas resorts (that’s over 70 million square feet of buildings!). In terms of water, we’ve saved over 5 billion gallons in the last decade through conservation efforts and we’ve diverted nearly 200,000 tons of food waste by sending it to pig farms, biofuel production, or composting. And in the last two years we’ve donated over 750,000 pounds of unserved food from our resorts to charity.

And your sustainability goals for the coming years?
We have four main environmental sustainability goals for 2030, among them reducing energy per square foot by 30 percent, and reducing carbon emissions per square foot by 50 percent. We also have a goal to donate over 1.7 million meals to charity by the end of 2020.

How has sustainable travel evolved, and what do you expect to see more of in the future?
We have a large and growing set of clients who want to actively drive social and environmental benefits during the events they host on our properties. That means a greater focus on sustainability choices including food and beverage, efforts to curate unique local experiences, and a growing desire to contribute positively and directly to the local community. I see more of this in the future, from a larger number of convention clients representing a wider range of businesses.

What sustainable travel destinations are on your Wanderlist?
It’s a very long list! I’m an avid traveler, having been to 70 countries, with a goal to get to 100 in the next 15 years. My last three major trips were Bhutan for a five-day trek in the Himalayas; Scotland for gorge-walking and hiking in the Highlands; and Bali for surfing its incredible warm-water waves. My shortlist for the next three years: Reunion Island for canyoneering, the Lofoten Islands in Norway to surf above the Arctic Circle, and Namibia to glamp in the desert with a local outfitter. I believe life is about creating memories and making a difference in the world. Sustainable travel helps achieve both.

Top Photo: gnagel/Getty Images