Sin to sustainability in Las Vegas

News

Published: 25Aug2016

Yalmaz Siddiqui, BCom’92, has made a name for himself by championing responsible corporate behaviour. And now he finds himself in Las Vegas, the fabled “Sin City,” a place not exactly renowned for showcasing responsible behaviour of any sort.

Siddiqui, who recently became the new vice president of corporate sustainability for MGM Resorts International (the company’s famed resort-casinos include the Bellagio, MGM Grand and Mandalay Bay), believes that Vegas doesn’t get the credit it deserves. “When you peel back the layers here a little bit, you might be surprised about how much thought decision makers have put into sustainability,” he says. And now, Siddiqui is one of those decision makers.

On the Las Vegas Strip, spectacularly elaborate fountain shows are the centres of attention. However, Lake Mead, located just outside the city and once the largest reservoir in the United States, experienced a new record low for water levels this year.

Siddiqui is quick to place things in context. “Las Vegas has some of the world’s best infrastructure for water use and reclamation,” he says. Unlike other regions that use up Lake Mead’s water, Las Vegas rapidly returns almost all the water back to the lake. MGM properties also use wells to irrigate desert-friendly, low-water-use plants for their landscaping. In total, around seventy-five per cent of the water used by MGM properties—including the water seen shooting up from the eight-acre fountain in front of the Bellagio—is fed back into Lake Mead’s system.

Siddiqui arrived at MGM after having spent a decade at Office Depot in senior positions related to sustainability. The company made impressive strides during his time there, packaging its products less wastefully, tripling green product sales, and slashing its carbon footprint. Newsweek named the company America’s greenest retailer in 2010, 2011 and 2012.

He says his commitment to sustainability stems from a day spent strolling through the aisles of the McLennan Library while he was studying management at McGill. “I came across a book that was a little different from the other books in the economics section,” Siddiqui recalls.

That book was E.F. Schumacher’s Small is Beautiful: A Study of Economics As If People Mattered, which argues that people make economic decisions not only on financial factors, but also based on their relationships and values. It affected his career path.

“The career advice that I got [after completing a master’s degree at Cambridge University] was that we have enough people who have passion for the environment in the environmental movement,” says Siddiqui. “We don’t have enough businesspeople or accountants or marketers in the environmental movement. We need those people.”

Siddiqui met with the next generation of “those people” at McGill in mid-March, when he gave a keynote speech at the Desautels Business Conference on Sustainability, spoke to a sustainability strategies class, and gave some career advice over lunch to some students—most of whom said they saw a future with “sustainability” in their job titles. He warns sustainability proponents not to expect an easy ride in the corporate world. “You have to routinely accept being told ‘no,’ since the businesspeople you’re trying to influence are often skeptical of sustainability programs,” says Siddiqui.

In his conversations with Desautels students, Siddiqui outlined the qualities that were essential for success in his profession. “Tenacity, a willingness to navigate alternative paths to get what you want, and gentle perseverance – notwithstanding the ‘no’s’ you get on the journey.”

 

Read the full article: McGill News Alumni Magazine, August 18, 2016