BETHLEHEM, PA.—Maintaining and building upon a sustainability program is no easy task when you have 8 million people visiting your property each year. With the help of some 2,500 eager and talented associates, however, Steven Fernstrom is helping to make the 282-room Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem a shining example of continuous improvement and sustainability in action.
The Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem has quite a history. It was built on the site of the historic Bethlehem Steel plant, which is the largest brownfield site in the United States and located approximately 60 minutes from Philadelphia and the northern New Jersey suburbs and 90 minutes from New York City. Steel from the old plant was used for iconic structures such as the Golden Gate Bridge and Chrysler Building. The area was remediated in accordance with site-specific environmental standards. The property has 12,000 square feet of meeting space and a casino floor of 100,000 square feet. There are multiple celebrity chef inspired restaurants, a buffet, food court, bakery, bars and a night club.
Green Lodging News asked Steven Fernstrom about his role as Sustainability Manager and about some of the property’s key accomplishments that have led to energy and waste savings.
1. How long have you been in your current position? How long have you been at the property overall? I’ve been at the property for five and a half years and in the Sustainability Manager position for two years in August. Prior to the inception of the Sustainability Manager role, the Sands ECO360 program was overseen by a group of Team Members, including myself, on top of our regular positions and duties. The Sands ECO360 program is so robust that the property pushed forward to create the specific Sustainability Manager position to lead it.
2. What do you consider to be your primary responsibilities? What is your typical day like, if there is such a thing? I strategize and lead day to day operations of the Sands ECO360 program at the Sands Bethlehem property. There are so many layers to the program and sustainability is so overreaching that each day involves a little bit of everything. A portion of my day could involve anything from analyzing trends in our building management system to identifying ways to save energy, managing a large lighting installation project, meeting with the Procurement Team to discuss sustainable foods and maybe even giving a tour of our property to a local elementary school.
3. What do you consider to be your property’s most significant sustainability-related accomplishment? Aside from some of the great energy savings projects we’ve implemented, the most rewarding accomplishment would be building relationships with the Team Members at the property and members of the community. Since the program’s inception, every day, more and more Team Members either approach me on the floor with an idea to help the property, recognize me from a Sustainability Event or just want to stop me and chat about sustainability. It’s been cool to see the sustainability wave capture more Team Members as time has passed. We’ve done a good grass roots campaign.”
4. What do you consider to be your property’s most significant sustainability-related challenge moving forward? I would say that keeping the sustainability momentum going and keeping team members motivated. This property is massive and there are so many things going on at one time that it can be easy for Team Members to put their great sustainability ideas on hold. Having our events, our many communication channels, opportunities for volunteering and regular meetings really helps to ensure that the message never gets lost. We have 2,500 team members. Sometimes it is easy for some processes to get lost.”
5. Provide a couple of quick examples of energy-saving initiatives that have been particularly effective at your property. Is there an initiative in progress or coming soon that you would like to highlight? Can you provide any specifics in regard to dollars invested, dollars saved, etc. We’ve had some great successes in upgrading our lighting over the past two years. Overall, we have converted over 10,000 lamps and fixtures to LEDs, either by following our Sustainable Design Standards with remodel and renovation projects or through yearly capital upgrades. Specific for this year, we recently completed two large projects for 2017, one was we retrofitted all of the Casino Floor Downlights, which were ceramic metal halide with a custom LED retrofit fixture—this was 1300 lamps. They are good for five years instead of eight months. We also just finished retrofitting over 5,000 T8 fluorescent lamps with LED retrofit lamps in all of our back of house areas. By doing that, all of our back of house areas are now T8 LED. Our entire hotel tower is completely LED, as well as our meeting rooms and casino floor restrooms. Another cool project is the daylight sensor installation in the Retail Atrium. We identified that we are currently using an inefficient lamp, but it was a custom fixture with great light output and an ROI for an LED replacement just did not work. We got creative, noticed that we have great light penetration from all of the windows, so, we went forward and installed daylight sensors. Over the past two years, the lighting projects alone have saved us well over one million kWh. We’re going to keep the momentum going with lighting as we are currently bidding a couple of additional large projects out to complete this year. The property is now around 90 percent LED so, we still have some more work to do.
6. Provide a couple of quick examples or waste-reducing initiatives that have been particularly effective at your property. Is there an initiative in progress or coming soon that you would like to highlight? Can you provide any specifics in regard to dollars invested, dollars saved, etc. We currently have a robust recycling program integrated into all of the front and back of house operations here at the property. We’ve had a food waste digester for a couple of years which handles all of the food waste generated by our Team Member Dining Room. This month, we will be installing two additional food digesters. By doing this, we have the opportunity to capture all of our property food waste which would be a huge accomplishment not only to divert the food waste out of the landfill but also save on our waste hauling costs. “We had a challenge with construction and renovation waste. We really worked with different partners to recycle. A vendor is helping us recycle construction waste. Seventy to 80 percent is recycled. That number was 0 percent a year ago.
7. Can you provide an example or two of how your company has been able to support local suppliers—whether in F&B or elsewhere on property? Are suppliers screened based on their own commitments to sustainability? The property follows a specific Sustainable Procurement Standard. This places all items that are purchased into specific buckets and each bucket has a goal attached to it. We work with the Procurement Team and vendors to try and source products that meet those sustainability related certifications. “We set goals for each bucket of procured items. We are constantly working with procurement to source green products. We have weekly updates.”
8. What do you enjoy most about your work? Are you personally involved in your company’s/property’s philanthropic efforts? Being a part of the team that leads the ECO360 program globally is very rewarding. The program and the role is truly attempting and succeeding at doing the right thing to help minimize the environmental impact of these massive properties. To get more granular though, I would highlight our partnership with Donegan Elementary School on the south side of Bethlehem. The school has adopted a Green Team and I serve as the liaison. I talk about recycling practices. I hold an Earth Day Fair. It is cool to educate them on sustainability.”
9. Does your property have a green team? Do you lead it? How often do you meet? How do you help keep staff engaged and motivated? Actually, we are unveiling a new Green Team concept this month. We are always looking for ways to engage, motivate and communicate our Team Members with sustainability. We know that there are like minded sustainability driven Team Members out there but with all of the Team Members on property and of course the busy work environment, it’s tough to flush them out. We designed this new Green Team to challenge each department on property to create a small Green Team within their departments. Every department has their own unique way it impacts sustainability. Each Green Team will select a Green Leader and this Green Leader will organize and facilitate their department’s Green Team meetings where they will come up with ways that their department can help minimize their possible impacts in their specific departments. I’ll meet monthly will all of the Green Leaders and we can talk about their challenges and successes. It’s going to be great to see the engagement from each department.
10. How far back goes your interest in sustainability? Is there a particular individual or individuals who inspired you? I grew up in a very rural part of Massachusetts next to a working farm. Our family had a very large garden that would supply us with our vegetables, fruits and herbs throughout the year. Where we grew up, our snacks consisted of snap peas and cherry tomatoes picked off the vine! We always had farm fresh eggs, dairy, vegetables and fruit so my interest started in agriculture at a very young age. One of my degrees is in Plant and Soil Science and for several years I was a Superintendent at a golf course which was heavily into practices that revolved around sustainability. I wouldn’t say that any individuals inspired me, it was the environment that I grew up in that inspired me to always be mindful of waste, eating good food and how the decisions we make in our lives can impact the environment.
11. How important do you believe it is for a property like yours to have someone dedicated full time to sustainability-related efforts? Since Sustainability within an operation like Sands Bethlehem is so overreaching, it can get lost pretty quickly if you don’t have a Sustainability lead steering the ship. These properties are so large, there are so many moving parts, and we have so many guests and Team Members visiting that there could be a lot of missed opportunities to either lessen our impact, save money, be wasteful or even educate our guests, Team Members and stakeholders if these positions didn’t exist. The sustainability program can get lost quickly. There would be lost opportunities. We have integrated training for all Team Members. I do orientation presentations.”
12. Earlier this year, Sands Casino Resort Bethlehem hosted its first Sustainable Foods Workshop.) How successful was the Sustainable Foods Workshop? The Sustainable Foods Workshop had a lot of layers to it. We gave each vendor an opportunity to showcase all of their wonderful sustainability efforts within their organizations and the vendors were challenged to identify a product that we currently procure and compare it to a product of the same that falls within the company’s sustainability certifications. Of course we had a taste test! But really the most successful part of the Workshop was the discussion session between our Procurement and F&B Team with the vendors on the market trends and some of the challenges with sustainable foods. It’s actually been a catalyst to work with our vendors to try and increase the amount of sustainable foods we purchase. It’s a yearly goal of ours to increase three food products on property to sustainable.
13. Briefly describe your property’s participation with Clean the World. A couple of years ago our property really challenged and motivated the Hotel Housekeeping Team to increase their participation with the Clean the World campaign. The initiative was championed by one of our Hotel Supervisors—Jonathan Young. Due to increased training, providing the right tools and motivation, the hotel is currently ranked in the top 10 of all hotels in the country of its size that participate in the Clean the World Program.
Glenn Hasek can be reached at email@example.com.