Please tell us about yourself

Rishi Tirupari’s career has taken him from Hyderabad to Seattle to Las Vegas—and now to Macau, China. His sustainability journey started when he was a student in Seattle inspired by a speech on sustainability, and the journey has now brought him to a position where he is overseeing work on The Parisian, a new integrated resort targeting LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design)  Silver.

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With the local government’s new ban on smoking indoors, Tirupari, who is the director of sustainability at The Venetian Macao Limited, sees an opportunity to create a green revolution in Macau—a city filled with integrated resorts, which use a great deal of energy. LEED for existing buildings will be critical, he says. I spoke with him about his perspective on green building during USGBC’s recent trip to China.

How did you get involved in such an offbeat, unconventional and cool career?

I did my BTech. (Civil Engineering) from Jawaharlal Nehru Technological University (JNTU) in India. I got my master’s degree in construction management from the University of Washington in Seattle, and as you know, Seattle and the Pacific Northwest are a hotbed of green building activity. Jason McLennan, then CEO of Cascadia Green Building Council, was a speaker at an event my university held. He was pitching sustainability to students and young professionals back in 2006, before it really became popular. After seeing him speak, I became inspired. I approached him after the event and said, “I’m a student. How do I get involved?” He told me to join the Cascadia Green Building Council, which I did. I started as a volunteer at the Seattle chapter and started taking more courses in sustainability. By the time I graduated, I received my master’s degree in construction management and focused on sustainability. I also started getting involved with the Seattle chapter of Cascadia Green Building Council, first by volunteering and then becoming a member of the steering committee. I eventually went on to do workshops and other organizational activities. I was just looking to get into the industry and be part of the sustainability community.

You eventually joined a mechanical engineering firm that focused on energy retrofits.

Yes. When the economy tanked in 2008-2009, the construction industry started focusing on retrofits and renovations and less on new construction. My old firm at the time saw an opportunity, and would say to clients, “You have a massive amount of existing buildings that you can retrofit and make green instead of building new buildings.” So I spent three years working to get those existing buildings LEED certified. But after four years in Seattle working on green buildings, I wanted to do more on the owner side. Up until that point, I was always a consultant and engineer. So, I went to the Las Vegas Sands Corp. and became their in-house sustainability guy. I led their in-house sustainability efforts for the Las Vegas integrated resort, which encompassed more than 15 million square feet of space, over 7,000 hotel rooms and more than two million square feet of meeting and convention space. They already had a sustainability program called Sands ECO360°, which is divided into four pillars that in our opinion are considered the most important things for green operations: green buildings, environmentally responsible operations, stakeholder engagement and green meetings.

How else were you involved with USGBC?

After volunteering in Seattle at the regional level, I started looking for opportunities in USGBC at the national level. I was fortunate enough to become the National Chair for USGBC Students, which is part of the USGBC Center for Green Schools. In that role I oversaw USGBC student groups for more than 10 states, including the entire Pacific Northwest. I was a National Chair and part of an amazing group of volunteers from mid-2011 until I moved out of the States.

And now you live in Macau.

Yes. Less than two years ago, I moved to Macau to work on the new integrated resort, The Parisian Macao, which will be a U.S. $2.7 billion integrated resort featuring 3,000 rooms and suites, meeting space, food and beverage, retail, entertainment and a 50-percent-scale replica of the Eiffel Tower. The company is so committed to sustainability that they wanted someone on the ground full time to make sure the integrated resort was being built green from the ground up. We want to open the building with 100 percent LED lighting and LEED Silver certification in 2016. This will likely be the first integrated resort in Macau to achieve LEED certification for new construction.

Building green in Macau has historically been a challenge because of indoor smoking, but now the local government has banned smoking indoors.

We are looking to see if the existing casinos can be eligible for LEED for existing buildings. I definitely feel there is a lot more value in greening an existing building than building a green building, because you have so much already built that it’s definitely greener to make what you already have sustainable than to build new properties.

The local government here is also looking to diversify the economy, to go beyond gaming. One of our main areas of focus is MICE (meetings, incentives, conferences and exhibitions). We don’t just want to do meetings, we want to do green meetings. Even if people see a green meeting event and they don’t know what it is, they will eventually learn. It’s all about education for the market.

What is the sentiment in Macau about sustainability?

Sustainability in Macau is probably like the United States was 10 years ago. It took a lot of time to get to where the United States is right now. That needs to happen in Macau. Macau is eager to learn and expand sustainability practices, and with a lot of people moving to Macau from other countries, more and new practices are being discussed regularly and sustainability is becoming a hot topic, and Las Vegas Sands is excited to be a leader in this area.

From a general guest or local perspective, there’s much less knowledge about sustainability. From a corporate standpoint, integrated resorts and the gaming industry are the biggest employers in the region and from their perspective, they are doing a lot. Integrated resorts are some of the biggest energy users in the world. Every one of the integrated resorts developers here has a sustainability program that has been implemented for the last three to four years; Sands China (Las Vegas Sands’ subsidiary in Macau) has done more than 150 energy efficiency, water conservation, recycling and waste reduction projects in that time.

For example, when you compare the energy use at The Venetian Macao from 2008 to 2014, there was a cumulative energy reduction of more than 104 million kWh, while the occupancy and visitation has grown significantly throughout the years. Our executives understand the importance of sustainability and are fully on board. Our sustainability program is integrated in all our departments.

In our company, our executives are already sold on sustainably. There is a payback, it’s the right thing to do for the community and you are helping the company’s bottom line. They get it because it just makes sense.