Q&A with Gwen Migita, Social Impact & Inclusion Vice President and Chief Sustainability Officer, Caesars Entertainment

April 2, 2019

Caesars Entertainment is an acknowledged industry leader in corporate social responsibility (CSR) which encompasses its commitment to employees, suppliers, communities and the environment. This work is done through Caesars' PEOPLE PLANET PLAY framework. In the past six months, the company has received significant news coverage around these initiatives, including:

  • Being named as a leader by the CDP (formerly the Carbon Disclosure Project) for its efforts in reducing emissions and lowering climate-related risk
  • Making a global commitment to combat commercial sexual exploitation of children with two leading organization’s ECPAT's Tourism Child-Protection Code of Conduct (The Code), and International Tourism Partnership (ITP)
  • Launching The Shared Future Fund in conjunction with ImpactNV, to solve for social and economic inequality that underscores Nevada's most vulnerable populations
  • Donating 2,500 pounds of soap to 14,000 children in Zambia to help combat disease through the long-term partnership with Clean the World

The woman behind these efforts — who was also responsible for launching the company’s organization-wide environmental strategy called CodeGreen — is Gwen Migita, social impact & inclusion vice president and chief sustainability officer for Caesars Entertainment. In the midst of all this news, I had a conversation with Gwen about her work and the trends and changes she’s seeing within the hospitality industry and beyond.

Danalynne W. Menegus: You’ve been in this space for more than a decade. What changes have you seen, and is there any area that we in the events industry should be paying particular attention to?

Gwen Migita: This is a fun, challenging and a little scary time, but in a very healthy way. In terms of trends, I've seen a lot more blending of environmental social sustainability with a lot more interest around the governance of a company. It’s now much more of an intersectional approach.

An area that would have been traditionally handled by the legal department or investor relations is now very heavily engaged with the sustainability group. There is more engagement around spaces such as training on areas of inclusion or areas of remediation around human rights. There’s more collaboration between sectors of governments and private companies and activist groups.

Activist investors are asking for more transparency and rigorous data points to be provided. I’ve also seen a lot more interest when it comes to governance and the value of human capital, or how to measure the bottom line impact of awareness around corporate responsibility.

DWM: What impact is this intersectional approach having on events, and event planners?

GM: One area where event planners and sustainability officers could and should come together is to find a way to invest more, and agree to, shared outcomes to considerably reduce food loss waste.

In addition to the food loss & waste, in the leisure meetings and hospitality industry historically there's been more of an expectation regarding the level of antibiotics that are in the food — it goes well beyond organics or the distance that the food might have traveled to get to the table.

If there’s interest in seeing more of that, there’s a mitigation of cost that comes into play. For example, Caesars shifted to 100% cage free egg supply, and made the decision to absorb the incremental costs each year over a period of five years. That level of education, on both the choices and the impact (both environmentally and financially) is helpful for both meeting planners and certification bodies.

We look at things like wrapping more choices into a convenient approach, so it’s included seamlessly as a venue offering. That's the approach that we're trying to take and encourage others as well because it's very overwhelming if you're trying to manage and host a meeting and plan with all the other elements that could come into it on the sustainability side.

DWM: Have you seen any change in event planners’ awareness of, or concern about, sustainability?

GM: There’s more awareness of the big issues. One area where I see blending is food waste reduction and sustainability with food scarcity. We’ve had the downstream, post-consumer use, and what happens with hot food recovery and meetings, but it's shifting to an upstream, entire value chain approach to food scarcity.

This whole movement has been affected by increasing awareness around mega issues such as Year 2030: it’s expected that the world will be short of food by 2030. There’s substantial waste in the value chain right now, from the time it leaves the plant to the factory or the field to the plate, roughly 25 percent of the food is lost. With seafood, it’s estimated that in the next ten years, two-thirds of the sea life may be gone.

The big picture encompasses how and where one procures food, how and where we would recommend buying or planting or even supporting certifications from the grower through the manufacturing through the logistics to the all the touch points: warehousing, transportation, preparation and so on.  

It’s really shifted significantly even in the last two years to a much more granular viewpoint. Where the question used to be “Do you have a supplier diversity program?” now it is “What percent of your spend is with x type of supplier with specific certifications, or what extent are you seeing attrition or growth in a specific sector.” 

DWM: There are so many areas of concern now. How do you (Caesars) determine what to focus on?

GM: Multiple times a year, we have an internal scan of our own environmental social governance scorecard. We'll look at leading indices such as the Dow Jones Sustainability Index, along with boutique or sector-based areas such as Green Key Meetings and do a gap analysis to determine where we should focus our efforts. 

For example, we’re seeing more of a movement around inclusion and particularly invisible or non-physical disabilities and the policies and expectations of venues and companies, that's an area that we are shifting a bit deeper into in 2019.  

We recently became a national partner of “Disability:In”, which has both workplace and supplier diversity certification program. A big “a-ha” moment for me was learning that the number one disability in the workplace today is depression. And where that intersects with workplace culture is around forming a culture of inclusion — not necessarily gender or racial inclusion, but a broader level focus on equity. What does a single mom, or someone who wants to finish their degree, look like in the workplace? How much extra stress are they under?

It's really important to have a much greater awareness around mental health and also the reinvestment of it as a company or also as a country. We're seeing it as an intersectional solution when it comes to regional work on systems that address the health of immigrant integration, the health of individuals vulnerable to human trafficking or vulnerable to Homeland Security. That’s why we created what’s called The Shared Future Fund – which focuses on solving for intersectional issues, human trafficking, homelessness and immigration integration, affecting Nevada’s most vulnerable population.

Just seeing how the disciplines are overlapping or collaborating sparks unusual ideas for change and for new partnerships. Now, a sustainability officer could be working with a public sector youth services director or the immigration organization in the region to effect systems-based change.

Take homelessness. There are many groups working on it, but they aren’t working together. One may be focused on chronic homelessness, another on shelters and a third on family. We need to look at an end goal and set a target to change all the systems that have an impact, in a span of time like 15 years. That changes everything from foster care to wrap around services in a public school system.

I call these unusual partnerships “a collaboration with teeth to it.” It’s about policy and systems-based goals and really trying to help organize industry and the public sector. More sustainability officers and non-governmental associations need to work at the intersections between diversity and social impact strategies.

DWM: How long does it take to really effect change?

GM: It will take a minimum of a decade to achieve these long-term targets, but it’s really important if we are to reverse the trends in the U.S. in particular that we have to start now.

DWM: How did you get to where you are today in your career? Have these causes always been important to you? 

GM: I’ve always been into community-based work, and have always been highly involved personally in the LGBTQ movement on a local and national level around policies and corporate responsibility. I was a research consultant for about nine years, then applied for the Chief of Staff role with the then head of government relations, CSR and communications at Harrah’s (which later rebranded to Caesars Entertainment.)

That was 13 years ago, and this space was just starting to take shape. I had the opportunity to really form my own role, write my own job descriptions. At that time, the environmental side of things and activism were very separate, so it’s been a fascinating shift. Getting the support of the company has really been why I continue to love what I do and have stayed with them so long.

In particular, it’s been an inspiration working for Jan Jones Blackhurst for all these years. She was the first female mayor of Las Vegas. She was very outspoken about LGBTQ and women's rights and for social justice. She came to Harrah's and really formed the group around responsible conduct and code of commitment and all of these pieces that really shaped not only Caesars but the industry.

DWM: What is in store for Caesars — and you — in this space in future?

GM: It's very challenging, exciting and meaningful to be involved with our next era of work on human rights. It started with human trafficking, and will continue with broader human rights around what we will continue to do when it comes to say ethical labor sourcing and working more in a global and national lens.

We’ll continue the work around how we back into our responsibility in the year 2030 or 2050 when it comes to climate action. So, activating our science-based goals, which is essentially being at zero carbon impact in the year 2050 regardless of what size we are at. Caesars also recently announced our 2030 goal to have 50% or more of our manager-level employees be women or minorities.

DWM: Caesars is launching a six-city Economic Equity Tour across the United States in 2019, and hosting a series of five webinars on economic equity as well. Can you tell me more about the subject matter?

GM: Equity is our intersectional approach to long-term corporate responsibility goals. The blending of diversity with equity inclusion is fascinating. Companies have such an opportunity to advance the work of activist groups and of populations that continue to face the same or similar challenges as they did a few decades ago.

We're integrating more of this work around supplier diversity and economic equity around workforce development for mid to small size businesses that are minority or woman-owned. Our economic equity tour will also cover what economic equity means when it comes to our operations in Vegas or Louisiana or Baltimore or anywhere else. It’s really taking and blending very different disciplines into a very strategic approach to equity.

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