Madeleine Dias de Rezende has been the Sustainable Development Manager at CERVO Mountain Resort for over 2 years. She laid the foundation for her future job on a trip to Australia, where she learned about permaculture - an approach to developing self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems. She traveled to South America, where she learned more about the livestock supply chain, and spent an enlightening time in India. "I saw how perfect our environment is on its own and how we destroy it through so much ignorance." She met students of Ernst Götsch, a Swiss researcher known for his work in regenerative agroforestry. At the same time, she was studying sustainable business management. "All these things were pieces of a big puzzle for me."
She ended up at CERVO at just the right time. The hotel was about to undergo a major renovation, which entailed revising its commitment to sustainability. Daniel F. Lauber, the hotel's founder, tasked Madeleine with turning those visions into reality. Since then, the hotel has made impressive progress, earning gold certification from ibex fairstay and developing an inspiring food and beverage program that includes a thriving herb garden, a vegetarian restaurant, a hyper-local Swiss restaurant, and an Italian restaurant serving homemade pasta.
Madeleine, what are your responsibilities as sustainability manager at CERVO?
I'm very lucky that my area of responsibility is cross-departmental and very project-oriented. There is no standardized daily work routine for me. Depending on what impulses come from colleagues or partners or my own ideas, I focus on them. For example, we are currently working with MyClimate to create a comprehensive CO2 balance in order to find out where our biggest weaknesses lie so that we can optimize them in the future. Communication with our guests/partners and employees is also a high priority at the moment.
The biggest and most comprehensive project was certainly the certification of the hotel with the ibex fairstay eco label. Otherwise, my tasks include checking the value chain and researching alternatives if a product no longer meets our requirements.
Training employees and giving interviews on the topic are also not uncommon. If there is still time, I am always looking for new ideas and am in constant contact with our partners, such as MyClimate, SlowFood and MitMänsch, or I dedicate myself to implementing a herb garden on our Madre Nostra terrace.
How important is the certification of hotels in your opinion?
By certifying hotels, guests have the opportunity to better compare the hotels. If conscious travel is important to you, you can see without much effort which hotel is investing in a sustainable future.
Even though sustainability is currently trending, which has certainly been and continues to be reinforced by Covid-19, there are still many differences in commitment. And a holistic business management that has been neutrally audited is still different overall from a business that doesn't use straws.
The basis for sustainability in practice, however, is and remains the sensitization of everyone - and certification is also a valuable tool for this.
Why do you think hotels still shy away from certification?
I think the first obstacle is the label jungle, which makes many things confusing and often uncertain. In addition, there are certainly the costs that certification and the resulting measures entail.
But also the fear of being restricted in one's freedom of choice.
Do sustainably managed hotels come through crises better, such as the current Corona crisis?
This question is difficult for me to answer, because the sustainable component in CERVO is only really communicated now, i.e. after the certification, and therefore we cannot yet draw a comparison between before and after.
The fact that currently many international guests cannot travel to Switzerland is a problem that all hoteliers have equally and also affects CERVO very much. But of course, a somewhat smaller, family-run hotel is in a more stable position than the large grand hotels, which are dependent on tour groups. On the other hand, a family business reaches its limits at some point and does not have any major shareholders behind it.
We are certainly in a better position when it comes to delivery shortfalls, since we source most of our products from the region and are always in close contact with our suppliers.
Do guests want to hear about your sustainability efforts?
If a guest is open to a conversation, that's nice. Our water runs through an osmosis filter and comes out of a tap. When we bring the carafe to guests, they often say, "Oh, it's open!" and I can explain that it's fresh, filtered water from Zermatt. Ten percent of our water revenue goes to sanitation projects around the world. And who doesn't like to drink glacier water? It's a privilege. If anyone feels like it, we can talk for half an hour. Storytelling is fun. I love it.
What's one of the most creative approaches you've had the privilege of encountering in a hotel?
I find it fascinating when companies, households or other systems manage to close circles. More and more hotels are also trying to do this. A great example is the Gaia Hotel in Basel, which is trying to move in the direction of "zero waste" through various measures. One of the measures there, for example, is the donation of coffee grounds to an urban farming project, which in turn cultivates edible mushrooms on the coffee grounds.
What are the next steps (future plans) at CERVO?
There is still so much to do. For example, we are constantly reviewing our suppliers and looking at which products we can replace or add. Communication with employees, suppliers and guests is also an ongoing process. And as already mentioned, the CO2 balance this spring will be very exciting, as we will then know exactly where we need to start.
In the longer term, we want to move step by step in the direction of "zero waste" at CERVO.
For more about Sustainability at CERVO, visit our website.