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BP Cervo Panel Food Sustainability Header

Image Jaclyn Locke

Conscious Future

This Sustainability Manager Is Optimistic


Words Allison Reiber DiLiegro Date 18 November 2021

Working in sustainability, Madeleine Dias de Rezende spends a lot of time dreaming. She dreams about how to harness solar power, how to farm her own food, and how “if we all saved our rainwater from our roofs, we could be totally independent.” Then, she gets to work.

Dias de Rezende, the Sustainable Development Manager at Cervo Mountain Resort, planted the seed for her future role while traveling. She encountered permaculture—an approach to developing self-sufficient agricultural ecosystems—in Australia, where the movement was born. She traveled to South America, where she learned about the livestock supply chain, and spent a transformative stint in India. “I saw how our environment is perfect on its own and, on the other hand, how we destroy it with so much waste.” She met students of Ernst Götsch, a Swiss researcher renowned for his work in regenerative agroforestry. Then, she studied sustainable business administration. “All of these things were different puzzle pieces for me.”

She landed at Cervo at the right time. The hotel was about to undergo a major renovation, bringing with it a renewed commitment to sustainability. Daniel Lauber, the co-creator of the hotel, tasked Dias de Rezende with bringing these visions to life. Since then, the hotel has made impressive strides, earning Ibex gold certification and crafting an inspiring food and beverage program that includes a thriving herb garden, a vegetarian restaurant, a hyper-local Swiss restaurant, and an artisanal Italian restaurant. We spoke with Dias de Rezende about her learnings, her challenges, and why she’s optimistic about the future.

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How did you adapt your knowledge to the mountains?

As you can see, I only traveled in the tropics. I first told Daniel, “If you want a palm tree I can help, but Cervo is 1,650 meters above sea level!” The mountain range, the climate, the winds—these are all really specific.

I got to know Richard, a retired man down the valley, who has a permaculture garden. He became my expert and we built a friendship over time. Whenever I have a question, I ask him. We created the herb garden together, considering the right position for each plant. When I’m not sure about something, I bring in an expert.

Is it challenging to be at the forefront of the movement?

Yes, there have been many surprises. When we decided to go organic, we reached out to our supplier—a big supplier that works outside of Zermatt, too—and they told us we were the first to ask for organic vegetables. It was shocking! One of those moments you don’t forget. But eventually we made it work.

The pandemic must have posed its own challenges.

We had an idea to create a cooperative in Zermatt, as more restaurants are popping up that care about high-quality food. Two weeks after we talked about the collective, the lockdown came. This is still on our list: to create a collective within Zermatt so we don’t have to fight this fight on our own.

It sounds like you have good relationships with the local businesses.

What I think is nice about sustainability is that it’s not a competition. We’re not sharing secrets; having more organic restaurants is just better. We’re going hand-in-hand to do something good. It’s important to find people, communities, and companies that want to get stronger together. If we as a collective order more food, we have more power. We don’t need to be pioneers by ourselves.

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Image Jaclyn Locke

“What I think is nice about sustainability is that it’s not a competition. We’re not sharing secrets; more organic restaurants is just better. We’re going hand-in-hand to do something good.”

Madeleine Dias de Rezende

Do these budding partnerships make you feel hopeful about the future?

It gives me hope to see how many cool, like-minded places are opening. It’s clear that younger people are more interested in sustainability and I’m glad that there’s this change in the industry. It’s no longer a grand hotel with a red carpet and 20 people waiting when you arrive. Hospitality is now more casual. But most of the hotels here are still of the older generation, and it’s hard to change their minds. But this is a transitional time. It doesn’t take away my optimism.

You aim to source food from within a 150-kilometer radius. How has this experience been?

Our concept is based on finding cool products that are not mainstream and are sustainable in some way. We have a lot of handmade, artisanal products. All of our pastas and ravioli are handmade. We have organic wines, natural wines, and wines from the valley.

Ferdinand is our Swiss restaurant, with raclette, grilled meat, and local dishes. All the food comes from the surrounding Valais. The cheese comes from free-range cows that eat local feed. And we’re lucky that Italy falls within that radius.

What happens when you can’t source something locally?

Coffee is a great example. Our coffee is from Desta’s Coffee, owned by a man who is half-Ethiopian and half-Swiss. One of the tricky things with coffee is that it’s listed on the stock market. That means a coffee farmer in Ethiopia may get one dollar one day and two dollars the next, which is not reliable. Desta started his own coffee trade working with small farmers around the highlands in Ethiopia and has a fixed price. Ten percent of the income goes straight back to the local region for infrastructure and needs. He doesn’t have an organic label, but in this case we don’t think he needs it. If it’s benefiting small farmers who work hard for their families every day, this is enough for us.

Cervo has recently taken new measures with carbon offsetting. How is that going?

Food has a giant impact on our footprint, not only from waste but from packaging. Now, we are working with MyClimate to offset our emissions. We charge a small fee on our house beer and our meat dishes. I’m really proud of this—our compensation has risen a lot since we made the change.

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Ferdinand is the Swiss restaurant, serving dishes sourced from the local valley

How are guests reacting to the fees?

Many of the guests don’t notice that there is a fee, but we haven’t had complaints. I think we need to understand what is happening before we can change it. Some guests might think, “why did I pay a fee only on meat, not in the vegetarian restaurant?” For me, if someone leaves with a question that takes them further, we won already.

Do guests like to learn about your sustainability efforts?

If a guest is open to having a chat then it’s beautiful. Our water goes through an osmosis filter and comes out of a tap. When we bring the carafe to the guests, they often say “oh, it’s open!” and I get to explain that yes, it’s fresh, filtered water from Zermatt. Ten percent of our water income goes to sanitary projects around the world. And who doesn’t like to drink glacier water? This is a privilege. If someone is into it, we can talk for half an hour. Storytelling is fun. I love it.

Do you have any advice for us travelers?

Unplug your electric devices at home before you travel! I also forget this sometimes. And don’t run to McDonald’s right when you land. See what the people eat and integrate into the culture, which is the reason why we travel. Walk with open eyes through the world and be a good example even if no one is looking. That applies in daily life, too.

“Walk with open eyes through the world and be a good example even if no one is looking.”

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Bazaar is Cervo’s vegetarian restaurant, inspired by the markets of the East

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Cervo Mountain Resort

Zermatt, Switzerland

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Cervo Mountain Resort

Switzerland, Zermatt
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