How to create a sustainable luxury hotel

Daniel Lauber is the founder of the Cervo Mountain Resort, a contemporary luxury hotel high in the Swiss Alps which uses geothermal energy and recycled materials and works closely with small local suppliers for food and drinks.

Many hotels these days list their sustainability credentials on the home page of their website, even if they are just paying lip service to a growing need to show environmental consciousness. Daniel Lauber’s Cervo Mountain Resort in Zermatt, Switzerland, is different. The hotel’s home page does not mention the word ‘sustainability’, preferring to focus on the contemporary décor, funky atmosphere, cuisine and views.

Dig a little deeper into the website, however, via a sub-menu, and you will find a little information on what the business community would call the Cervo’s ESG – environmental, social and governance – credentials. Last year, for example, all the hotel’s heating needs, including rooms, kitchen and spa, came from renewable geothermal energy, provided via boreholes paid for and dug by Lauber’s team when he refurbished the hotel in 2019-2020. In a resort where, famously, you can have oysters from Brittany and foie gras from southwest France in a number of celebrated restaurants, the majority of food and wine served at the Cervo is sourced from within 150km – a particular challenge given the village’s location, surrounded by some of the highest peaks in the Alps, and the demands of any five-star hotel’s clientele. Lauber and his team also say they go out of their way to deal with suppliers who themselves work to benefit their local communities: specifically, suppliers are vetted for how they provide access for disabled staff and working mothers.

Visit the hotel and you see the ESG credentials stretch beyond even what is stated deep on the website – a kind of anti-greenwashing. Almost all of the intricate and busy décor in Bazaar, the hotel’s ground floor restaurant, is vintage or recycled, sourced from markets; Lauber says that where items are not vintage, they are made for him by individual makers, a nod to the ‘S’ of ESG, which the hotelier says is just as important to him as the ‘E’. There are no plastics visible in the guest rooms: everything from slippers to minibar bottles to shampoo packaging is made from non-plastic materials. Even the powerful binoculars in every room, supplied to provide up-close views of the Matterhorn, are vintage and made of metal. During the pandemic, instead of plastic screens, the hotel’s restaurants used vintage blankets hung on ropes to separate tables: it looked curious at the time, but now it’s easy to wonder what happened to all the plastic screens that are no longer required.

Lauber says that, despite all the effort and cost that went into creating this coherent ESG philosophy, he does not want Cervo to be labelled a ‘green hotel’. “We want our customers to enjoy their holidays and have a good time and enjoy skiing or all the activities. Cervo is not an eco-lodge; we want to give the customers an exclusive experience. People are more and more conscious about sustainability and they notice those little things.” Sustainability, he says, is not a point to boast about. “I think it should become a standard for the industry.”

A luxury hotel has quite intensive energy needs, from the kitchens, housekeeping and rooms, to the spa and indoor pool, which need to be kept warm even in the sub-zero temperatures of an Alpine winter. Geothermal energy was the most efficient solution, says Lauber. “We dug 42 holes, all with a length of 100 to 120m, so almost 5km of holes. That was quite an investment, but in the long run it will be absolutely worth it.” He adds that 40 per cent of all the energy needed for heating water at Cervo now comes from collecting heat from waste water and refrigeration devices. 

Plastics are a bigger challenge. While guests won’t see plastics in the rooms and restaurants, suppliers still use lots of it. “Our dream is in five or six years to be close to zero waste through 100 per cent recycling, but that will also need a much bigger effort from the suppliers, because it’s ridiculous sometimes how they pack stuff in plastic.” Another challenge is suppliers changing their sourcing. “One day we had a box of apples from New Zealand, and that’s ridiculous. Nothing against New Zealand apples, but that’s a really easy product you can get in Switzerland.” He says it is a case of his managers having constant and ongoing conversations with suppliers; as more hotels make similar demands, change is happening.

Lauber says that sustainability encompasses staff welfare and the broader community as much as carbon footprint and resource management. He is building new staff accommodation with its own spa and trains and empowers staff. “It would be easy to go with the stamp ‘organic’ or the stamp ‘Fairtrade’ or whatever labels are out there, but we like to have a closer look at what they do.”

 

They sometimes seek out suppliers that fulfil social welfare requirements: Lauber gives an example of an ice-cream supplier in Basel, on the other side of Switzerland. Sourcing may have a higher carbon footprint than from a more local supplier, but “most of their staff are disabled or have social issues and they really look after them”. The Cervo has achieved some certifications itself: it was the first luxury hotel in Switzerland to receive Gold certification from the organisation Ibex Fairstay, which assesses criteria like sustainable use of resources, local sourcing and community balance and interaction.

Originally built in the style of an Italian hunting lodge – thus the name, which means ‘deer’ in Italian – Lauber may not want his creation to be labelled an eco-hotel, but in an era where many hotel groups still think asking guests not to have their towels washed gives them sustainability credentials, the Cervo is as refreshing to learn about as it is to stay in.

Biography / key highlights

2006 Graduates from the Swiss Hotel Management School Lucerne, then immediately starts working as the assistant manager of the Mont Cervin Palace in Zermatt

2009 Founds the Cervo Mountain Resort in Zermatt

2020 Digs boreholes for geothermal energy and refurbishes the Cervo with vintage and found materials. Achieves Ibex Fairstay Gold certification for the Cervo

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