Marta Cardoso grew up at her grandpa’s farm where she swam in cold-water tanks and ate oranges plucked straight off the trees. It was there that she developed a love of nature and the outdoors, a love that only grew further during her childhood years where she spent nearly all her weekends at her parent’s country house picking fruits and herbs as they strolled through mountains and fields together.

Having carried that passion for environmental sustainability through the years, Cardoso oversaw the opening of Six Senses Douro Valley’s Earth Lab in 2017 as the property’s Sustainability Manager. Blazing ahead of the trail, the property has also recently claimed the esteemed Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Award, making 2018 another milestone year for Cardoso and her team.

Riding on this high, Quotient caught up with Cardoso in a recent interview to delve deeper into her thoughts on environmental sustainability.

Quotient: What exactly does a Sustainability Manager do?
Cardoso: My main responsibilities are budget monitoring and planning, developing new strategic partnerships, measuring, quantifying and analysing sustainability Key Performance Indicators, managing projects, engaging hosts and guests in sustainability initiatives and managing the expenditure of our Sustainability Fund.

Where are some of your favourite nature destinations?
I love climbing mountains and I feel that the activity has taught me many things such as patience, persistence and gratitude to name a few. Whenever I can, I also gather a group of friends and we hit the road to visit Europe’s most spectacular wilderness regions; the Picos da Europa National Park is my favourite! Being in close proximity to nature drives me to do what I can to help protect and preserve these places.

How do you feel about your recent win at the Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Awards?
Personally, I could not be prouder about winning the Virtuoso Sustainable Tourism Leadership Award. In a competition involving over 160 of the world’s best hotels known for their leadership in sustainability, we won and that makes us very proud.

The honest truth, however, is that any one of our sister properties could have just as easily won this award as there is so much great work going on all round the world. As a group, some of the unique initiatives we have adopted are filtering and bottling our own Six Senses water, developing the Earth Lab, which is a place that is 100% dedicated to sustainability and having a Vice President of Sustainability sitting firmly on the Executive Committee.

How has Six Senses Douro Valley committed itself to sustainable living?
At Six Senses Douro Valley, sustainability is visible in all aspects of our design and approach. Whether it be how our land is used to grow food, our management of energy and waste, our efforts to conserve water and source local and seasonal ingredients for the resort’s menus, or the promise we make to our local community to employ hosts from the valley, our commitment to sustainability guides all of our actions.

What are some of the unique sustainability initiatives that Six Senses Douro Valley has adopted?
All the artwork and much of the furniture in our property is made from upcycled materials and recycled industrial antiques such as old farm utensils, tiles from broken panels, barrels and more, giving the hotel a tremendous sense of place and connection with the land and its traditions. The enormous variety of seeds that we now have in our organic seed bank, which now number more than 200, also help to protect biodiversity in the region.

The Forest Restoration project is probably our single largest long-term project and is a true labour of love. We have a 5-hectare park of old trees that had been abandoned for over 50 years that we are now slowly nursing back to health. Soil fertility is returning and the park is turning into a healthy home for fungi, insects and birds.

What are some of the plans you have for Earth Lab Douro Valley moving forward?
We currently harvest twice a week to meet the needs of our restaurants, bars and spa. For 2019, we have pledged to increase our food production by 100% so that our ultimate goal of self-sufficiency is within our sights. We will be looking to produce our own vegetables, edible flowers, herbs and fruits and adding chickens for eggs and goats for milk and cheese. Our apiary has also started to produce honey and will be further expanded over the coming years.

What is a common misconception people have about environmental sustainability?
That organic and sustainable food habits must be more expensive than buying processed foods. We demystify this by holding twice-weekly workshops on food preservation.

During the one and a half hour class, guests will learn how to pickle the organic produce from our garden, how to produce yoghurt without using electricity with a natural pro-biotic and how to dehydrate herbs to make tea infusions. By sharing the properties of those ingredients and their health benefits, we try to help our guests discover how easy it is to create sustainable healthy food habits. Our guests go away with recipes and free samples of great products from yoghurt to pickles, tea and more.

How do you think travellers can contribute to environmental sustainability?
Guests at Six Senses already contribute just by staying in our hotels, as a percentage of all our revenue goes to our Sustainability Fund. In addition, I would say there are three important and easy tips for people who want to do more: 1) Support the local community by buying local and getting involved in a local charity, 2) Saying no to plastic, in particular, single-use plastic and 3) Produce and preserve your own food even if you start small or get involved in a community garden.

What do you do for relaxation?
After a long day at work, a good run is my preferred way to unwind and stay balanced. Apart from that, music, reading and spending time with my friends are some of my favourite things to do.

What might you be if you were not the Head of Earth Lab Douro Valley?
I would imagine myself doing exactly the same thing on the other side of the world or perhaps even with my own business. I can see myself with my own organic farm brimming with veggies, flowers and fruits!

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