10 Oct 2023

Driving Change: Hotel Chedi, Interview with Alexandra Aubertin, Founder of Zero Waste Montenegro.  

Interview with Alexandra Aubertin, Founder of Zero Waste Montenegro

Nestled on Montenegro’s stunning coastline, just 16 kilometres from Tivat, stands The Chedi Luštica Bay Hotel. A member of The Leading Hotels of The World, a paradise with 111 luxurious rooms, two stellar restaurants, bars, a private beach, and pools that feel like they touch the sky.

But there is more to this place than the view. The Hotel Chedi is on a mission to take their sustainability rating to the next level. Pursuing a Green Key certification, the hotel already had numerous commitments and initiatives in place to reduce their impact, including soap recycling, water bottle sterilisation, food waste donations and more. In the Montenegrin context, a particular challenge confronted the establishment: the lack of well-developed waste separation and collection systems. Dealing with waste in Montenegro can be like a puzzle, with some pieces still missing.

Right on time, MiZA launched their Zero Waste Business Certification. Hotel Chedi joined the journey and together, set higher goals for sustainability. Their Sustainability Manager, Milica evaluated a few certification options, and got in touch with Zero Waste Montenegro as it was particularly focused on waste management, as they wanted to go further with their waste reduction. Adding a few layers of complexity, operating as a distinguished 5-star Luxury Hotel particular hygiene standards (LQA Standards), the integration of foreign products and meeting customers’ high expectations had to be observed. 

Join us in this series of interviews, as we dive into Hotel Chedi journey towards their certification, sitting down with both their Sustainability Manager and MiZA mentors as they navigate and drive change together to make Hotel Chedi the 1st Zero Waste Certified Business in Montenegro. In this second part of our series, we sit down with Alexandra Aubertin, Founder of Zero Waste Montenegro.

To start our interview, Alexandra, please tell us a bit about yourself and your background.

I’m Alexandra Aubertin, a French citizen who has lived internationally for 26 years. My journey has led me to establish the NGO Zero Waste Montenegro and founded the Montenegrin social enterprise Znuggle to showcase how companies can become fully Zero Waste. My academic background is rooted in Physical Chemistry and Environment and Resources Management, and I evolved in Project Management (PMP®). I’ve dedicated time to serving in diverse roles, spanning across prominent multinational corporations and impactful NGOs worldwide. My heart truly lies in crafting innovative initiatives that foster authentic circular economies. Such economies genuinely benefit the most delicate communities. I’ve been fortunate to call Montenegro home, residing on a semi-self-sufficient homestead—where my ideals and passions intertwine with everyday living.

How did you identify Hotel Chedi’s potential for becoming a leader in sustainability and achieving Zero Waste Business Certification?

From very early on, we noticed they had a passionate and very proactive leader to drive the transition and follow the certification process. I think the fact Hotel Chedi already had several waste reducing initiatives in place before contacting us highlights their engagement towards sustainability and their long-term commitment to making a meaningful impact. Investment efforts are needed to implement reduction measures, but I think their team has really grasped the potential this certification has to make them stand out of the competition. Their customers are increasingly sensitive to sustainable initiatives.

Can you describe what was the initial process of developing a roadmap that set the hotel on the right path to improve their sustainability rating?

Well, developing a plan for Hotel Chedi has involved a 3-day long site visit, interviews with their teams, a proper investigative and collaborative work from the very beginning if you want. Having gathered enough information and data, we built a strategy using MiZA best practices and methodology. During the first step of the certification, we focused on waste separation, what waste was to be separated and where, and mostly, what to do with each stream of separated waste as the municipality was only picking up separated cardboard. We had to do lots of research to find alternative locations where waste streams were collected, privately or publicly owned, and organizing effective transports for those streams. We took a step-by-step approach, not to make things too overwhelming for their organisation to drive their transition. 

Developing such a plan for Hotel Chedi has been quite rewarding on both sides, as a first project in Montenegro, in a luxury facility, their team has learned a lot and we have been able to develop further practices alongside them. 

How do you ensure you provide consistent and comprehensive support to the hotel team on their certification journey, knowing the timeline can be long?

During the off season, we schedule bi-weekly calls with their Green Team to be able to address all the new challenges they are facing, offer them new solutions to try out, etc. and coaching, because it can be hard at times. During the peak season, it is hard to work on more improvements, we help them stay focus on waste segregation targets as much as possible.

Can you share examples of how you tailored guidance to suit the hotel’s unique context and goals?

As you know, The Hotel Chedi is an exclusive 5 stars hotel, they have many other standards they need to live up to, especially when it comes to hygiene and luxury perception. A lot of places in the industry solve these standards with single-use options. We work with Chedi on a whole different level. We not only provide them with existing examples but also engage in brainstorming sessions to identify solutions that would maintain their high standards while simultaneously reducing waste. Take their guest rooms, for instance. Our strategy involves allocating the responsibility of separating food waste to the cleaning staff. Food waste is placed in separated bins straight from the plates, so guests do not have to do it themselves. This approach does give a bit more work to their staff, but the level of separation achieved is high, without imposing the task on the guests themselves. 

How do you stay ahead of the latest industry trends and best practices to provide up-to-date guidance to businesses?

One competitive advantage we have is the capacity to discuss and exchange on some of the challenges we are facing with the MiZA team and fellow Zero Waste Certification Mentors from other countries. This is the power MiZA and the Zero Waste Europe network bring. We all provide each other genuine support, working towards a common goal. 

How does your expertise make a tangible difference in helping businesses achieve sustainability goals compared to navigating the journey on their own? 

It can be quite overwhelming for a business to start a Zero Waste journey. Often, they are not sure where to start. They may struggle to get the buy-in from their staff, without external, credible support. Sometimes, they may get discouraged if what they are trying to implement does not work right away. We are also here to coach them. Reassure them, help them solve their own challenges in their Zero Waste journey. We see how our expertise and experience makes a difference for those companies. 

To conclude this second part of our interview, what are the next milestones for Hotel Chedi in the next 3/6 months? What are the ones you are the most looking forward to? 

The next milestone for the Hotel Chedi in the next period will now be to dig deeper in their residual waste and come up with changes to reduce them further. It is an exciting exercice as it involves everyone in the organisation and allow all staff to be creative in achieving the waste reduction goal. We are particularly looking forward to the solutions that we will be able to find together to reduce glass waste, as this will become a case study for all other HoReCa (hotel, restaurant, catering) businesses in Montenegro. The Hotel Chedi is also very open to share all their learnings and waste reduction solutions to the rest of the sector in Montenegro, which is really a leading attitude as at the end of the day, sustainability issues concern all of us! 

Read more about the incredible journey of the Hotel Chedi in our part 1 interview with Marina Tomovic, here
Are you prepared to integrate sustainable solutions and make impactful changes to your business? Explore the details of the Zero Waste Business Certification program offered by the Mission Zero Academy right HERE

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