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First smiled at, now a role model: A Berlin ice cream manufacturer defies the gas emergency

First smiled at, now a role model
A Berlin ice cream maker defies the gas emergency

By Marc Dimpfel

The gas crisis reveals Germany’s dependence on fossil fuels. A Berlin ice cream manufacturer took precautions early on with its sustainable approach – it’s now paying off.

Olaf Höhn is worried. About the war in Ukraine, the energy crisis, right-wing politicians. And above all about the environment. But the boss at Florida Ice Cream is someone who gets things done. The Berlin manufactory began producing ice cream as early as 1927. Höhn took over the business in the 1980s and expanded. Around 2000 supermarkets in Berlin and Brandenburg offer the characteristic blue cups in their freezers. Because Florida ice cream knows how to market itself. Instead of maintaining a dusty traditional image, the company gives the appearance of a hip startup. The ice cream manufacturer values ​​regionality, manual work and above all: climate friendliness.

“When I started dealing with climate protection, many said: Let it go!”, Höhn recalls in an interview with ntv.de. More than ten years ago, his son made him aware of the subject. Despite, or perhaps because of, the initial resistance, Höhn’s ambition was awakened. The factory built in the Berlin district of Spandau in 2013, which is the first in Germany to produce completely climate-neutral ice cream, shows how serious the 72-year-old is.

Ice cream entrepreneur Olaf Höhn in front of his electric truck.

(Photo: private)

Höhn is not satisfied with that. He continues to tinker, realizes ideas and discards them again, invests in new technologies. This cannot be overlooked on the production site located in a large industrial area. Photovoltaic systems pave the roofs, an electric truck charges at the petrol pump, from the floor to the chimney, everything here is designed to be as environmentally friendly as possible. That has its price. “Of course, the constant new investments don’t pay off at first,” admits the head of around 100 employees. “But we are now very efficient and have good sales results.” According to Höhn, sales last year were well over ten million euros.

“The market is distorted”

Even if most companies are aware of climate change, many do not want to take responsibility. The industrial sector alone is the second largest cause of greenhouse gas emissions in Germany. “In the current system, companies that rely on climate protection measures are at a disadvantage. The market is distorted at this point because the true costs are not shown at all: environmental damage, climate damage, supply chains,” says Katharina Reuter ntv.de. She is the GManaging Director of the Federal Association for Sustainable Economy, which represents around 600 companies. If you want to align your company sustainably, you can’t just go after maximizing profits – a competitive disadvantage. Competitors who don’t care about the environment and human rights could offer their products at significantly lower prices, explains Reuter.

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In contrast to the big manufacturers, the ice cream is still filled into the containers by hand in the Berlin district of Staaken.

(Photo: private)

In other words: climate protection depends above all on the willingness of the respective company management. If you take it seriously, you have to accept economic losses. The gas crisis, of all things, could now drive a rethink. Russia is cutting back its deliveries to Germany immensely, the Nord Stream 1 pipeline is only 40 percent utilized. Federal Minister of Economics Robert Habeck was forced to announce the second stage of his emergency plan on Thursday. “Gas is a scarce commodity in Germany,” said Habeck. Dependence on fossil fuels is threatening to fly in the face of Germany.

Industry is already feeling the effects of skyrocketing gas prices. Unlike Florida Ice Cream, many companies have not bothered with alternatives, including the Glass factory Harzkristall in Saxony-Anhalt. There the flames of the large gas furnace have gone out. Because in order for glass to melt, the furnace would have to run around the clock at 1180 degrees – per day it consumes as much as a four-person household in a year. It’s just too expensive at the moment. “If a large lamp vessel for a street lamp previously cost 150 euros, it is now suddenly going to cost 600 euros. That cannot be implemented on the market,” says company director Otto Sievers in an RTL interview. So orders are cancelled. Only the smaller electric oven is used. “And we are also fundamentally considering whether we should rather rely on electrical energy in the future.” Ice cream entrepreneur Höhn, on the other hand, thought about it early enough.

Sustainability was often ridiculed

“We see that it pays off for companies that pushed ahead with the energy transition at an early stage,” explains Reuter. “They are not so badly affected now, simply because they already generate electricity themselves, have set up intelligent sector coupling with e-mobility or rely on pellet heating.” Such investments were smiled at a few years ago. When Höhn reports on encounters with business colleagues or industry representatives, it becomes clear that many still don’t take him that seriously.

However, Höhn is undeterred by criticism and skepticism about his plans – with success. 30 percent of the energy that his factory needs is produced on site, the rest comes from green electricity. This is only possible with special technology. So-called adsorption chillers are used in power-guzzling cooling. They convert the waste heat from the compressors into cold in a climate-friendly way. Their goal: as little energy as possible should be lost from the production facility. In terms of electricity production, the Berlin ice cream maker benefits from the seasonal fluctuations in the industry. The demand for ice cream increases when the sun is shining – then the solar panels are also in full swing.

The vehicle fleet is gradually being converted to e-mobility. A small revolution is the electric truck, which delivers the ice with the help of storage cooling. Connected to a station, the truck’s loading area cools down to -78 degrees, and the cold is stored for up to two days after charging. There is even an additional fine dust filter attached to the chimney of the pellet heating system. However, the greatest reduction in emissions occurs via the floor in the deep-freeze cell. This is insulated with glass foam gravel, so that additional heating is not required.

“We want to be up to 99 percent self-sufficient”

According to its own statements, Florida Eis was able to save more than 1,800 tons of CO2 within five years through this technological interaction. Self-sufficiency also offers a certain resilience to crises. “Even if we didn’t get any electricity from outside, we could still deliver regionally for a while,” says Höhn. The high energy prices are currently being cushioned by the storage and circulation system.

The concept of Florida ice cream is finding more and more imitators. Business and political representatives from all over the world come to visit West Berlin almost every week. Because sustainability is not just a marketing factor, it is becoming essential, especially in times of “gas alert”. Innovative concepts are booming.

The medium-sized ice cream manufacturer is currently building a second plant in Magdeburg. The ambitions are high: “We want to be up to 99 percent self-sufficient, but at least 85 percent,” explains Höhn, who also wants to be a role model for others. “In principle, anyone can do what we do. But who simply dismantles their existing machines like that?”

The energy crisis could provide an economic necessity for this. “The money hasn’t been used in recent years because it didn’t pay off in a short time of four to five years,” explains Reuter. In the meantime, however, many companies would recognize that energy sovereignty is also a security issue. “Crises show how fragile the system is. We’re really kicking ourselves now because the energy transition was slowed down so much before. Now that’s a wake-up call for everyone.”

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