Berlin Olaf Höhn comes pretty close to the ideal of the environmentally conscious entrepreneur. The 71-year-old can’t stop shining when he talks about everything he has done in the past ten years to make his Florida Eis company the first climate-neutral ice cream producer in Germany.
From the electrically powered transport bus to the solar thermal system on the roof to the artificial permafrost floor in the cold store: since 2013, every gram of ice in the 4000 square meter large factory in Spandau, officially CO2-free.
“Many of my friends have long since retired, but I still have so many ideas,” says the graduate engineer, standing in front of a shredder from which narrow, brown strips fall onto a pile of cardboard that has already been chopped into small pieces. “We want to use this to gradually replace the styrofoam in our packaging,” explains Höhn.
Things are now going so well for the small and medium-sized company that they can hardly save themselves from placing orders, even in winter. While Florida ice cream was probably only known to a few Berliners at the beginning, the environmentally conscious snack is now available in more and more regions and supermarkets throughout Germany.
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The production and storage of ice cream, of which 557 liters were consumed in Germany in 2019 according to the Federal Association of the German Confectionery Industry (BDSI), is, however, particularly energy-intensive due to the necessary freezing temperatures. In this country, cooling accounts for a total of almost seven percent of primary energy consumption, as a study by the mechanical engineering association VDMA shows last year.
It is true that 83 percent of applications for cooling are already powered by electricity today. With a share of renewable energies of 46 percent of gross electricity consumption, there is still a long way to go to a sustainable ice ball.
It’s different with Olaf Höhn. With lots of ideas, he managed to convert his ice cream production years ago so that it does not cause any CO2. The solar system on the roof of the light blue factory has already saved over 600,000 kilograms of CO2. “The rest of the green electricity is bought in from outside,” he explains.
A solar thermal system generates warm water, from which a so-called adsorption chiller makes cold water for cooling the ice machines and for air conditioning.
Sales fivefold since 2013
The mechanical engineer is particularly proud of the floor in his small factory or, better said, of what is underneath: foam glass gravel. This is a recycling product made from non-recyclable waste glass. It serves as insulation and thus creates an artificial permafrost floor, which replaces the electrical floor heating under the freezer, explains Höhn, while proudly pointing to the gray floor below in the minus 25 degrees cold warehouse.
“That was a big decision, because I knew that if the floor cracked, the whole cell would have to be torn out and replaced,” says Höhn. “With new technologies there is always a risk.”
A risk that the founder took more than nine years ago and that has paid off. In 2015 Florida Eis was recognized by the Federal Environment Ministry for its commitment to climate protection. The company shows that climate protection is not only an ethical obligation, but also an economic advantage, explained the then Minister Barbara Hendricks (SPD) for the award.
Höhn has invested more than seven million euros in the renovation of the capital factory. Before the company moved to the new hall at Zeppelinpark, Höhn only had a small production facility for its two ice cream parlors and an electricity bill of 10,000 euros. While the factory has grown from 600 to 4000 square meters, the energy consumption has remained almost the same.
“As a rule, the energy costs make up around ten percent of the costs. With us it’s just 2.5 to three percent, ”says Höhn proudly.
Sales have increased fivefold since 2013, and in 2019 Florida Eis was in the black for the first time with a turnover of twelve million euros. Höhn expects sales of 15 million in 2021. “At the moment we can hardly save ourselves from being asked,” says the entrepreneur happily. The pandemic has changed people’s consciousness: “Since Corona, the numbers have doubled again.
That’s why there are currently 36 workers in production filling each pack by hand – ball by ball. In the elongated hall there is one ice machine after the next, one machine of each type. And then the fresh tangerine pieces are poured into the light ice cream mass with a small scoop. Even the chocolate chips for the cookie variety, one of the bestsellers, are sprinkled by hand.
In addition to its climate neutrality, Höhn is particularly proud of the artisanal ice cream production: “We still make ice cream like 90 years ago”. Growing infinitely is therefore not an option for him. A little more is still possible.
In summer the machines run day and night. Then up to 36,000 ice packs come off the assembly line every day. In total, the small medium-sized company manages more than six million packs per year, which are delivered to 2,500 supermarkets and private customers.
Florida ice cream is only really climate neutral within your own four walls. As soon as the ice leaves the factory premises, not everything is green. But Höhn also wants to work on that in the next few years.
“I went from Saul to Paul”
In 2021, new electric refrigerated trucks are set to reduce the size of the existing diesel fleet. The ice cream cups will soon no longer be made of plastic, but of natural paper. And the construction of a second CO2-free factory is already being planned.
Höhn would probably have been the last one who would have thought that he would call himself an environmental fan. Quite the opposite. “I really went from Saul to Paul”, Höhn admits.
For most of his life he flew everywhere he could, drove the most powerful combustion engines and did not waste any thought on the climate. “I couldn’t emit enough CO2,” he says. It was only his son, then still a geology student, who opened his eyes to the consequences of global warming eleven years ago.
Today Florida Eis, which Höhn took over from the previous owner in 1985, is considered a model company in terms of climate neutrality. The dirty oldtimer is now in the garage. Instead, Höhn drives an electric Mercedes, of which there are only a few and which dates from a time when Daimler still with the electric car pioneer Tesla cooperated. A proverbial pioneer, just like Höhn himself.
The founder knows the best way to tell stories and is particularly good at selling his own. But he wants to show that climate neutrality is not a distant dream, but really feasible. “But you have to be a believer,” he muses. Without the financial support of third parties, he would certainly not have been able to realize his dream of a CO2-free ice cream factory, he admits.
“I also don’t think that we can get as far as we want and should for the climate,” says Höhn, somewhat resigned. Even if people have now dealt with the subject more consciously.
Nevertheless, he does not want to be dissuaded from his goal of a thoroughly climate-neutral ice cream production: “In the end, my tombstone should at least say: He tried it.” And until then, the environmentally enthusiastic tinkerer will certainly not waste a thought on retirement.
Series – Climate Pioneers in Business: There is hardly a day on which a new company in the world does not declare its freshly set climate goals and ambitions for the energy transition. There are some who have long been ahead of the “green economy” trend and have been proving for many years that ecology and economy do not have to be a contradiction in terms. In our series, we introduce a few of these “climate pioneers”.
Climate pioneers in the economy – all parts of the series