Showcasing sustainable SMEs (2) Caviar

Frutigen, 1 May 2013 Companies, big and small, are increasingly implementing sustainable initiatives.  Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs) do this despite the financial and knowledge obstacles they may face. In this series the WRF showcases interesting examples from across the globe.

This time we present Sustainable Caviar, produced at Tropenhaus in Frutigen.

Sustainable caviar produced at Tropenhaus

The Tropenhaus is an extraordinary place combining many aspects of sustainability. It includes using renewable energies to cover 100% of the needs of the complex, sustainable growth of exotic plants in a tropical garden, sustainable aquaculture (sturgeon breeding) and sustainable caviar production.

The story of this project starts in 2002 with the question what to do about the warm water flows coming out of the Lötschberg tunnel in the Canton of Berne. The water temperature was too high to release it in the local river. The solutions were either cooling the water or taking advantage of its energy. The second option was chosen, and thus, tunnel engineers founded Tropenhaus – a greenhouse heated by geothermal energy.

Alternative energies applied in practice

The largest proportion of the required energy in the complex is taken from the warm mountain water from the Lötschberg tunnel. The remaining energy that is required is covered by additional, equally sustainable and renewable sources, namely the sun, water and biomass. Consequently, no fossil fuels are used, and the whole system is entirely self-sustainable and environmentally friendly.

Marcel Baillods, CEO of Tropenhaus explains to Bas de Leeuw, Managing Director at WRF, how geothermal energy is used at Tropenhaus

How does this energy efficiency look like in practice?

Energy cycle at Tropenhaus (Source:

• Energy, water and nutrients are fed through the system at Tropenhaus Frutigen. Every area, every building is completely integrated into the cycle

• The warm water from the Lötschberg Mountain heats the hot house

• Water is cooled from 18 to 12 degrees in the various fish tanks

• Water from the roof is collected for irrigation in special rainwater containers

• The hot house is heated and the external users supplied with the central local heating network

• A water turbine use surplus water from Frutigen to generate electricity

• The facility’s operation is ensured by its own photovoltaic system on the roof of the Tropenhaus

• The restaurant uses fish and fruit cultivated in Tropenhaus

• Green waste is supplied to the biogas plant for electricity generation

• Sturgeon meat, caviar and fruit are processed in the manufacturing process for the in-house restaurant and sales

A tropical garden in the middle of the Alps

Tropenhaus, apart from being an excellent example for sustainable industrial design, gives the opportunity to experience the tropical climate and nature without going to far-distant places and increasing our carbon footprint. One can walk there in a tropical garden and admire diverse exotic plants and naturally ripening fruits.

                                                   Visitors in the Tropical Garden

Besides that, visitors at Tropenhaus can taste the tropics as well.  The restaurant based in the complex serves freshly picked in the greenhouse bananas, papayas, mangos, star fruits, dwarf bananas, guavas, litchi, mangosteens, grapefruit, avocados, pineapple kumquat and many more specialties. Thanks to the warm climate, these grown in house fruits have their original taste, not different than the one can be experienced in exotic countries.

Sustainable sturgeon breeding and caviar production

In addition to exotic fruits, the restaurant offers wide array of fish dishes as well as caviar. This is a result of in-house sturgeon farming. Why is this sturgeon and caviar sustainable? Due to the hunt for caviar and obstruction of spawning rivers this fish is currently threatened with extinction. Nevertheless, thanks to cooperation with World Sturgeon Conservation Society, a sustainable surgeon breeding program has been launched at Tropenhaus; no antibiotics, medicines or chemical pesticides are used, and a special fish food is given. Not only do these practices protect the species, but they also give a chance to enjoy the taste of caviar and sturgeon meat as well.

Marcel Baillods, CEO of Tropenhaus showing Aquarium with view of the fish pools

Entertainment and education

Next to the complex including a tropical garden, restaurant and aquaria with sturgeons, the visitors can visit an exhibition showcasing renewable energies, the growth of tropical plants and aquaculture as well as sturgeon breeding and sustainable caviar production. Thus, Tropenhaus, apart from entertainment and relaxation can educate about sustainability and be an attractive place for family excursions.

Exhibition  at Tropenhaus: Different species of sturgeon (left) and sustainable caviar production (right)

As a result of the efforts towards sustainability Tropenhaus has been recognised and awarded as well. The project has received the following prizes:

  • Red Dot Communication Award for Oona Ice Cube on 24th October 2012 in Berlin
  • Third place in the Zurich Climate Prize on 28th April 2011
  • MILESTONE in the category Sustainability in Bern on 16th November 2010
  • ICD Award as an Innovative Trendsetter
  • Awarded the Swiss Prize for Innovation 2009 from Idee-suisse on 27th November 2009
  • Prix Avenir in 2007

Tropenhaus is another example showing that implementing sustainability into an enterprise, even the smallest one, is viable. We hope that it will encourage other companies to rethink their way of doing business and make it more sustainable.

Please feel free to send us more examples of sustainable SMEs worth spreading!

For more information please visit the Tropenhaus website.

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