When setting your overall strategy and operations as a more sustainable business, thinking innovatively about all you can do and may have an impact on can lead to some very rewarding ideas, business benefits and create a great working environment for your teams.

At Global Bright Futures, working on an overall sustainability strategy means exploring many aspects of how to become a more sustainable business, which can include even the built environment, both inside and out.

This can mean thinking about how you can use your buildings, water, waste, even replacing your office furniture in a more sustainable way in an office refurbishment programme too. This then helps to frame discussions around how to build a new way of working, helps teams to engage and show that they are being encouraged to think differently, innovatively and more creatively about how they want to work and the impact this can have on building and even better business.
One subject that has come up after our recent visits to various Cities are bees.

When ‘A World Without Bees’ by Alison Benjamin and Brian McCullum was first published over a decade ago, this raised awareness how important bees are to our own human existence, to biodiversity, and that there was a catastrophic crisis facing the bee population globally and is a real threat to our ecosystem. The book highlighted the rapid decline in the bee population and that we could be heading towards extinction of many bee species if things didn’t change and is still relevant today.

‘If the bee population disappeared off the surface of the globe then man would only have four years of life left’ Albert Einstein

Back in 2007, Lille in Northern France first started to provide pesticide free areas and rooftop hives where bees could prosper, and then some other cities followed. Montpelier put beehives on many of their rooftops of their schools.  Since then, there has been a growth in urban beekeeping, meaning putting beehives on urban rooftops not only in France, but other countries too. Many corporate & government buildings, restaurants and stores have installed urban hives on their rooftops to help try to save the declining bee population, which has been rapid in just a very few years. Whole colonies of bees have been destroyed by a blight decease that attacks whole hives called ‘colony collapse disorder’. The cause of this blight is not identified for certain, but increasing use of chemical pesticides, neonicotinoid insecticides, fewer flowers causing malnutrition for bees, viruses, parasites, adverse weather, climate change have all been cited or linked to be a contributing factor to the loss of the bee population, and nearly half of all the Wild Bee species have disappeared.

Damian Carrington reported in The Guardian Newspaper on Saturday 28th April 2018, that the previous day the EU have now approved a ban on neonicotinoids from all fields and outdoor use in the EU states, which should come into place by end of 2018. The previous ban on flowering crops had been in place since 2013, but scientific evidence had shown that honey bees and wild bees were at high risk from any outdoor use. 

The warning for us humans is that 1.4 billion jobs and three quarters of all global crops (75%) depend on pollen and pollinators such as bees.  In the recent report by Cambridge Conservation Initiative (CCI) ‘The Pollination Deficit, towards supply chain resistance in the face of pollinator decline – a business case for action’ estimated that the annual contribution of pollinators to the global economy at USD $235 – 577 Billion, and that bees were the largest and most important group of pollinators for crop production. In fact, 68 out of the 69 crop categories listed in the report rely on bees for pollination.  The report states that ‘Companies linked pollinator decline to potential business risk/operational/reputational/marketing risk’, and that ‘identifying dependency of raw materials on pollinators in in it’s infancy’

Back to the rooftops. Bees inspire us humans in so many ways.  Bees are busy, industrious, productive and organised!

By 2015, Paris had over 700 beehives, mostly on rooftops. Also in Paris, a large global HR business holds an annual competition for their employees to design a label for the jars from their rooftop honey harvest. The winning label is then printed and put on the jars of the honey which is then sold for a charity nominated by the winner for that year.

London too has embraced the beehive and many on rooftops too – between 2008-2013 the number of hives grew by almost 50% from 1,677 to over 3,500.  Since 2008, Fortnum and Mason store in London’s St James have had four colonies of honey bee hives on their rooftop, and originally sold the honey from these hives in the store. They now have a waiting list, and in late September 2017, they held a special charity event honey evening where they auctioned off the first five jars from their honey harvest.

Bee keeping is a skill and is growing in popularity, and with more urban hives to be managed, more jobs for apiarists could grow to look after these hives. One Parisian urban beekeeper manages the rooftop beehives for several companies.

There is a debate though too, as to whether urban beekeeping is also a problem for the bee population as there is less nectar and flowers available in the cities, so as well as installing hives, planting lots of bee loving flowers in city parks, gardens, company car parks and even window boxes is to be encouraged. Now in Lille, around 80 species of Wild Bee have returned to the area, which had previously disappeared, before the introduction of their rooftop beehives.

Finally, one of the most heart-warming stories I have heard broadcast recently is how bees are helping some Syrian refugees and others to rebuild their lives.  In Huddersfield, North Yorkshire, Dr Ruad Alsous, has been a key part in the setting up a bee keeping course called The Buzz Project. Dr Alsous, is a bee keeping expert and had kept bees for over forty years in Syria and was formally a professor of agriculture at Damascus University. Having fled Syria in 2013 he arrived in UK as a refugee with nothing at all, and two years later, he was donated a hive of native black bees, which he has since expanded into seven hives. The Buzz Project now teaches local refugees and job seekers how to keep bees and produce honey, helps them to learn English and to feel a sense of place and purpose in a new community. If you have 20 mins to spare today, then listen to the interview on the BBC  with Dr Alsous and others in the Buzz Project, and you will hear how special bees can be to the lives of all of us.