By Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D.
In 2015, Beacon Capital Partners installed honey beehives on the roofs of most of its buildings nationwide. In doing so, Beacon became one of the first and largest institutional property owners to introduce a large-scale beekeeping program in the United States.
Urban corporate beekeeping – companies hosting beehives on city rooftops or grounds — is a growing trend on office buildings, apartment complexes, and corporate campuses. As recently as 10 years ago, many U.S. cities prohibited beekeeping based on erroneous information about bees. In 2010, after New York City lifted its beekeeping ban, other cities followed suit. Today, hundreds of companies in cities across the U.S. are hosting beehives on their grounds and rooftops.
Now, owners and developers are rethinking their urban rooftops to do more with this typically underutilized real estate, from green roofs to rooftop solar and beyond. Rooftop beehives are a cost effective way to bring biodiversity to a building. It’s worth noting that research has revealed that bees thrive in urban areas, more so than in suburban or rural locations. In light of this, corporate urban rooftops have huge potential to be crucial sites of pollinator support.
For companies taking that step, managed beekeeping service providers are a key partner for facilities executives who want to bring honey beehives to their property. A strong relationship with a beekeeping service can create a thriving “pollinator program” that goes far beyond a box of bees on the roof.
What Managed Beekeeping Services Do
Professional beekeeping services are relatively new, emerging in the last 10 to 12 years. They operate similarly to a landscaping or interior plant maintenance company. A managed beekeeping service takes care of the initial installation and continued maintenance of the beehives and bees on the property.
As a first step, expert beekeepers identify the optimal location for the hives, ensuring safety for both the honey bees and people. Whether installed on a vacant or green rooftop, honey bees can thrive — they travel up to five miles to forage for food; they are not limited to their immediate surroundings.
Once the hives and bees are installed, professional beekeepers visit regularly, providing the bees with the support they need to thrive. A healthy hive makes honey, and beekeepers harvest the honey and return it in jars to the property.
What To Look For In A Beekeeping Service Provider
Not all beekeepers are alike. Look for a vendor who knows how to work with big companies, from contracting to maintenance to value-adds such as pollinator-related tenant events and amenities. Another key characteristic to keep in mind when searching for a vendor is their ability to collect data and provide reports.
Data and reporting can deliver insights and information that companies need for environmental, social, and corporate governance (ESG) reporting and certifications. The primary data comes directly from the beehive – the amount of honey being produced, the productivity of the hive, the resiliency of the bees, and more. Genomic analysis of the honey, which gives an accurate assessment of the plant species bees are pollinating, is a measure of biodiversity.
A new development in beekeeping practices brings the scientific study of pollinator health to a new level of understanding: It uses scientific methods to control for variables to ensure that data on hive health can be collected and analyzed at scale. Data from beehives all over a region can be aggregated and analyzed to draw insights about the environment, the security of our food system, biodiversity, and much more.
A nationwide network of data-yielding beehives managed in this standardized way creates the opportunity for scientific research. What’s more, the data serves as a good fit for corporate sustainability reporting.
Sustainability Reporting And Accreditation
One solitary beehive, while beneficial in its own right, has a relatively confined impact. Fortunately, professional beekeeping services using scientific methods to collect data on pollinator health is a way for corporate beekeeping to make an outsized impact on pollinator health and the environment at large.
Sustainability accreditation bodies reward properties for their pollinator habitats, particularly ones that take this data-centric networked approach.
For example, properties can earn LEED credits for their pollinator habitats. Based on past experience with property managers, beehive vendors can help provide documentation for habitat protection and restoration, heat island reduction, innovation, and other categories. Similarly, pollinator habitats have earned up to 16 credits for USGBC’s Sustainable Sites Initiative (SITES) in the criteria of Optimize Biomass and Human Health and Well-being. For companies who are measuring their sustainability according to the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), scientifically-managed hives support 10 of the 17 SDGs.
Beekeeping service providers can help provide documentation for these and other popular sustainability accreditations, including Fitwell, WELL, and EnergyStar, among others.
Tenant Wellness And Engagement
Beehives bring a wealth of tenant, employee, and stakeholder engagement and education. When a building brings in bees, there’s always something interesting and relevant to rally around.
Signage and other communications help introduce the bees to tenants and employees. Many companies get creative with incorporating honey bees and honey in their tenant engagement and wellness initiatives.
Beacon Capital Partners is a great example of an organization making the most of its beehives. The company hosts “Name the Queen” contests, honey-focused cooking classes, and meet the beekeeper events. Beacon also gives custom-labeled jars of honey to prospective tenants. Other companies install live bee-cams, hold honey tastings, and offer tours of the beehives. The service provider can help bring all of these projects to fruition.
The business community plays an important role in spearheading the movement to make American cities more environmentally friendly. With a managed beekeeping service provider, rooftop beehives can be a simple and tangible way to demonstrate commitment to environmental action, social justice, and good governance.
Noah Wilson-Rich, Ph.D., is CEO and co-founder of The Best Bees Company, the largest beekeeping service in the U.S. He is an urban ecologist, published author, and three-time TEDx speaker on a mission to expand the bee population and improve pollinator health.