Many vibrant urban green spaces, particularly plants with flower or fruit, can’t survive without pollinators. The Best Bees Company, based in Boston, is looking to help building owners find space to create sustainable ecosystems for green roofs, street trees, and other urban greenery.
The company’s founder, Noah Wilson-Rich, a behavioral ecologist whose PhD focused on disease resistance in bees and wasps, realized that—counterintuitively—honeybees in urban areas were doing better than those in rural areas.
Rural areas, and particularly farmland, usually have higher levels of pesticide use than cities. Agriculture also often provides a monoculture around a single crop for bees to feed on, while cities provide more variety in wild and managed flowers, trees, and shrubs. The Best Bees Company provides and maintains honeybee hives and pollinator habitats for property owners.
The company manages 1,000 hives on decks, lawns, and rooftops of all types of buildings in 18 states, from residential to office to hotels. They especially like rooftops, Wilson-Rich says.
“Rooftops are an underutilized asset. [Bees are] a way to utilize that asset in a way that really helps the environment,” he says.
Best Bees even has hives seasonally at Boston’s Fenway Park, on a previously underused roof deck behind the third-base bleachers. There is now also a farm that provides 5,900 pounds (2,700 kg) of fresh produce to the stadium’s vendors. “You can buy kale in any part of Fenway Park now,” Wilson-Rich says.
Best Bees’ turnkey solution means that property managers don’t have to lift a finger to reap the benefits of having bees. And those benefits go far beyond a fuzzy feeling that a property owner is doing something good for the environment.
In residential buildings, beehives can be a marketing tool. “Millennials are choosing to live in more sustainable properties,” Wilson-Rich says. Beehives can be another visible way to show how a company embraces sustainability.
Beacon Capital Partners, a real estate investment trust that focuses on office buildings, has Best Bees bottle its honey; property managers then visit each tenant with a little gift. “It’s a positive note—they’re just walking by to say hello and share some honey . . . it’s a great tenant relations program.” Beacon also gives honey jars to prospective tenants—which is much more memorable than a business card.
Boston Properties is also using Best Bees to install hives at a number of its rooftops throughout the city.
“Through our partnership with Best Bees, we have expanded the functionality of several commercial rooftops,” says Ben Myers, Boston Properties’ director of sustainability. “Commercial rooftops are often underutilized as places reserved for service pipes, fans, and mechanical equipment. With the addition of bees, we elevate the productivity of these spaces and advance our sustainability strategy. Beekeeping aligns with our objectives to minimize our environmental impact and enhance the vitality of urban ecosystems. . . . As a Class A bee landlord, we collect the honey they produce, which is the sweetest beekeeping benefit of all.”
Meanwhile, Best Bees is using each of its hives as a mini science lab. When beekeepers visit to maintain the hives, they upload data on the health of the colony to a national database, to collect information on population, honey production, and any diseases that might be present. They also take small samples of the honey and analyze its contents to discover what flowers the bees are visiting—one sample contained nectar from a whopping 411 plant species.
One or two hives on an urban rooftop isn’t going to singlehandedly save the bees, but every bit helps. As Wilson-Rich says, “Anybody who eats food needs bees.”
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