For many years, bees have had a bad rep in the public eye. As children, we are taught to be wary of their sting, with grown adults swatting them away in fear, and knowing only to value them for their honey business. They’ve been put upon by the ever-intensifying way we farm our food, and seen their homes and food vanish as humanity sprawls through their natural habitats. In short, widespread misunderstanding of bees was rife. And yet these little creatures are crucial to all life on earth.
Okay, so the bees haven’t had the best comms team. Until 2014, when The Slovenian Beekeepers Association campaigned on behalf of their tiny clients for a chink of recognition. Three years later, UN Member States unanimously approved Slovenia’s proposal – 20th May to be World Bee Day.
In all seriousness, conversation around bees has bloomed into public consciousness over the past few years. While scientists have been worriedly studying bee and insect declines for decades, word has finally caught on, and the topic of bees has become a number one priority.
This is likely due to a number of complex reasons, including climate change and widespread insect declines around the world. Campaigns by global NGOs are raising awareness of the plight of bees and insects, while recent disasters have brought the Earth’s perilous situation into sharp focus. A key point for discussions during COP26 was food security in relation to a move to sustainable, climate-resilient food production. Compound this with an increasing population and greater necessity to provide a fair, healthy diet for the world, and conversations around food security, climate change and the state of nature have been much more pressing.
The power of pollination
It’s pretty common knowledge (now) that bees are crucial for pollination. They’re outstandingly good at it. But did you know that pollination isn’t simply done by bees? Let alone just honeybees?
In fact, the vast majority of pollinators are wild. That includes over 20,000 species of bee (1), just one of which is the domestic honeybee. There are also countless species of insects and animals that act as pollinators. Butterflies, wasps, beetles, moths, birds and even bats pollinate plants.
And yet, pollinators are in real trouble. From bees to butterflies, insects are declining at a drastic rate. In the UK, 23 bee and flower-visiting wasp species have gone extinct since the 1850s (2). A recent study found 25% of global wild bee species had gone missing since the 1990s (3), while in the UK alone, flying insects have declined by 60% in 20 years (4).
If these declines continue unheeded, we could witness the extinction of bees, butterflies, beetles and countless other insects. What does that mean, other than being devastatingly sad? Well, without pollination, we can’t possibly feed the global population. Three quarters of the crop types we grow require pollination by insects (2). So without bees and other pollinators, humans would have to swap our ideals of five a day for a diet of bread, rice and porridge, since these crops are some of the few that are pollinated by wind. To put a monetary value on it, the ecosystem services provided by insects are said to be worth $57 billion per year in the US alone (2).
However, this is looking at just one facet of the problem, as 87% of all plant species require insect or animal pollution (2). Plants are the basis of every food chain, so if 87% of plants couldn’t set seed and died out, the entire environment would collapse and billions would starve.
Talk bee to me
The good news is that there are loads of things we can all do to help. So, here are three ideas for brands that are keen to help bees and other pollinators.
- Go wild for bees
Whether you run a restaurant, café, food production business or an office, there are loads of opportunities to do more for pollinator homes and food. Wildflowers and plants can be grown on any area of land, whether it’s a whole meadow, a few square metres, or a couple of pots.
Wildflower planting and No Mow May are hugely popular right now, so your customers will love your decision to grow plants for nature. As well as wildflowers and plants, why not pop up a few bee hotels and bug motels to help solitary bees and insects rest and nest.
Many restaurants and cafés are taking to growing their own fruit and veg for organic, zero miles ingredients to cook and serve. So, how about transforming part of your premises’ garden or car park into a veg patch? No room for that? Enquire about a local allotment plot. And if you do this, ditching the chemicals and growing without pesticides and herbicides is by far the best way to help pollinators. On average, each field and orchard in the UK is now treated 16 times a year (2), giving bees and insects a really hard time.
- Purpose alongside profits
As a soon-to-be B Corp, prioritising purpose alongside profits is very close to our hearts, and we’re not the only ones. 94% of consumers feel it’s important for the companies they engage with to have a strong purpose (5).
Taking meaningful actions, such as supporting British farmers who are rewilding part of their land or farming in a way that supports pollinators is a brilliant step. It’s also another great opportunity to talk to your customers about it. Sourcing your ingredients from farmers with beehives, wildflowers or reduced pesticide use on their farms? Shout about it!
Or, if you want to do something on your own doorstep, how about reinvesting some of your profits into your own brand beehives? You could also try a collaborative campaign that sees a portion of profits for every sale go to a nature-based charity, such as the Bumblebee Conservation Trust, the RSPB, or The Wildlife Trusts.
- Invest in nature
We love World Bee Day here, of course we do! But supporting bees and wildlife needs to be an all-year action plan for all of us.
Whatever you decide to do for bees and pollinators, as a business, make it meaningful and do it all year round. And whether you have clients visiting your stores or following you on email and social media, take them on the journey with you. Tell them what you’re doing, who you’re supporting, what you’re planting and why. Then show them the progress – bees and insects visiting your plot, updates from your bee-friendly suppliers, donations to rewilding programmes clocking up.
Asking customers what next bee-friendly steps they think your business should take will help them to get invested in both the mission and your brand. The key to effective conversations around purpose is authenticity, and there is always room for genuine, purpose-led messaging in your comms strategy.
Ready to give bees a chance? We are all about helping purpose-based brands by creating work that ignites change. Let’s be as good as we possibly can for the planet, for society and its future. Sound up your alley? Give us a buzz. We’d love to help.
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- Goulson, D, 2021, Silent Earth: Averting the Insect Apolcalypse, Penguin Random House, P24.