A troubling trend has been preoccupying scientists: Honey bees are disappearing or dying at increasing rates. Last year alone, 44% of the bee colonies in the United States disappeared. While no exact cause has been determined, scientists have termed the issue Colony Collapse Disorder (CCD), a phenomenon in which very low or no adult honey bees are present in formerly active hives, leaving behind only food and a live queen.
While the issue itself is puzzling, the decline of the honey bee population also has a major impact on humans. Honey bees are an essential part of agricultural production. Simply put, one-third of all food crops rely on bee pollination. Thus, the dramatic loss in honey bees has caused a major negative effect on the farming industry.
In 2015, Sanofi launched its Planet Mobilization campaign, a global environmental initiative focused on tackling a number of issues, including climate change - an issue that often directly relates to health problems. One important aspect of the Planet Mobilization program is Biodiversity, which includes preserving the variety and variability of species and ecosystems. A Sanofi team researched the honey bee issue and felt it aligned perfectly with their Planet Mobilization Biodiversity mission. They went to work devising a plan to help counteract the dilemma by installing and managing beehives at facilities around the globe.
“When you think of the bigger picture and the impact that CCD has on the world’s food supply, this project is not only progressive, it’s the right thing to do. We will be instrumental in encouraging bee colony development,” explained Ron DiCola, Global Head of Health, Safety and Environmental at Sanofi. “It has been especially gratifying to see how enthusiastically this project has been embraced by employees. The teamwork, volunteerism and awareness to this important issue tell me we are on the right track with our efforts.”
Above, employees in France suited up to help with the honey bee project.
To date, 19 Sanofi sites have committed to joining the beehive movement including facilities in France and Belgium, and several locations in the United States including Northpointe, Washington, and Allston and Northborough, Massachusetts. The project has been so successful that additional sites are likely to be added in the future.
Of course, the introduction of bees to an active work environment raises the question of staff safety. To ensure a safe work environment, professional beekeepers were hired at several locations to manage the hives. At Sanofi Genzyme, we hired local beekeepers from Ipswich’s Tomten Beeworks to manage the bees at some sites including Allston, Massachusetts, where they installed a beehive house at the rear of the building and make regular site visits to monitor the bees.
Above, in the spring of 2016, in an effort to help counteract the declining honey bee population, we took part in Sanofi's Project Mobilization by installing an active beehive at the manufacturing facility in Allston, Massachusetts.
Hiring professionals was not necessary at all sites, however. In addition to the positive environmental impact, the bee project has been a great experience for employees, who have been encouraged to get involved. To date, more than 200 employees around the world are involved in the honey bee program. In our Northborough, Massachusetts site, the project is completely staffed by employees. Peter DeMers, our Principal Packaging Engineer, has years of experience keeping hives at his home. When he learned of the bee project, he offered to take the lead caring for the bees at his location. Peter and a team of about ten volunteers manage all bee-related tasks in Northborough including building the hives, feeding the bees, and collecting pollen.
Peter explained that the benefit of hosting the hives goes beyond the obvious environmental impact: “The goal is not just to put up a hive; one hive isn’t going to make the difference. But if we educate our employees and get them to put up their own beehives at home—that’s what’s going to make a real difference.” Peter went on state that watching employees collaborate and learn how to care for the bees together has been another great benefit of the initiative.
Another benefit: Employees get first rights to home-grown honey! In Northpointe, the honey is donated to a local food bank while in France, proceeds from the honey sales benefit Children of Sanofi (Enfants de Sanofi), a non-profit organization dedicated to helping Sanofi employees’ children with medical, educational or social problems.
What can you do?
If beekeeping seems beyond your scope of action, there is more you can do to help bees and preserve the environment. One great way to help is to plant a pollinator garden, planting a large variety of flowering plants that bloom from spring into late fall. Be sure to avoid the use of pesticide which can also harm honey bees.