On one of the last summer days in September I visited a bee hive in East London, a few minutes walking distance from Old Street roundabout – a rather unusual experience in such an urban area. The bees are looked after by The Golden Company, a social enterprise training young people in beekeeping and business skills. Other bee hives can be found on the roofs of Nomura Bank and the London Stock Exchange, where the young Bee Guardians hold workshops to tell bankers about the bees. So what is actually so fascinating about bees?
The way bees organise and communicate in their colony has worked for millions of years. Bees fulfil a crucial role in ecosystems and it is hard to imagine sustaining human life without bees. So what can we learn from them? Bees maintain the conditions for life by being very responsive to their environment. They live according to the sun, making use of a highly abundant source of energy. The roles a single bee can perform within its colony are varied and change according to a path throughout a bee’s lifetime. In case of a shock such as a fire, the bees leave the hive prepared to set up a new one in a different location, different to humans who are told to leave everything behind when a fire breaks out. Also, bees have a feeling for when the number of bees has become too large for the hive. When the scent inside the hive is becoming weaker due to a higher number of bees, the conditions are right to swarm and part of the colony will set up a new hive. With their waggle dance bees communicate and direct foragers to newly discovered flower batches to help them find more nectar. So bees collaborate for the benefit of the hive working towards a shared purpose although every bee just plays its part without having the bigger picture in mind. Through pollination, bees essentially create growth and improve their environment at the same time.
Although it is not desirable for human society to act like a bee hive, looking at the life of bees offers some metaphors for what we can do to go on a path towards a more sustainable future. In a world characterised by climate change, growing population and scarce resources we need to adapt to a changing environment to fulfil our needs. Just as the bees, we have to consider how much demand a specific environment can sustain and create growth with a view to not only avoiding any negative consequences, but even having a positive impact on our habitat.