Urban Beekeeping: The Next Sustainability Trend

August 30, 2017
Written by: Susan Caudle, CREW Northern Virginia
Beekeeping is on the rise in the metropolitan Washington area.

Bees are one of nature’s tiny wonders. They pollinate plants as they collect their nourishment, fertilizing the plant so it can grow and produce food. According to the Natural Resources Defense Council, more than $15 billion a year in United States crops are pollinated by bees, including apples, berries, cantaloupes, cucumbers, alfalfa and almonds. To put that into perspective, 70 out of the top 100 human food crops—which supply about 90% of the world’s nutrition—are pollinated by bees. Honey bees, both wild and domestic, perform about 80% of all pollination worldwide.

With the recent collapse of the bee population, fewer bees means the economy takes a hit and our foods are at serious risk. In response to this rapid decline, a nationwide green beekeeping movement has overtaken many urban areas in the U.S. Chicago, Philadelphia, New York, Los Angeles and other cities are developing their own hives. At least 18 states have enacted legislation to protect the health of bees, which has also led to helping urban populations and the economy. Bees do well in cities due to the variety of trees and flowers. They eat only pollen and nectar, and can, with careful planning and preparation, live side by side with humans.

Urban beekeeping provides access to local, healthy food. It also allows for a new approach to corporate sustainability, with businesses choosing to allow beehives on their rooftops as a manifestation of their commitment to the environment. Beekeeping and pollinator protection are the next step in sustainability branding.

Urban beehive in New York City
Urban beehive in New York City.

For example, bees can help preserve the green roofs that are becoming more common in big cities and, in this small way, contribute to a building’s LEED (Leadership in Energy and Environmental Design) rating.  LEED is a metric of sustainability promoted by the United States Green Building Council based on a system of points awarded for environmentally friendly features.

In Manhattan, the rooftop hives atop the Bank of America Tower, a 51-story glass skyscraper in the heart of Midtown, were recently featured in The New York Times. The tower’s 6,000-sq-ft green roof is a critical element of its LEED Platinum rating—the highest possible—and is sustained in part by two hives of 100,000 honey bees.

Metropolitan Washington D.C. is a mecca for urban beekeeping. There are hives scattered in backyards across Northern Virginia and suburban Maryland. Hives can be found at various government agencies, at George Washington University, and even on townhouse rooftops in Georgetown. The hives at the Washington Youth Garden at the National Arboretum won the Best Tasting Honey award at the D.C. State Fair, and the White House’s colonies are known for bringing in record harvests. The key is the abundance of green space and flower gardens in the city.

Looking up into a skyscraper for bees, designed by students at the University of Buffalo.
Looking up into a skyscraper for bees, designed by students at the University of Buffalo.

Urban beekeeping is happening across the globe, and it’s a good thing. With the help of bees, nearby gardens can flourish and residents can have access to local honey. In addition, bees aid in pollinating agricultural and horticultural crops while also sustaining our food supply chain.

Bee expert Noah Wilson-Rich, who has a Ph.D. in honeybee health, reported that 62.5% of urban bees survive the winter, compared to only 40% in rural areas. Wilson-Rich also reported that honey yields are markedly higher for urban bees, most likely due to less pesticide use in those areas.

The trend of urban beekeeping is another positive step toward sustainable coexistence with our flora and fauna, and allows for a more sustainable future for both human and bees alike. Bee-lieve it!

Susan CaudleSusan Caudle is the Director of Corporate Communications and Public Relations for Equinox Investments, LLC, a boutique land development and management firm headquartered in Northern Virginia. She oversees multiple projects and communities for Equinox. Susan is the immediate past-president of CREW Northern Virginia and previously served on their Board of Directors as Director of Communications. She has been a member of CREW since 2010.