When adding honey to your breakfast, have you ever considered the ethics behind the gooey gold?
Although the beekeeping industry receives a lot of sticks, it turns out that honey can be one of the most sustainable products out there:
- Whilst one and a half acres of rainforest are lost every second due to increasing food demands, honey production requires no cultivation of land.
- Livestock and their by-products account for 51% of global greenhouse gas emissions, whereas honey production figures are much lower. This is due to the minimal resources and energy required within the practice.
For sustainable beekeepers Paul and Chris, their story is nothing short of inspirational.
Image Credit: Black Bee Honey
Having met in an office circa 20 years ago as keen graphic designers, Paul and Chris bonded over their love of raw, unblended honey. Following a beekeeping course in London, their passion birthed Black Bee Honey in 2017.
“It was at a time when food producers in London had a bit of a renaissance around micro food production, ultra-local, and that was something that really interested me about sustainability and producing food in a city. The bees did really well there because there’s loads of green space in London,” says Paul.
He adds: “I was initially interested in beekeeping and honey production because it seemed to me like a very ethical and sustainable form of food production, especially compared to other forms of farming, which have been prone to abuses in animal welfare.”
The name Black Bee Honey is an ode to the native British honeybees, who sadly lost most of their natural habitats, putting them at risk of extinction. Only in recent years have there been efforts to protect the Black Bee. Read more here.
Their dabble in beehive hire in the UK’s capital sparked a new interest for both as they “discovered how amazing honey was straight from the hive.” However, this wasn’t the only thing: “We realised that 90% of the honey that we consume in the country is imported, and it comes from anonymous sources. We knew that there was a load of amazing honey here that people weren’t really aware of.”
As most of the honey in the UK is imported, Paul and Chris wanted to highlight the authenticity and taste of locally produced honey. They felt that this was necessary, considering that honey is the third most adulterated food in the world.
But traceability wasn’t the only priority. Black Bee Honey is ‘committed to creating a positive impact environmentally and socially.’ Their direct relationship with beekeepers, Living Wage employer status and work with Climate Partner are all key elements of the Black Bee Honey operation.
“Sustainability was always at the core of what we were doing with the hive rental and Black Bee Honey because we were aware of the environmental issues that were associated with bees. It was always something that meant a lot to us,” says Paul.
Image Credit: Black Bee Honey
But how do beekeepers track their carbon emissions?
“We used Climate Partner who conducted a report into our products to work out where carbon emissions are happening along the supply chain – from the hive to the shelf and post shelf. They provided a detailed analysis. Every month we give them our projected and actual sales and they work out the carbon emissions. We then donate to various projects that offset global emissions.”
“It’s not a perfect model, but it’s given us a roadmap for improvements and how we reduce that. We give 2% of our turnover to Plant Life who creates wildflower meadows, and that’s carbon sequestering. It creates a habitat for bees in our country, so has a direct link to what we’re doing.”
Black Bee Honey recognises that sustainability is not simply the personal impact on the climate but rather the culture of the workforce too. Paul says: “Part of sustainability is to pay farmers a fair price; otherwise, they’re not going to sustain farming. As a policy, we make sure we look after our suppliers.” The team have implemented a six-hour working day, which is an alternative to the four-day working week.
Unfortunately, in the UK, there is yet to be a specific industry mark for accreditation of quality honey that could provide consumer confidence. Therefore, Black Bee Honey submitted their B Corp application last summer to gain their seal of authenticity around sustainability – and are in the last stages of the review process.
So why does beekeeping continue to get a bad name? Paul believes that: “There’s a lot of miseducation around beekeeping. I’m not 100% convinced that there isn’t a place for mixed farming as a means of food production.”
Having just launched their new enriched honey range, Black Bee Honey is experiencing an exciting time for growth: “We want to get more involved in the conversation around how we produce food sustainably. The new brand is a launch pad for talking about getting more involved and being more of an educator around environmental issues. Honey is nature distilled in a jar, really – it’s an incredible story, and it’s so intertwined with sustainability and issues around nature that it just makes sense for us to be talking about those issues.”
To find out more about Black Bee Honey and to shop their range, follow this link.