Noah Wilson-Rich has a Ph.D. in behavioral ecology, is a viral TED speaker with millions of views, and a bestselling author. Noah founded The Best Bees Company, which has thousands of beehives for research on corporate campuses and rooftops nationwide, as well as collaborations with MIT, Harvard, TED, National Geographic, and NASA. He’s also known as the ‘beekeeper to the stars.’
Each client beehive is a bio-indicator for environmental health, including acting as active data sources for NASA’s studies on pollinator populations and climate change, Harvard’s studies of pesticides in the environment, and National Geographic’s reporting of pollinator habitat.
As an academic scientist, Noah has held faculty appointments in biology at Tufts University and Northeastern University. His research focuses on what’s saving bees rather than solely on what’s killing them. Using a custom-built digital platform to collect bee health data at scale, Noah makes an outsized impact on the larger mission to save the bees while helping clients understand the quantifiable impact they have on the environment by opening their rooftops to pollinators.
Noah has been featured by The Wall Street Journal, Fox News, Fortune, Business Insider, Boston Globe, Los Angeles Times, and many more.
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Noah Wilson-Rich: The Bees Are Dying – How Businesses Can Save Them While Helping Themselves
Joining us is Noah Wilson-Rich, a PhD in Behavioral Ecology, a viral TED speaker with millions of views and a bestselling author. Noah founded The Best Bees Company which has thousands of beehives for research on corporate campuses and rooftops nationwide and partnerships with MIT, Harvard, TED, National Geographic and NASA. He’s also known as the Beekeeper to the Stars. Each client’s beehive is a bioindicator for environmental health, acting as active data sources for NASA studies on pollinator populations and climate change. Also, Harvard’s studies of pesticides in the environment and National Geographic’s reporting of pollinator habitat.
As an academic scientist, Noah has held faculty appointments in Biology at Tufts University and Northeastern University. His research focuses on what’s saving bees rather than solely on what’s killing them. Using a custom-built digital platform to collect bee health data at scale, Noah makes an outsized impact on the larger mission to save the bees and helps clients understand the quantifiable impact they have on the environment by opening their rooftops to pollinators. Noah has been featured in The Wall Street Journal, the LA Times, Fox News, Fortune, Business Insider and many more. Please join me now with your not-so-average Bee guy, Noah Wilson-Rich.
Noah Wilson-Rich, thank you for joining me here on the show. How are you?
I’m doing great, Chris. Thank you for having me. I’m so excited to be here.
I am so excited to have you here. I’ve been looking forward to this for a while now. We waited until the right moment because it’s April 2021, which is Earth Month. Earth Day is on April 22, 2021. It’s okay to call this Earth Month. Are some people doing that?
Absolutely. It’s our 51st year of Earth Day, which some corporations and people around the world then extended to Earth Week so there’s room for events and that extended to Earth Month. We’re excited that spring is arriving here in the Northern Hemisphere and we’re seeing all sorts of events pop up, including our conversation now.Bees are a tool to help us understand how to work through problems. Click To Tweet
What a great conversation this is going to be. I know it’s not your entire life but you spent a big part of the last portion of your life on bees. We have this pandemic that is hopefully winding down as a world gone through together. Before the pandemic happened, a lot of people were talking about bees. “The bees were dying. The bees are going away. What’s happening to the bees? Why is this happening? What are we doing as human beings to cause this? How is this impacting our carbon emissions? How is this impacting our health?” It’s an incredible conversation. I know that the solutions that you have for everybody and the solutions that are being found out and that are out there are ones that can help us survive better in a pandemic and make us healthier. Also, we can learn from the bees in a lot of ways as well. Tell me a little bit about the main question, which is, are the bees dying?
I know that bees are a weird topic for many people. However, when you dig a little bit deeper, everybody’s got some a story or connection to bees, beekeeping, knows a beekeeper, likes local honey. You have some certain recipe that comes because bees pollinated those fruits and vegetables. This is a tie that binds around the whole world. There are bees and beekeepers everywhere. When you look in the news and you see these headlines over and over, they’re heavy. There’s not much that we can do. For corporate leaders, when you see problems at work or times that require great institutional change and transformation whether it’s a pandemic or if it’s any other thing that the world throws at us, there are times where we feel despondent and we feel like, “What can we do?” I’ve got a PhD in Biology and I’m the CEO of a large company. I like to look at bees as a tool for answers and even for inspiration.
When we can look at our windows and look at the natural world and understand this planet has been around for billions of years. We’ve been around for a few dozen years as individuals, maybe our companies have been around for longer but the problems that we face, they’re not unique. The world has seen pandemics and behaviors that have to shift at a huge group level. Bees are a tool to help us understand how to work through problems. There are also pollinators that bring us food.
There are 200,000 species of pollinators in the world. Those are butterflies, hummingbirds and bees. Ten percent of them are bees. Of the bees, there are 20,000 of them. We can’t possibly study all of them but we do know that they are in crisis. We know this because humans have been working with honeybees for maybe 15,000 years or so. Humans first domesticated honey bees in Egypt when they floated bees down the Nile River to pollinate crops.
They did that on purpose?
Yes because we understood that a flower exists because of the oldest love story that has ever existed in time. When pollinators start to meet flowers and flowers help plants reproduce because they pass off sperm from plants, which is pollen to bees, bees will transport that sperm to another flower and impregnate it to give birth to a baby fruit.
Fifteen thousand years ago, human beings understood that and moved the bees down the river in order to get their plants to grow better.
We started to see evidence from cave drawings in places like Spain from 9,000 to 15,000 years ago. We see that there’s some evidence of honey hunters. My point here is we have a long history with honeybees and because of that, we’re able to understand when they’re dying off or when they’re thriving. When a beekeeper’s bees are not making much honey or when it’s plentiful. When crops are failing like the almond industry requires 100% honeybee pollination. Every Crunchy Almond that you have, I know you’re in California, where most of our almonds are produced. That’s because a honeybee touched that almond blossom.
When honey bees are dying as they are now, the ability of almonds can go down. The price of them due to supply and demand economics goes up and that threatens our nation’s food supply. For my research, lectures and keynotes, I partner up with some key groups like NASA and MIT to better understand the impacts on our food system as it relates to bees. When we’re thinking about keynotes and talking about how bees can teach us important lessons, I like to go beyond the talk so we can learn about how bees have complicated group dynamics, how their communication systems allow even one little worker to speak up in a way. A honey bee worker dances.
The Nobel Prize-winning dance communication language of bees. In that example, for where one worker can drive group change and how that one worker relates to a leader in a beehive, let’s say the queen bee. That dynamic is so important to understand for leaders who are working through any type of change these days, thinking, “What does nature solve?” Any group that didn’t survive over natural time went extinct. We don’t want to see that happen to companies. Going beyond this discussion, companies are more nowadays getting beehives because we do understand that bees are dying. If we left the beehives dead, we wouldn’t be making any progress here. I’ll say one last thing on this. Over the past couple of years, more bees die in the United States on a warm summer day than do on a cold winter day. This is because of at least four things. Bees are inflicted with many diseases, pesticides, habitat loss and climate change. There aren’t enough flowers out there so green rooftops are helpful. We can talk about climate. There are a lot of different problems out there. There are a lot of ways that everybody can help solve this and this is part of my life’s work tying this all together.
It’s amazing what you’ve done with your company and with all of your research. There’s a lot to take in there but one of the things I’m reminded of is when I heard Bill Gates talking about the pandemic that’s coming. He said that a few years ago. I remember seeing those comments and the video of him saying that and saying to myself, “We’ll never let that happen. We, as human beings in America, will never let that happen for sure. We’ll mitigate that and we’ll fix it before it happens.”
It reminds me of this conversation with bees as well. It’s like, “The bees are dying but we’ll fix that. There are great people like Noah out there who are doing great work to stop that from happening.” I live in Los Angeles. There are tons of flowers everywhere. There seem to be bees all the time and butterflies everywhere. I’m feeling good about where I live and maybe the bees aren’t dying here or maybe in America, maybe it’s somewhere else. Everybody wants to pass the buck.
If you think about risk mitigation, that could never happen. Thinking about the world’s great thinkers and thought leaders like Bill Gates making plans that did not work out this time. Think about great leaders like Jamie Dimon. One of the things I love about how he runs JPMorgan Chase is he focuses on risk mitigation and he makes plans for what could happen with any different scenario. There’s a playbook for this.
This is so important for leaders now especially those you’re saying and who are thinking, “That couldn’t happen. We’re planning for that.” Think it through and this is why investors are making more demands for ESG and CSR goals. Environmental Social and Governance and Sustainable Governance Roles and goals. We’re thinking about corporate social responsibility, the ways that corporate leaders can make an impact here that goes beyond the talk.
When we’re thinking about places where you’re at in Los Angeles, “It’s beautiful. The bees and the butterflies are chirping. It’s this amazing oasis,” yet, the law in Los Angeles had the bees illegal. Bees were not allowed to live there despite that’s where they’re doing great until 2015. In part of a large community effort, it was a bipartisan rule change 15 to 0 with the LA City Council, Republicans and Democrats all coming together to say, “We’ve got to legalize pollinators and beekeeping.”
How are they illegal?One worker can drive group change. Click To Tweet
In the 1870s, people saw bees on their Orange Grove trees. It was agricultural back then and they thought that those pollinators were stealing our food. Because people didn’t understand food systems, like our conversation, for those reading, who are thinking, “These guys are talking about bees. What is the point here?” They don’t understand things and we make decisions based on either wrong information or taking it for granted. Those have implications that can last for hundreds of years. That simple rule to make bees illegal, thinking pollinators steal food stayed on the books until 2015. It’s such a problem because bees are dying everywhere except for LA.
Were people arresting bees? How do they enforce that? What did that mean?
They were taking beekeepers out. I wrote a book with Princeton University Press about bees. They’ve sent me on a national speaking tour and it started in Los Angeles. They wanted my talk to be about beekeeping in LA. This was in 2014. I said, “Maybe we should hire an LA beekeeper for that.” That was before The Best Bees Company went national and expanded to LA. I did some investigative journalism. I arrived a week before my talk. I started to meet with beekeepers and look online. Everyone said, “You can’t come around asking about this.” I met with companies that had rooftop beehives, restaurants that had fresh honey in their restaurants and bars. They said, “You have to leave the premises. You cannot be asking these questions. Beekeeping in LA is so underground. We’ll get in so much trouble.” One beekeeper in Beverly Hills said, “Do you know how much trouble it was to get a wine license from our neighbors here? We’re not even going to the bees.”
By talking about this, it allows for education and people to do it safely. More importantly, it connects companies with a way to transform their rooftops from what we call gray to green. What are companies doing with their underutilized resources on the rooftops? They keep amenity decks. Green roofs reduce the operating costs of buildings. Having pollinator habitats in apartment buildings allows for families to grow carrots on the rooftop. It allows for a more desirable place to work and live when those real estate companies are using green practices. We’re also seeing companies that have an increasingly Millennial workforce that place demands on their leaders for greener and more sustainable practices. This is all inevitable. Stuff that we know is happening and that’s why it’s so important to start talking about it now.
There’s a lot of things to unpack there. One of the things is I’ve seen these drawings and renderings of future cities. It looks to me that plants will be growing all over buildings and on all the rooftops because human beings will be smarter. They will be doing better to take care of themselves and the environment. I’ve heard you talk about how bees can do better and maybe do better in cities than you might think. Tell us a little bit about that and circle back to what you were talking about which is that beekeepers are what you were talking about with the legalities. The fact is we need more beekeepers. Having a beehive in your backyard, on your company premises, rooftop or campus is something that is something to think about. Tell us the whys and the hows on that?
The first talk I gave on the TED stage was about urban beekeeping and this is something that I was doing every day. I didn’t realize that it would be so interesting to others. I shared some data that we had from beehives that were in cities compared to the suburbs and rural areas. My research, yes, while it looks at why bees are dying, focuses on the flip side, the positive side. Why are surviving pollinators living and where are they doing so and what can leaders whether it’s a homeowner or a company executive, do to make a difference to move the needle on the environment for biodiversity?
What we found is that bees are doing better in urban areas and they’re doing better the higher up we go. Those empty rooftops, while everybody I know can agree that we are not going to have them empty forever. When you look at New York City or in any city, we see all this gray space. We know that’s going to change. We also see with the Paris Climate Accord that we have a goal for reducing the temperature increased by 1.5 degrees Celsius. For green rooftops alone, we can achieve that and even go beyond it.
How about solar panels? Are bees going to be competing with solar panels on roofs?
They don’t compete at all. What’s under a solar panel? It’s nothing. Put a beehive there. We call it a pollinator habitat. We work with the solar industry so we have pollinator habitats there. There are already eight states that now require solar farms to have pollinator habitats. The shade underneath a solar panel allows for more moisture there and it can allow for more plants to grow because the land doesn’t dry up as much.
You said that they’re better higher up like on a 20, 30, 40 story building or even higher than that? Do bees have no problem flying all the way up to the top of a building like that?
Over 70 floors in New York City, we’ve got beehives. Also, in Chicago. It’s empty space and it can’t be used that way much longer. Buildings with green rooftops and pollinator habitats have lower costs for their heating, HVAC and insulation. We’re seeing trends and buying for Millennials. They want to live and work in more sustainable places. That was with Forbes Magazine. We are also looking at companies that are commonly saying they’ve got net-zero carbon goals. Carbon sequestration is such an important part of this day and age.
All companies have to say something about this because of investor demands, worker demands and client demands. A lot of companies don’t know how to do it yet. That’s where I can come in. When we look at a beehive as a data tool, a data factory or we call it a living barometer of ecosystem health. We get information from the beehive that also can be shared. When everybody gets a little jar of honey that has a custom label on it and a QR code, that can then connect people to a company’s website that says all of their ESG goals. What we’re looking at is how plants sequester and pull carbon out of the environment. About 50% of the carbon that we put out there as humans for greenhouse gases is taken back in from plants. The other half is from the oceans.
You’re saying that the data from the beehives is telling us how the plants in the area are doing and plants we might need to plant more of. How does that make us healthy as well? Tell us a little bit.
This is a great example of how we can take inspiration from nature and also get some education from this, too. There are so many cutting-edge technologies that I work on with my awesome students at MIT with our collaborators at NASA and with Best Bees. We’re doing technologies that I’m sure people have heard a lot about but they don’t know what it is. It’s important that everybody gets caught up to speed because it’s the modern world. Otherwise, you’re going to get left behind. When we look at a beehive and the honey, when every organization’s employees and customers get to share in some of that local rooftop honey, what my team has developed is a tool that uses genomic technology.
With genomics, we look at all the plant DNA in honey and it tells us all of the plants that the bees are going to pollinate. What that means is we know now what our honey tastes like so you can taste that science and engage with sustainability in a way that other programs fall short on. Windmills and solar panels are great talking points but they’re not exciting or engaging. Having some honey understanding that this is giving us our bee in biodiversity report. We have a full list of all the plant biodiversity that having our rooftop beehives in our company allowed us to promote.
For example, in Boston, 411 different plants are pollinated by honeybees. That allows a company to include in their biodiversity report everything that they’ve contributed to with a little box of rooftop pollinators and an otherwise empty space. I’ll add some other technological ways that we’re using bees to advance companies and how they can connect with science. There are aspects of artificial intelligence and machine learning where we do data sensors within a beehive that can then connect with stakeholders and employees to understand how their bees are doing. How much honey is being made there if a beehive is exposed to pesticides? Through learning, as a computer itself, it can potentially close its entrance up to protect the bees. Through technology, that’s one of the ways we can save the bees.
We are also looking at things like Blockchain. We’re able to connect all of the beehives across different properties. Let’s say there’s a large company nationwide like Beacon Capital Partners. They’re a wonderful partner of ours. They’ve got properties and skyscrapers in eleven cities. All of their beehives are connected within the network and that’s a way that over time. We start to be able to build up pieces of information that tell us in an honest way how healthy the bees are. Sometimes when we get reports from the government or we’re having conversations about bee health, we don’t know what’s accurate and what’s not. What do we make of a headline story?
One of the things that Whoopi Goldberg, one of our amazing clients and I connect on is how do we trust the headlines? How do we know if we’re making a difference? With this ability to have our own network of beehives with information that we’re collecting and sharing whether it’s with our stakeholders, our investors or employees, it’s a way that we’re starting to build some more faith in systems. Blockchain technology allows us to develop our own system that’s honest and unhackable. We start to use this term in a way that people get familiar with and that helps advance organizations in starting to play around with a little box of pollinators to practice what these different technologies are.
There are three things I want to talk about. One is the honey then beehive and plants. The plants we can plant in our neighborhoods to make the bees healthier and to make the bees reproduce more and have healthier beehives. We also need to make more beehives so there are more bees and they have better places to pollinate and make honey. The honey is good for us humans not only to analyze it and how healthy the plants are in the area and how healthy the bees are. Also, it helps us become healthier because it’s a healthy thing to eat. It also can help with our allergies because it will make us a little bit more immune to our local pollen. Is that all correct?
They are. When we think about health and wellness, we think about a term called biophilia. This is something that the US Green Building Council is advancing. They have accreditation programs called LEED for green buildings and SITES, which is an acronym that also looks at the areas around buildings. It’s the relationship that companies and buildings have with communities. Biophilia is a way that we can increase our health and wellness by being exposed to nature whether that’s a deck, a green rooftop or an area to sit outside and have a meeting with an employee-employer relationship. When we’re exposed to nature, when we’re sharing honey, building community and culture around that, it helps the well-being of an organization.
When everybody’s feeling well and coming together whether it’s because somebody has allergies or they’re not feeling well, there are a lot of ways that bee products help improve human health. When you can talk about that in a way that’s engaging with everybody whether it’s a name, the Queen Contest or a Honey Bake Off or if it’s having a say in, “What we want to see planted, God forbid. There’s an edible habitat around a building.” This is something that the EMD Serono Division of Merck is doing around the world.
They have nature paths and you can sit by the beehives. You can listen to their hum. Harvard Business School has the same things on its rooftops through a glass window. They have groups that will sit around the beehive and look at that teamwork example in nature for that inspiration and that biophilic health and wellness benefit. Teams are more productive and they’re starting their training at HBS. In this advanced way that already naturalizes our future business leaders with modern-day technology using bees.
If you had carte blanche, the President of the United States and the governors of all the states are in front of you and they said, “What do we need to do? We want to save the bees. We want to have more plants and pollinators,” What would you say would be the answer? Is it to put beehives everywhere on all the roofs and plant the plants that we know are the ones that the bees like in those particular environments? Will that save the bees?
It would because bees are dying. If we let the dead bees lie then what are we doing? We’ve got to replace them. We’ve got to breed a better bee. Part of what we do with The Best Bees Company is, with all of our clients, those beehives are for our research. That’s why our clients keep all the honey. We’re in it to understand where bees are healthy and where they’re dying. We use maps. That’s our partnership with NASA. We understand the factors around that. You need to connect everything with science. It doesn’t have to only be the bees but there’s another term for cutting-edge technology called the Internet of Things.Bees are dying, and if we just leave the beehives dead, we wouldn't be making any progress. Click To Tweet
Why don’t we want to get a text message from our turkey when it’s in the oven on Thanksgiving that tells us when it’s done? Why doesn’t our refrigerator for everybody or some people text us when our milk is spoiled? Why doesn’t it start to learn, our refrigerator to know, “It looks you’ve added some milk.” You’re going to set a timer because that’s going to go bad in a few days type of thing. There are so many ways that connecting everything to science or the internet of things can improve our quality of life, business performance and it can provide inspiration for teams to work better.
When I’m saying, “Put a beehive everywhere.” What I mean is when it’s connected to science, it’s going to give us information about what plants are in the area. We can think about how to be more resilient against natural disasters. We’ve looked at places where there are wildfires like Australia and California, where hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. When we have datasets that show what plants were already there then we know what we lost in times of disaster.
Those are becoming much more frequent with climate change. That’s what’s going to be so important. We’ve got to get beehives. If I had carte blanche, one thing I’m already doing with the Federal Government is telling them we’ve got to add science to this, “You can’t, with your landscaping team, plant what you want to plant.” For governments, “When you have to take down a tree, think about what pollinator tree you can put in its place. That’s particular for your own local area that’s native.” We’ve got to inform all of our practices through science in order to become our best society.
People who are planting plants on their campuses, schools, universities but also the big corporations that have campuses can plant the perfect biodiverse garden and landscape.
If it’s done by science, you can also put that in your biodiversity report. You tell your investors and stakeholders, “Here’s what we’re doing,” in a way that doesn’t require the burden to be placed on the employee who’s probably not a scientist but they’re an amazing person who can do a good report. You need some numbers. Otherwise, it’s all talk. The point here is and the value that I’m trying to add to the world is how do we go beyond the talk. Whenever I give a keynote, I love to pair it up with getting beehives so the teams can then look at that and understand the symbolic resonance of that. We’re getting data from that using genomics about the plants.
We’re understanding how we can share the honey with the whole team. We’re getting lessons on leadership from the beehive if they’re waggle dancing in group communication. There’s a lot better that can be done but we’re still stuck in a period where it’s a bit scandalous to get a green rooftop. We can’t grow carrots on the roof. This is the biggest problem. This, I know we can achieve and I’m comfortable being in the space because it’s fun being a CEO at the forefront of emerging technology and solution of pollinator habitats for the for-profit business model. There is no reason why environmental leadership needs to be at odds with profit. We can do this all together.
It seems like this is another industry or technology out there that is going to be prevalent in the future. People don’t know about it, they’re scared. They don’t want to do it because they don’t believe in it but it’s something that years down the line, it’s going to be popular. In the new buildings that are building as well, I’ve seen those renderings where they have the walls of green. There are gardens incorporated into the apartment buildings that are being built all over the world.
Who wouldn’t want that? This is inevitable. Any technology that we know is coming. That’s where it’s fun for business leaders to be at the forefront. Going back to how we started this conversation, everybody knows what a bee is. It’s not like a T-rex. People think that a lot of things are bees like hornets, wasps, yellow jackets and murder hornets. Bees are vegan. They’re safe, already in the environment and everybody has a story or likes honey so people can relate to it. By changing everybody’s perspective and understanding that there’s so much inspiration that can be had there that it’s relatable. It’s an opportunity for us to get familiar with technologies so it reduces the barrier of companies to achieve these things through a little box of bugs. It’s a low investment for a high impact.
There are a lot of different pieces of it and parts to it that are interesting. The bottom line, are the bees going to recover? Are we, as humans, going to be the ones who have to save the bees? Are they going to save themselves? Are you noticing any good trends since the pandemic? Maybe there are fewer people out there so there’s more nature happening. Tell us a little bit about the future of bees.
Bees are not doing well. Here’s why this matters so much. It’s not about honeybees. Getting a beehive at an empty rooftop or at a corporation is not about the bees. It’s about what the bees indicate. Honey bees are an indicator species because they tell us how the rest of the ecosystem is doing. They’re giving us data about biodiversity. If we had the snapshot in time from a honey harvest and from genomics with honey DNA, as we call it, it tells us you have 400 plant species.
When we do our next sample from the next honey harvest, it says, “You have 350 plant species and 300.” We know what we’ve lost in a way that we’ve never measured before. These are snapshots in time that we’re getting. If we see a honey beehive that is not doing well, we can make an inference that other bee species again. There are 20,000 of them and 200,000 species of pollinators that we can’t all study at the same time. The things we learn about honey bees give us inferences about how the rest of the pollinators are doing.
If bees are dying off then we know that this is a bigger problem out there and we’ve heard this term as the Insect Apocalypse. Nobody wants bugs creeping and crawling all around. I get that but they play a hugely important ecological role, especially when we’re thinking about goals that relate to carbon. Carbon sequestration, net-zero and we talked about how 50% of the greenhouse gases that are put out there return to the earth and the soils through plants. 80% of those plants are flowering, meaning pollinators are required.
Anything we can do to help one pollinator like getting a beehive manually. We know that that’s also going to help get more plants out there that’s going to feed other pollinators. That’s going to take out a huge amount of 40% of the carbon that we put up thereby getting a little box of pollinators. It does require everybody’s effort. Corporations have the most power here because they have the most rooftop space, resources and demands put on them by stakeholders to do something. The easiest thing that one could do is by getting beehives on campus.
Are there any trends that are trending upwards and in a positive way that you’re seeing it all? Is anything changing? Is it getting worse? What’s the endgame here if nothing changes?
It is getting worse. With the Trump administration, they delayed putting bees onto the endangered species list for the first time ever. They eventually were. They put the killing pesticides back on to the market. It’s been challenging to find some headway here. This is why it’s important to get around politics because when you think about it Barack Obama got bees at the White House. Donald Trump kept them and Mike Pence added bees to the Naval Observatory.
This is a bipartisan issue that comes down to feeding the next generation. Do we want our kids to have healthy fruits and vegetables? Everybody can agree on this. It’s taken a long time and what gives me hope is seeing corporations that are doing this action. They’re doing something because investors are demanding it and they need some help with reporting. That’s where The Best Bees Company comes in. It starts here with the keynote.
Like in a beehive, it starts by getting a message to a worker bee and building enthusiasm where people can look at a beehive, take some inspiration, enjoyment in the honey, sharing it with family, friends and colleagues. Thinking a little bit deeper, as I get into my TED Talk what that means and the importance there is if we don’t do it who will? We’re only on this planet for such a short amount of time. If we’re not going to do this, it’s not going to happen. Everything’s going to keep dying off and that’s going to prevent the next generation from having healthy food. This is how to solve it all. Get a beehive and save the world. I promise you.
I love your passion. I’m hoping there are a lot of other guys and girls like you out there who are working towards this goal, doing the research, following the trends and making sure that we’re heading in the right direction. This is a time in history where we, as human beings, are looking inward more than ever. We’re looking at what we’ve done to create our environment, what we’re doing to each other, what we can do to take some responsibility and what we can do to better our environment, communities and ourselves. You’re one of those guys leading that charge. I hope that this is the most successful Earth Day in history, where more people are engaged in doing something than ever before because of people like you.
Thanks, Chris. I appreciate this opportunity. I want to share with people one more note about how leadership lessons from the beehive can help us understand that. Yes, we know that we’ve got this burden to do more for Earth Month and for the other months as well. How does it happen in a way that feels good for the whole team? It’s difficult when there’s a top-down directive for a corporation to do more and it can be difficult even for homeowners.
Whether you’re working from home during the pandemic or you’re dealing with a family where it’s an accomplishment if you’ve got your kids to brush your teeth that day. You’ve got kids at home. All of these different levels come down to groups and group dynamics. That’s what a honey beehive is so perfect at. They’ve been around for 100 million years. Nature has selected four particular problems that were solved in a way that these large successful groups did.
As humans, it’s hard to set ourselves apart. We look at bees, ants, termites, other group living organisms, snapping shrimp is one, aspen trees, naked mole rats. These are weird and bizarre things in nature that most people have never heard of. Those are all examples of what we call super-organism. That’s where natural selection over evolutionary time has favored groups where the individual doesn’t survive long. Maybe in a way to a corporation where if you pull one worker out, I don’t think that worker can do the work of the whole business. Organizations whether it’s the family, the company or us in society, need one another.
We can take lessons from nature to understand how they work together. In a beehive, when they’ve got to do a group decision, sometimes they have to move to a new home. That new home is found because one worker bee shifted her task to a female-dominated society. It’s always, “She did something.” You see a bee on a flower, you say, “Hey, girl.” That bee from a flower said, “I’m going to go look for a home now.” She surprised herself. She changed up her task. That’s one step. If an individual at a company is thinking, “How can I make a difference?” Surprise yourself. Get out of that regular schedule and instead think about something a little bit differently.
When that worker bee when she finds a good home like a hole in the tree, she comes back and with enthusiasm, she dances to communicate to all the other workers, “You’ve got to pay attention to me. Listen to me. I found something and I need you to know about it.” For a bee, she dances. She waggles her butt. It’s called the waggle dance and it’s like a figure-eight motion. It’s cool.
She communicates and doing it enthusiastically and because of that enthusiasm, that’s what gets the other bees to pay attention to her. They’re like, “Shut up. We’re busy. We’ve got jobs to do.” When you’ve got enthusiasm, people notice and they notice if you have information. What’s amazing here with the beehive is then those other bees go to confirm and that’s something with the business organization, too. If somebody has something to say, “I’ve got an idea. Let’s get beehives on campus.” If you share that with enthusiasm, your coworkers will hear you and they’ll go to validate you.
They want to do some fact-checking or think like, “Is that safe? How do we look into those resources?” It’s the same way that a beehive does. What’s amazing here is when those other bees validate the information from the one bee that found a new home, they do this with 100% accuracy. If they go on to continue that message like somebody at an office says, “Let’s get bees,” if they’re going to continue with that recommendation, bees have a system where they’re always accurate. It’s good information. Otherwise, they’ll say, “It’s not right. Go dance somewhere else. We’re not going to listen to you. Buzz off.”
She recruits, gets more people on board and it starts to get loud with enthusiasm. People are talking. Their bees are buzzing here. With a beehive threshold that’s 5% of bees, it takes up the whole group to make a decision. That’s something that’s a unique threshold for bees. I’ve come to learn what that threshold is for humans. Do what that is, Chris? How many people in a group does it take to drive change for the organization? What percentage? Do you want to guess?
I would say probably 5%.
It’s 25%. This is from Shankar Vedantam and to the podcast. It’s called Hidden Brain and The Snowball Effect. How many to recruit? You have to get about 25% in your group to recruit to drive behavioral change whether it’s politics and any sort of movement. Once you have that critical threshold then the rest of the group pays attention. If you’re 24%, people are like, “You’re a weird fringe thing.” Coalition for 25%, human 5%, with bees they’re much more evolved, much more derived than we are. In doing so they have a whole sequence of events that leads to a consensus.
They have these runners on the rest of the beehive that says, “There’s a message to be spread. Something’s happening. Listen up.” It’s like an email, “There’s going to be a meeting. Listen up. Everybody, listen.” At that meeting with the bees, say, “We’re going to do a move.” That gets the temperature. Ninety-five percent of the bees don’t know what’s happening but they know to get their temperature. That 5% are the leaders so they’re called streakers but they guide the rest of the population and they say, “Trust me. Don’t worry about the details. We’re going here now.”Biophilia is a way to increase our health and wellness by being exposed to nature. Click To Tweet
For human corporations, if you’ve got an individual worker who wants to drive behavioral change for the group, recruit up to 25%, tell the other 75%, “Trust us. You have to understand everything. Trust this group that we’re doing something good here. Our whole group is preparing for the change, go over here and settle in.” It’s a whole process that can give us education and inspiration. Anybody in an organization can do this. Sometimes workers feel like they’re helpless especially nowadays.
What’s key is and the last thing I’ll add here is for the leaders. The queen bee is not in charge like maybe a CEO like myself sometimes might feel. That corner office needs to be there like the queen bee lifts off a pheromone scent. Everybody knows that she’s there like my team needs to know a CEO exists but then they make their own decisions, too. The presence or absence of a leader is what makes sense there but the group dynamics are much largely more powered by workers than those workers might realize.
All this is about this idea of looking inward, contributing, not doing the work and doing things as we always have but think about our responsibility and what we can do to get us all on a better track. Whether it be an idea that somebody has that we should look at but also looking at some of the causes and things that are out there that people are pointing at and making known as an important thing to them but also to our humanity. There are so many people pointing to the oceans, soil, pollution and everything else that we’re doing that we can change if we look at it a little bit differently and take some responsibility.
We have to shift our perspective. We have to feel empowered to know that we do have a say in something. We might not know how to do it. That’s why I’m looking at nature for groups that have been around for millions of years longer than us. They give solutions to how we could do it. Let’s say everything I shared with bees, isn’t it? Go to ants next. Ants have the largest nondiscriminatory system in the natural world. I called the European Union of Ants.
There’s an invasive population of ants from Argentina to Europe and they have a passport. They can go from northern Spain to Portugal to Southern Spain to France to Italy and visit ant beehives. How does a company build such a large structure where they can all work together and visit different locations of offices? There are so many problems that leaders have nowadays that have already been solved if only we take a moment to look at the natural world to ask those questions. That’s where I like to provide insight, inspiration and empowerment.
There are so many cool facets to what you’re talking about and to what you do. Thank you for pointing all this out and for being a voice and being so passionate about helping people and helping the planet. We need people like you in order to remind us that we have some responsibility to take and we can take action to make a change. I wish you the best for April. I know it’s probably an important month for you to get the word out. Hopefully, this Earth Day will be one that sees a lot of people taking part and taking on some new responsibilities and ideas that they can champion.
We’ll have a couple of papers out, including our Bees in Space paper. It’s all these ways for inspiration and people to understand that this world is amazing. We’ve got to take a moment to see our place in it and to figure out how we can do our best. Thanks, Chris. It’s been great talking to you.
You, too. It’s been wonderful and thanks for everything you do. I will talk to you soon.
You too. Take care.
- The Best Bees Company
- Book – The Bee
- Urban Beekeeping – TEDx Talk
- EMD Serono Division of Merck
- Hidden Brain
- The Snowball Effect – Past Episode on Hidden Brain
About Noah Wilson-Rich
Chief Scientific Officer Noah Wilson-Rich, PhD., began The Best Bees Company as a way to continue his research in honeybee immunology.
His passion for bee health, research, and data-based solutions drove The Best Bees Company forward from his apartment in Boston to 12 cities nationwide.