Text by Matthew Lee / Photos Erik Olsson
What’s the big idea?
Karolina Lisslö and Josefina Oddsberg want to bring more bees to urban environments and have found a smart way of doing this – by getting local businesses to sponsor beehives.
Why do humans need bees?
“Because if bees completely disappeared you would have global scurvy within four years,” says Lisslö, putting it in stark terms. “Seventy-six per cent of everything we grow in Europe requires pollination.”
And is there a shortage of bees?
Well, yes. Karolina explains how 40 per cent of native species of wild bees and bumblebees are threatened with extinction – and this is in Sweden, a country with some of the most progressive environmental policies in the world. “Originally we wanted to save flowers,” she says. “I met Josefina on a sustainable development course and one day we learned that all these species of flowers were disappearing because of a lack of pollinators. So we got interested in beekeeping in order to save the flowers, but it soon became apparent that first we had to save the bees.”
Were they skilled apiculturists?
“We learned completely from scratch,” says Lisslö, although they wouldn’t have been totally clueless. Lisslö’s background is in biology while Oddsberg trained in urban ecology. They took beginner beekeeping classes, learnt the ropes, and formed an NGO that aimed to get more Stockholmers to keep bees and local companies to sponsor the hives. Initially they weren’t very successful. “People looked at us and thought ‘here’s two more girls trying to save the world,’” recalls Lisslö.
So what did they do?
“We woke up one morning and decided that we had to quit beekeeping so we could pay the rent – or we had to think of a new approach so we could make a living doing what we loved,” says Lisslö. “We thought about how companies are increasingly thinking about corporate social responsibility, improving their environmental profile,” adds Oddsberg. “So we had an idea to turn good deeds into business.” Launched in 2011, Bee Urban is the first of its kind. Companies can sponsor beehives on rooftops – often their own – and they get to keep the honey. Bee Urban charges a price, approximately SEK2 per bee, which covers the costs of equipment and maintenance, contributes to their education schemes and allows the duo to pay their bills. They now have 37 hives and 19 clients, mostly in Stockholm. They are slowly expanding throughout Sweden and are attracting interest around Europe.
But it wasn’t always so easy…
“Nobody believed it would work,” says Lisslö. “We tried and failed to get start-up funds so we asked our mums. We’ve paid them back now!”
How have people responded to the idea?
“We’ve been really encouraged so far,” says Lisslö. “Although many people don’t know the difference between bees and wasps, and assume everything with stripes and wings will sting you.” Oddsberg is keen to point out that bees are essentially pacifists: “Bees don’t want to sting you. They’re usually chilled out. With some beehives we don’t even need protective gear.”
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