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South African film producer, Warren Bader, waved goodbye to the glamour of film sets in 2011 and started his own business installing and managing beehives on the land of environmentally-conscious organisations in the UK. He spoke to The Extraenvironmentalist about Plan Bee Ltd.
By Louisa Clarence-Smith
What motivated you to switch careers from film-producer to bee-keeper and entrepreneur?
It was a long journey, but perhaps the pivotal moment was filming in the Maldives, when I happened to see large amounts of waste being taken off one island and dumped on another. I had already filmed in environmentally-sensitive areas, but witnessing at first-hand such lack of human respect for the planet was a wake-up call.
Growing fruit and vegetables on my allotment gave me an understanding about heritage varieties and the importance of insect pollination, which in turn sparked my interest in bee-keeping. Working with bees is magical and very profound. Observing how intelligent and well-structured they are as a society, I started to think about all the lessons that human beings and businesses can learn from the way the colonies structure themselves.
I’ve always been an entrepreneur, so I soon saw the opportunity to support the environment and create a viable business by selling heritage honey. However, I quickly realised that what I was really selling was biodiversity; not honey. Also recognising the need for businesses to act as guardians and stewards for the environment, Plan Bee evolved into an initiative that invites organisations to adopt beehives and have an immediate positive impact on local biodiversity. Plan Bee also actively encourages businesses to use the hives as a starting point to engage with their local community through school visits to the hives and bee-keeping lessons for adults.
Is Plan Bee a Social Enterprise? Do you think that label will become less useful as more businesses realise they have a role to play in supporting their local environment and community?
‘Social enterprise’ is hard to define. We have a very strong social ethic; we work for the betterment of the environment and communities. So in that sense, we are a social enterprise. We are also limited in the amount of profit we can ever declare. I don’t think making profit is bad; it’s just making obsene profit that is bad.
I agree that ‘social enterprise’ is a label that will become less and less useful. I hate labels on businesses, but I think as a step up from a charity, a social enterprise is a good thing because it is geared towards self-sustainability.
The Scottish government has a relatively good international standing in terms of supporting environmental initiatives. Have you found it challenging finding support for your company in Scotland?
The Scottish Government is way ahead in terms of its thinking on the environment and they should be applauded. Although more could certainly be done, they’ve given a lot of assistance to bee-keepers; not least the Scottish Environment Minister, Paul Wheelhouse’s recent launch of the 2020 Challenge to halt the decline of insect pollinators.
Plan Bee has secured contracts with several high-profile clients, including Balfour Beatty, Highland Spring and the Royal & Ancient’s Royal Troon Golf Club, who recognise the worrying implications for both Scotland and their businesses if the current bee crisis is not addressed. However, we believe that more businesses should be doing more for the environment and for biodiversity.
A recent success story has been our collaboration with Clyde Dental Group. Although their carbon footprint isn’t large, they believe that they still have a responsibility to help mitigate the small environmental impacts that might be incurred by their practices. In light of the dramatic loss of insect pollinators in the UK, they understood that having beehives on their property could add real value to the local community. They also saw the opportunity to help and support local charities by selling the honey they received from Plan Bee.
What’s your next exciting project?
We’ve got several exciting projects on the go, but most importantly we’re trying to get funding for our green legacy project for the Glasgow 2014 Commonwealth Games. As a green legacy partner, we have been chosen by Glasgow City Council to implement a project that will build a positive environmental and social legacy for Glasgow and Scotland.
Our legacy project is designed to both champion biodiversity and reach the widest possible audience. We will be going into 30 Glasgow schools and running design workshops with a local artist, inviting pupils to enter a design competition to decorate beehives. The hives will then reach the wider local community once filled and sited in surveyed community areas such as golf courses and bowling greens, where they will be fully-managed by Plan Bee for one year.
In your view, what are the key challenges facing environmentalists?
Most importantly, the public are not being informed enough about the destructive effects of human activity on the natural environment. When we are informed, it’s all too easy for us to forget. Environmentalists have the challenging task of penetrating peoples’ social media bubbles, where we can choose to exist in an artificial world, alienated from the reality of dangerous environmental decline. Daily media bombardment of shock stories means that we have a short memory for environmental disasters, like the devestation caused by BP’s oil leaks off the Gulf of Mexico in 2010.
I am also very concerned about the dramatic exploitation of minerals and natural resources in Africa by the Chinese. Growing up in South Africa made me especially aware of nature and the environment and I feel very fortunate to have grown up in an environment with such prolific diversity. Today, Zimbabwe president Robert Mugabe appears to have sold the whole country to Chinese commercial interests. The peaceful terms of co-existence between Africans and local species has been developed over thousands of years, in recognition that animals possess shared rights to their land. Yet in this new era of colonialism, rhino-horn poaching and ivory poaching have escalated and scientists are questioning if African lions will even survive another generation.
For further information on the bee crisis, see Time Magazine’s recent article: The Plight of the Honeybee.
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