The connection between urban beekeeping and commercial real estate might not seem obvious, but the potential for mutual benefits between the two is significant for a host of reasons. Partner Insights spoke to Alex Mclean, CEO and co-founder of Alvéole, the urban beekeeping company that got its start in Canada and has now expanded throughout the U.S. and Europe, about why every commercial building owner should understand the benefits of this tenant-focused amenity.
How did Alvéole come about?
About 10 years ago, a few friends and I asked companies in our hometown of Montreal if we could install hives on their roofs to produce honey. At one architecture firm, as we were caring for the hives, people began watching us and asking questions. The same thing happened at other companies, and a business model emerged. Companies began asking us, can we get hives on our buildings? That’s how we became a company — very organically.
How did you then become more deeply involved with the CRE industry?
We were setting up hives on rooftops throughout downtown Montreal, and we were meeting property owners because we needed their approval for the installation. We wound up developing close relationships with building owners just as a trend emerged around tenant engagement — finding activities that would connect tenants with their buildings. From there, we started reaching out to more commercial real estate companies, and the business grew.
From a business perspective, how does this work?
We offer an annual service — a recurring cost. We handle ongoing maintenance, and we invite tenants to join us for workshops several times a year. We also offer a virtual component. Each property gets a dedicated profile on MyHive, our web app. They get their own virtual platform where you can watch the hive in real time, plus view metrics, updates, photos and more. This lets them stay up to date on what’s happening in their hive and with the health of their honeybees. That’s been big over the last two years because property owners are trying to connect with, and remain relevant to, people at home. This platform created an essential link between the building and people working from home. Honey produced from those hives is then branded and given to tenants as a year-end gift. Building owners have told us that this workplace experience is a great fit for their tenant engagement objectives. We also have clients who love that this project can contribute their sustainability efforts and even help them earn LEED, or Leadership in Energy & Environmental Design, and BOMA, or Building Owners and Managers Association, points.
Not everyone in the world is fully comfortable with bees. Do you ever get pushback because of that?
You’re downplaying it. That’s our No. 1 challenge — preconceived ideas around bees. People grow up thinking that bees are going to attack them. When I talk about educating customers, a third of our initial conversation is around safety, and making sure they understand that this is not a dangerous project. We work with a type of bee — the Italian honeybee — that is very, very docile, and we set up these hives in a very safe way.
Tell us more about your workshops.
We have about 10 or 12 different workshops we offer — half virtual, half in-person. The goal is for employees and tenants to understand why all bees are important, and what we can do to protect them. At one workshop, we take beeswax from the hives and teach people to make their own candles. For another, we educate people about inspiring urban agriculture movements in their own city. The overall goal is to raise awareness about ecological issues, and the honeybee seems to be the best catalyst to drive interest. Our tenant engagement opportunities have also been very popular. We’ll set up a booth in the lobby and have jars of honey with the company’s label. A beekeeper will be there to tell tenants all about the wonderful world of bees, answer any questions they have, and even let them peek into one of our glass-sided observation hives to see the bees at work. These events help building owners transform offices into places people are excited to go.
How do companies learn about Alvéole?
We’ve had a lot of word-of-mouth interest thanks to trendsetting clients who have helped spread the word. Also, a lot of people move around in this industry, so we have building owners and managers that bring it to their next location. In recent years, largely because of the push in ESG, or environmental, social and governance, investment, ownership groups have been installing this across their portfolios. That’s a big part of our growth.
How big an impact has Alvéole had on the environment?
The biggest impact is on people. I mentioned the quarter of a million people who have participated in our workshops. Our main environmental impact is education. Industrial agriculture puts a lot of pressure on pollinators. About 50 percent of hives in the U.S. don’t survive each year. By talking about bees, we’re creating awareness and changing the way people think about the city, urban landscapes, and how they purchase food, which in turn will lead to more diverse urban ecosystems that are more supportive to all pollinators. That’s our ultimate role.
Who has Alvéole worked with?
Goldman Sachs is a big partner of ours. We work with Brookfield a lot as well; in fact, we work with most major players in the industry. Overall, Alvéole works with about 500 different companies in over 2,000 different buildings in 37 cities around the world, 23 in the U.S. But we measure our success in terms of how many people participate in our events. As of now, we’ve inspired a quarter-million city-dwellers who have participated in our educational workshops. Creating interesting amenities for tenant engagement is tricky, and participants in our workshops call it one of the best activities they have all year. As far as our operations go, we have about 150 employees throughout the U.S., Canada, and Europe, over 100 of which are full-time beekeepers. We’re hiring another 50 people at the moment. That gives you a sense of our velocity.
If this becomes truly widespread, how big of an impact can it have on the environment?
If this becomes really widespread, it will inspire commercial buildings to do a lot more on their properties. To us, this is the future of cities. We have all this unused space on commercial rooftops. The beehives are the beginning of a broader movement. Buildings can put gardens on rooftops to produce food or flowers. Commercial composting. Things like that. Mass acceptance will mean a new era in terms of making commercial buildings beneficial for the environment.