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Using Bees to Engage on Sustainability with John Bailey, University of London

In this interview we talk to John Bailey, Head of Sustainability at the University of London about a project which has caused a buzz across the campus.

John talks about delivering a bee-keeping project which he has used as a way to engage on sustainability. John also talks about getting things done in large, sometimes bureaucratic, organisations. In particular: John talks about the importance of gettting backing for a project before you pitch your idea to a committee. The video is below followed by extracts of the transcript. 



Discussing projects and planning

Daniel O'Connor: Right, so, John Bailey from the University of London. You're one of our customers and I saw you on the national news last week, about one of your projects. So I thought it would be really interesting to talk to you about the project to see if others can repeat what you've delivered and get the same benefits. So, introduce yourself first please, and then tell us what the project's all about.

John Bailey: Hi everyone, my name's John Bailey. I am Head of Sustainability at the University of London, I am looking after anything to do with sustainability, corporate social responsibility, cutting carbon, reducing waste. All sorts of different things including…. beekeeping.

Daniel O'Connor: Excellent, we're going to talk beekeeping today. So tell us all about that project, where did it come from? What was the idea? What were the benefits? What were the drivers?

John Bailey: So the idea kind of came when I was working at the University of Greenwich, before, where there's quite a lot of green space and we were approached by a local beekeeper and they were interested if they could put some hives on our campus. So we said yes to that, we got them to put some hives on campus and we put out a news story on the all-staff email saying we've got bees on campus, with a few interesting facts about how bees go about pollinating the area and all sorts of different things like that. And we had this amazing response from the email. I think we had something like in the region of like 80 to 90 email responses. Which, that was from a staff body I guess of around about 2,000.

So it was a pretty good response and to be honest when we'd done other sustainability communications we had like maybe 5 to 10 responses, saying oh this is a lovely idea. It's great to see someone tackling carbon or dealing with waste. But the bee thing just everyone seemed to absolutely love it. And so it was kind of at that point that I realised that honey bees and kind of wildlife in general it's a really good way of engaging with people on sustainability. It's something that everyone understands. People are fascinated by bees. They live in these kind of very bizarre societies like a matriarchal society which is probably more akin to Tudor England than anything that we're used to today. It was a great way of opening the day to speak to people about sustainability.


How to appeal to your audience and their values?

Daniel O'Connor: Great. So, why do you think bees and wildlife are more palatable rather than let's say, I don't know, a 'switch off' campaign, or 'let's recycle more plastic' campaign or something like that?

John Bailey: I think because it's so visible. If you put a wildflower plant in one of your spaces on the university grounds or if you put in beehives. People can see that. They can see the immediate impact. We have people that will walk through Russell Square on their way to the shops to go and get their sandwich for lunch and they'll see honey bees in the flower beds and they'll think these are University of London bees. That's really cool.

Whereas if you're saying like, let's switch stuff off ... I think people understand the message but you're doing it for it's global impact to try and stop the sea levels or stop global warming to a certain level and stop sea levels rising. So you don't see any immediate impact.

You can feedback to people with carbon energy savings, financial savings and stuff like that. It's not the same as seeing a bee on a flower or picking up a little jar of honey or like walking through a park and seeing oh this has been done and pollinated by the university or whatever.


If you'd like to know more about John Bailey's Beekeeping adventures, we recommend you listen to the video above in full. 

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Daniel O'Connor

Daniel O'Connor

I use my time and experience to contribute to the transition to a regenerative sustainable society for all.


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