It’s sweet, green, a hive of activity, a way to de-stress in the thick of 2020 and a fledgling commercial real estate trend.

Photos courtesy of Alvéole and COPT

Commercial property managers have started enlisting the services of urban beekeepers to install and tend to honeybee hives on roof tops and ground-level sites.

“It’s a new trend that I think we are going to see more of in the property management world. It is particularly important to us because COPT is very focused on sustainability and supporting biodiversity on our properties,” said Allison Rizzetta, Associate Property Manager at Corporate Office Properties Trust (COPT).

COPT contracted urban beekeeping company, Alvéole, to install a hive (housed in a large, wooden box) at its Patriot Ridge property in Springfield, Virginia this spring. The project complemented other sustainability measures onsite, such as its bioretention areas planted with native vegetation.

“The bees are really happy here,” said Rizzetta, noting the bees fly throughout a five-mile radius of the hive, feeding and pollinating.

In addition to supporting a healthy ecosystem, the hive’s 24,000 bees are providing education and even a mental health boost to some office workers.

Alvéole’s beekeeper holds regular, interactive workshops onsite, enabling attendees to examine the hive’s frames which can hold several thousand bees apiece. Discussions cover the biology and work of honeybees, environmental threats to bees, and their role in pollinating plants and supporting food supplies for humans, including the fact that bees are essential to producing one in every three bites of food that an American eats.  

“We love bees and we want everyone else to love bees. We want to share the magic of these industrious little creatures with as many people as we can. We try to use honeybees as educational ambassadors to the pollinating world and to environmental awareness in general,” said Annie Eick, Alvéole’s Urban Beekeeping Manager for Maryland, Virginia and the District of Columbia.

At Patriot Ridge and other sites, some urban workers are feeling that love.

“2020 has been quite a year for a lot of people. This is a relief from 2020. The thing I keep hearing from our clients and a lot of tenants in their properties is they love the bees and they are so excited to have this project. It’s a rallying point for people and it builds community spirit,” Eick said.

“It’s also really exciting that in September and October, we will harvest the honey and tenants will get to taste the honey,” Rizzetta said.

Alvéole clients receive 30 pounds of honey from their own hives. Each batch is distinctively flavored by the plants that bees fed on.

“The honey is an awesome product and it is really fun for people to taste their local biodiversity. It’s their local landscape suspended in liquid,” Eick said.

To date, Alvéole has established 22 hives on commercial sites in the DMV and it is only the company’s first year operating in the region. The installations require very little space (often 100 square feet) and can easily be housed on unused portions of rooftops or ground sites that aren’t in the path of foot traffic, grounds maintenance or other operations. Hives also need sufficient clearance from HVAC equipment and pesticide applications.

Although clients are urged to post signage about the location of the hive, people onsite don’t face heightened risk of bee stings. Honeybees, in general, coexist easily with humans in urban settings and Alvéole’s hives contain “an Italian honeybee that is bred to be very docile,” Eick said. “These bees are not interested in human presence. They are just trying to pollinate and do their jobs.”

Noting that the Patriot Ridge hive is a pilot project for COPT, Rizzetta said, “I would highly encourage anybody in the property management world to consider doing this. It’s not very expensive and, from the perspectives of sustainability and education, it’s really worthwhile.”