Have you ever wondered what the environment around you is like now? Is it in a good condition? Or poor? Technology can provide data on temperature, humidity, and atmospheric pressure and so on, but it is difficult to judge whether the environment is good or poor just by the data.
How well are we coexisting with the environment around us? It is difficult to establish an objective index to evaluate it. The important thing is to try to listen to the voice of nature while interacting with it. In other words, it is significant to experience and feel the nature rather than reasoning from the numerical data.
Living things around us that are closely related to our diet
The global environment continues to be damaged even though we have not realized any changes around us.
In particular, factories are considered to be one of the major factors affecting the environment. A manufacturing company like us DENSO, which operates factories essentially, needs to pay attention to and address environmental issues more than ever.
Changes in the environment are also crucial for ecosystems. One of the phenomena believed to be caused by the environmental problems is the mass disappearance of honeybees called “Colony Collapse Disorder.” In Europe and North America, the number of honeybees is decreasing, and there is a possibility that they will become extinct in the future.
What kind of changes would the decrease in the number of honeybees cause? According to a report by the United Nations Environment Programme (UNEP) in 2011, “There are 100 kinds of crops that provide 90 percent of the world’s food. The 70 percent of them are pollinated by bees.”
Many of the crops we eat every day grow thanks to honeybees, including fruits such as strawberries and apples, and vegetables such as cabbages, carrots, eggplants, and onions. These foods we take for granted will not grow when honeybees become extinct, and our diet will be forced to change significantly. We can say that honeybees and human life are closely linked.
Honeybees are called “bioindicators” that tell us the condition of the environment around us. Environmental issues are linked to the survival of honeybees, and the presence of honeybees affects our diet. This is why we came to believe that we would be able to think of ways to live in harmony with the environment through coexisting with honeybees.
Countinuous challenges with beekeeping - a health meter for the local environment
DENSO has long been involved in a variety of environmentally conscious activities such as cleaning plant wastewater, recycling CO2, using materials that return to nature when disposed, planting trees in forest, and picking up trash.
There is no doubt that all of these activities are important, but it is difficult to see significant changes in the environment around us. So we asked ourselves, “Are these activities for the environment enough to continue our business activities in a sustainable manner?”
The beekeeping activities called “The Honeybee Project” was started in order to find out how we are improving the surrounding environment and live in harmony with the environment. This project aims to figure out the environment around us, and to execute environmental education and awareness-raising activities, and consequently to help people's understanding of greening activities and revitalize local communities.
Terumitsu Kondo (DENSO UNITY SERVICE CORPORATION), who was assigned to this project, was confused at first and thought “Why honeybees?”
Kondo said, “When I was asked by General Admin. Division, I wondered if a company could grow honeybees. Then, I remembered there used to be comics where the main character was a honeybee. At the same time I still had doubts if I could be the one to be responsible for beekeeping.”
“The project first started in 2015, and we were engaged in beekeeping on the roof of the factory for a year.” Kondo recalls that beekeeping was more challenging than he thought. “First, I bought a hive for beekeeping. After a while, the queen bee disappeared, but I was not even aware of that at first.”
Kondo did all his best for beekeeping even though he was often troubled by the vanished queen bees, and sometimes suffered from pain and itchiness caused by bee stings. He also exterminated mites that parasitize honeybees while being careful not to crush the honeybee swarms. By overcoming many hardships, he gradually deepened his understanding of honeybees.
Kondo says “Honeybees change the flying speed and buzzing sounds depending on how angry they are. When they are in a bad mood, the sound becomes louder. For example, when a bee finds a puddle, other bees gather to drink water. People tend to become anxious when bees are gathered, so we put up a warning sign there for a while and made a watering place closer to the hive. I have come to know a lot about honeybees.”
He also recalls, “After gaining understanding of beekeeping, we have expanded our activities by recruiting volunteers from our employees. It has become easier to raise bees after more people joined the project. Some people have been working together with us as volunteers for several years, and more people have become familiar with beekeeping. Finding a queen bee among tens of thousands of bees is much easier with volunteers.”
Spending time with honeybees makes us understand the environmental problems as our own problem
Masayuki Kamiya (DENSO UNITY SERVICE CORPORATION) and Rumi Ogai (General Admin. Division) were confounded in the same way as Kondo did when they joined the honeybee project and started to work together with Kondo and volunteers who had already become familiar with beekeeping.
Kamiya said he was surprised many times to realize that there were a lot of things to learn for beekeeping.
Kamiya said, “I was transferred here in Nov. 2019 and started participating in the honeybee project. I knew about the project, and was somewhat interested in the project as well. When I actually joined the project, I realized that it was more difficult than I had imagined. There were countless things I need to remember for beekeeping. I have finally learned how to distinguish queen bees, but I still have a lot more to learn.”
Ogai says she was surprised at how hard it was to take care of the honeybees. “I thought the reason why there were many volunteers was because it was an activity that anyone could easily participate in during lunch break. However, in order to take care of the honeybees, we have to wear protective clothing during the daytime while the sunlight is very strong. I was really impressed by the volunteers who were working hard while being so sweaty in the midst of fear that they might be stung by the honeybees.”
Kamiya, who has been struggled with the beekeeping, says he is now getting used to it, and there seems to be various changes in his daily life. He says, “The way of thinking about eating honey has changed. A bee produces only a teaspoon of honey in its lifetime. I used to eat it without imagining about it. After I participated in the project, I began to think that humans are being given a surplus of precious honey that bees have produced over a lifetime. Now, I know I have to appreciate honey when I eat it.”
Kondo says his participation in the honeybee project has changed his perspective in everyday life.
“I started to notice flying honeybees on my way to work. I did not know that there were enough flowers for honeybees to survive in a city area like this. The way to look around in my daily life has changed. The beekeeping is affected by the weather, so I started to check the weather forecast every day. In addition, I became very sensitive to climate change.”
We can stay comfortable using air conditioners when it gets hot, but bees are different. Members of the honeybee project has come to see the environmental changes as their own problems by being involved in beekeeping. Ogai said she became sensitive to changes in the environment around her as well as the major changes like climate change.
“If the honeybees cannot live in an environment, it means that the nature around the environment is not abundant. I felt relieved that honeybees, who are very sensitive to environmental changes, can live around us. At the same time I hope to create an environment where honeybees can live without human intervention. There is a fact “the farther a bee flies, the shorter it lives”. I have to come to think that greening the surrounding area is more important than before for honeybees.”
Beekeeping is a big burden and requires hard work. However, by putting continuous effort, people involved in the project are learning the complexity and importance of living in harmony with the environment from honeybees.
Communicating with nature and experience symbiosis
Through beekeeping, we are trying to have an index that can measure whether we are coexisting well with the environment. It may not be representable as numerical data. However, DENSO has a corporate culture that values “actually feeling something existing on site”.
DENSO is committed to minimizing the environmental impact of the energy generated in all aspects of its business activities throughout the production cycle, from making, using and to disposing the energy. If we care about business only, we could find a more efficient way.
However, we do not want to improve efficiency simply focusing on our business because the time we spent with honeybees has taught us the importance of facing the ecosystem sincerely in order to protect the environment.