One of the things that bugs Jez Rose most is that humans don’t ask enough questions.
“We just accept at face value what we’re told or what we expect something to be,” said Rose, a content creator, speaker, TV presenter, and creator of the world’s first carbon-neutral honeybee farm.
“If nothing else,” Rose said, “going carbon neutral taught me that the right questions do all the heavy lifting.”
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t heavy lifting, though, especially when it came to launching the farm; producing, packaging, and shipping honey; and then partnering with businesses interested in adopting corporate social responsibility (CSR) which Rose has done through his work.
Building a sustainable business
Preparing honey is a sticky business, and it can become even more so, both logistically and in terms of cost, when you’re trying to be carbon-neutral. Rose knows this well, and the challenges are especially punctuated while living in a world of fast deliveries of online production that prioritize expediency over waste reduction.
“One of the things that depresses me and infuriates me most is that doing the right thing is hard and expensive,” Rose said, “and it shouldn’t be like that.”
When he owned the aforementioned farm, Bees & Co., which he has since sold, he spent six weeks seeking a company that could create a biodegradable glove. An average nitrile glove biodegrades in 25 to 50 years; the one he ended up using would degrade in two to five years. But his choice was six times as costly.
He had to find a similar solution for packaging adhesive: He opted for paper tape rather than sellotape, the former of which was three times as pricey. To replace polystyrene chips, he found a similar material made from biodegradable plants that would biodegrade overnight when exposed to water, such as in the event of rain.
He even found a printer that could print in vegetable ink. The boxes the honey would go out in were recycled, too. For labels, they opted for paper wrapped in a recyclable laminate instead of plastic labels.
“That (the process of identifying more sustainable packaging) was a really interesting pet project for me, because when you pushed suppliers on their accountability to the environment, so many of them absolutely couldn’t tell you what was in the ink. They had no idea where the paper was from, or what was in the glue.”
Not all of the materials for the business were recycled, though: The glass jars and lids to package the honey were recyclable, but not recycled, due to a complex supply chain hurdle, Rose explained.
Rose added that he had never looked at a business under such a microscope before. To become carbon-neutral, though, you have to, he said. “You literally use a fine-tooth comb to go through every aspect of your business — operational, financial, retail.”
Promoting and enabling other business’ sustainability
As part of his former business, Rose engaged with other businesses in the United Kingdom that were in need of CSR solutions by allowing them to sponsor a honeybee hive, which allowed them not only to obtain honey from it, but also to help reintroduce the native British honeybee, the Apis mellifera mellifera, to its habitat.
Various factors have contributed to the declining population of the British honeybee, including people moving honeybees from their natural to unnatural habitats where they have to compete for foreign resources, deforestation, and even well-meaning everyday people who take up beekeeping as a hobby, yet cause further spread of disease among honeybees, Rose said.
“For CSR, at its core for us, is about asking the right questions to find out what is important for you as an organization that allows your organization to do what it genuinely wants to,” Rose said. “I’m not expecting everybody to go carbon-neutral. That was our decision to say, ‘Well, actually, the beating heart of what we’re doing is about minimizing the impact on the environment and enhancing it while we’re here. What can we do to help fix this problem that we’re in?’
“That’s not everybody’s golden thread. That’s not everybody’s beating heart. But whatever yours is, you need to find a way to live it and breathe it, and it has to be actionable.”