High above the streets of Greater Boston, on the rooftops of corporate headquarters and commercial buildings, colonies of bees do their thing, collecting nectar, pollinating plants and trees, and making honey in hives installed and managed by the Roxbury company The Best Bees Co.
Best Bees, founded in 2010, has built a business by convincing corporations that bees are good for their businesses. Riding the ESG — environment, social, and governance — wave washing over corporate America, Best Bees has contracts with 135 companies interested in protecting the environment, supporting biodiversity, and improving their image.
Now, Best Bees is upping its game and advancing bee research with the launch of its SmartHive technology, which collects data on conditions and activity in hives, and uses artificial intelligence to analyze the health of bee colonies. The technology, developed four years ago and refined during two years of prototype testing, will soon be rolled out to select clients, including in Boston.
“In the industries we work with, sustainability is no longer just a box that you can check,” Paige Mulhern, creative director at Best Bees said. “These larger corporations who are our clients really need to support and mitigate risks that they’re bringing into the environment and into the biodiversity of our planet.”
Bees play an important role in the ecosystem, carrying from plant to plant the pollen that allows flowers, trees, and agricultural crops to produce seeds and reproduce. A single honey bee can pollinate 5,000 flowers in one day, and a colony can pollinate up to 300 million flowers a day, according to the US State Department.
In Massachusetts, more than 45 percent of agricultural crops rely on bees for pollination, according to the Massachusetts Department of Agricultural Resources. Nationally, honey bees pollinate about $15 billion worth of crops, including around one-third of the food consumed by Americans, according to federal agencies.
But bee populations are threatened by invasive varroa mites, pesticides, poor nutrition, emerging diseases, and changes in habitat, according to the Environmental Protection Agency. Beekeepers nationally lost 48 percent of their hives between 2022 and 2023, according to Statista, a data collection firm.
Massachusetts lost 58 percent of its bee colonies between 2021 and 2022, according to Bee Informed Partnership, a national nonprofit that works with universities to collect and share data on bees.
“All of our food systems rely on pollinators,” Delaney Dameron, the director of revenue at Best Bees, said. “With climate change [and] with major development happening in urban areas across the world, we’re losing biodiversity, and with biodiversity [we’re losing] our pollinators rapidly.”
Best Bees’ SmartHive is helping to address these threats, providing beekeepers and scientists with data and insights to support bee populations.
The SmartHive, powered by solar energy, can track the sounds, food sources, weight of the bees, and other conditions in the hive, including humidity, temperature, and carbon dioxide levels — all indicators of the health of a hive. The SmartHive also uses a camera that lets researchers and beekeepers observe the colony.
The SmartHive monitors for varroa mites, parasites that feed on honey bees and, if left unchecked, can wipe out an entire colony. If the SmartHive’s sensor detects varroa mites, it notifies beekeepers and clients through an app, allowing them to stop the mites before they can take over.
The idea behind the SmartHive is simple: to use technology to keep bees healthy and abundant. The company is in its second investment round, with a goal of raising $4 million to commercialize the SmartHive technology.
Best Bees employs about 100 beekeepers to manage 600 honey bee colonies in Greater Boston. One of its clients, Chestnut Hill Realty, a real estate company headquartered in Chestnut Hill, owns 20 hives across 10 properties and is looking to buy more.
The hives, along with gardens designed to attract bees and other pollinators, show the real estate company’s commitment to the environment, which makes tenants more willing to stay in their rental properties, said Tim Dolan, director of horticulture at Chestnut Hill Realty. The addition of SmartHives, which the company hopes to get once the technology is widely available, will allow tenants to see what goes on in a hive and increase their appreciation for the work bees do and their role in biodiversity, Dolan said.
“People are drawn to companies that are taking an active role in trying to regenerate and conserve the natural landscapes they live in and promote sustainability,” said Chloe Hundertmark, a horticultural project administrator at Chestnut Hill Realty. “Every company should be getting on board with doing what they can with the resources they have.”
Annie Christie is a beekeeper who has worked at Best Bees for two years. She began the job as part of a co-op program at Northeastern University where she studies environmental science. She never expected beekeeping would become a career.
To Christie, beekeeping is more than just protecting these essential creatures — it’s about protecting the environment on which all living things depend. With new technology like the SmartHive, she said, beekeepers and researchers can learn better ways to maintain the health of bees and the ecosystem they support.
“I felt like I wanted to be part of the direct impact,” she said. “You can study honey bees your whole life and still not know everything.”
This story has been updated to correct the founding date of Best Bees.