The buzz around Health Care Service Corporation is growing louder with nearly 200,000 new honeybees joining the company’s urban beekeeping program last year.
HCSC expanded the sustainability initiative to its health plan headquarters in Tulsa, Oklahoma, a new center in Chicago’s Pilsen neighborhood, and its office in Abilene, Texas. The program is now active in all five of HCSC’s health plan states.
Each new hive houses at least 50,000 docile honeybees, which are strategically located to keep both bees and employees safe. In total, HCSC has 12 honeybee hives with approximately 600,000 bees.
“It feels great to expand the program and have bees in every state, positively impacting all five health plans,” says Amy Amaon, HCSC sustainability manager.
Alveole, a company that helps businesses, schools and other organizations bring bees to their buildings, maintains the hives in Pilsen and plan headquarters. Alveole contracts with Big V Honey Bee, a local company out of Collinsville, to care for the new Oklahoma hives.
As part of the expansion, Oklahoma also released 100 painted lady butterflies in its flower garden to help bees pollinate greenery on campus. Along with producing honey, the bees will pollinate 50 million flowers, plants, trees and shrubs within a three-mile radius of the downtown Tulsa office.
“It’s exciting to see the project grow and bring people together to learn more about how bees are integral to our lives,” says Liam Cobbe, Alveole account advisor overseeing HCSC’s hives. “What’s really exciting about our locations in Abilene and Pilsen is that we’re incorporating data and analysis into the project.”
Honey samples from those locations will be sent to a lab in France for microanalysis. The results will show what flowers and other plants bees are visiting and help guide landscaping strategies to support beehives and land management practices to assist sustainability efforts. HCSC plans to expand data analysis to its remaining 10 hives this year.
The urban beekeeping program first kicked off in 2019 at HCSC’s Chicago headquarters.
In 2022, the program expanded to Montana, New Mexico and Texas. The colonies in Montana, New Mexico and Oklahoma are Alveole’s first in each state.
The beekeepers educate employees about the insects’ outsized influence on the ecosystem. The bees spend their lives flying miles from home looking for food sources. Moving from flower to flower, they collect pollen on their legs and underbellies and spread it around the environment during their hunt for pollen and nectar.
That nectar is needed to produce everyone’s favorite bee product: honey. Each fall, beekeepers harvest about 200 jars from each hive, which are given away to employees during engagement activities. “The program is getting people excited and engaged with urban sustainability,” Amaon says.