B&Q strives to protect dwindling bee populations

Sensemaking / B&Q strives to protect dwindling bee populations

UK’s biggest garden retailer drops ‘neonicotinoid’ pesticides and joins forces with Friends of the Earth.

By Roger East / 16 Oct 2013

Forty-seven UK bee species are seen as endangered or threatened, and numbers of honey bee hives, solitary bees and bumblebees are all in sharp decline. Britain’s biggest garden retailer is taking action, spotting an opportunity for leadership, and recognising the dependence of its business on biodiversity. Its plans to help these beleaguered insects include pulling three pesticides off its shelves.

B&Q adopted its stance based on evidence that neonicotinoids – a class of neuro-active insecticides related to nicotine – are damaging to bees. The move comes ahead of an EU regulation suspending their use for most purposes from December 2013 – although the manufacturers of the pesticides contest that they are causing a decline in bees and sudden colony collapse (where foraging bees apparently become disoriented or simply fail to return to the hive). The UK Government opposed the ban, but B&Q’s decision brought forward the impetus for its plant growers to stop using them on any plants they grow. Kingfisher, B&Q’s parent company, is also working to get its retail chains in other territories to adopt a similar stance.

Beyond the removal of certain pesticides from its shelves, B&Q has also expanded its range of ‘bee-friendly’ products and ‘perfect for pollinator’ plants, and plans to release more of these next year. Educational packs have helped it to build a connection with schools around the country. And a programme of special classes has been launched, some 50 of which have been held so far.

B&Q’s customer engagement on bees is supported by a pioneering relationship with Friends of the Earth (FoE). While the retailer gains environmental expertise and credibility, scores of local FoE volunteer groups have jumped at the chance to set out their stall in B&Q garden centres. Customers who are impressed by FoE’s message can commit to help create suitable bee habitats in their gardens and stock them with pollinatorattracting plants. “It’s the best possible moment to motivate people we might not otherwise reach”, says James Cole, who leads FoE’s business engagement work.

It’s the first time that FoE has worked with a corporate to such an extent – not offering a blanket endorsement, but embracing what Cole describes as a clear opportunity “to leverage each other’s strengths and move forward on these issues, where there is common ground”.

The relationship with FoE has increased B&Q’s social media involvement: it has engaged customers at every level of awareness of the bee campaign, and its Facebook pages have received around 80,000 hits. Responses to bee-related postings also create spikes in traffic to FoE’s linked website pages. Along with the campaign’s in-store interventions and B&Q’s wider bee-related marketing efforts, the ‘buzz’ has helped to raise donations for FoE, has increased demand for BeeSaver kits, and added many signatures to its petition for a national bee action plan.

In June, a ‘bee summit’ organised by FoE also won a promise from environment minister Lord de Mauley to produce a pollinator action strategy, which will address such fundamental issues as habitat and pollinator plant loss and pollution. FoE has called for this to be in place by next spring.

Pro-bee initiatives in-store and online have struck a chord with B&Q customers and staff, observes Rachel Bradley, Senior Sustainable Business Manager for B&Q. “It’s a catalyst on biodiversity action,” she says, “allowing people to engage with sustainability in a more local and direct way. There’s a commercial upside for us in related product sales, but the thing that has lit everyone up is how much people can get involved, and the emotional impact.”

Sarah Greenaway, Senior Brand Manager in charge of B&Q’s One Planet Home initiative, recognises that the campaign will be a “long-term build” when it comes to financial returns, but, she says, the wider business case is clear: “Action on bees has been a springboard to earn ourselves a stronger place on the biodiversity issue.” She is pleased to be in “the unique position” of being able to make more of a difference than any other retailer on bees. – Roger East

Kingfisher is a Forum for the Future partner. www.kingfisher.co.uk

Photo Credit: iStockphoto/Thinkstock

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